Last week, I was one of the lucky few invited to try the first fruits of Miguel's Jr. at their new location at the Tustin Marketplace.

I expected great food from the beloved chain that has fed traditional mexican fare to Inland Empire diners for the past 40 years.

But I didn't expect to meet Mary Vasquez.

 

I didn't expect to see the woman who, with her husband Mike, founded the Corona restaurant in 1973. The woman who developed the recipes from her own childhood kitchen in Central Mexico. The person who inspires fanatic devotion from customers who crave her simple, yet traditionally-perfect dishes.

I watched as this diminutive lady moved through the room, doting on customers as if she were hosting a party in her home. I soon realized that it was only fitting that the mother of Miguel's Jr. would be on hand to witness the birth of a new location.

"Did you try the hot sauce," Mary asked me as I was about to sample a perfectly-crisp, grilled taco.

When I told her I had missed that step, she didn't wait for me to give her an explanation. She was already headed to the fresh salsa bar to remedy my mistake.

She returned with a small cup of red liquid that she gently drizzled inside my taco.

"It's for the flavor," she explained. "If you haven't had our hot sauce, you haven't had our food."

 

The food is definitely the star of the show at Miguel's Jr. Don't be fooled by the fast food exterior and expect the same corporate-driven, flavorless mexican food. Your burrito may be served quickly, but the preparation actually began earlier in the morning, in a kitchen where Vasquez secret recipes are prepared under the watchful eye of family members, and then delivered directly to each restaurant.

Think of it as the In N Out Burger model. Miguel's Jr uses only the finest and freshest ingredients, like slow-cooked beans and hand-grated cheese. All are prepared with a local, hands-on consistency that insures a quality product every time.

Mary insists, however,  that the main ingredient in her cooking is love.

"People ask me how we do it," she said. "I tell them it's because we don't change things. Our food and service are the same at every location and have been for 40 years. I make sure of that."

Mary watched as I took a bite full of crunchy taco goodness, now perfectly seasoned with her home-made hot sauce. She smiled when I gave her the thumbs up, although she didn't seem surprised.

"That's what home tastes like."

 2855 El Camino Real
Tustin Marketplace