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Don Pedros - Authenticity at Family-Run Mexican Restaurant

December 18, 2010 by Joyce Owen

Every time a rumor swirls about the opening of a new Mexican restaurant that will give diners the opportunity to devour “real” tamales and enchiladas, current Mexican restaurants are compared and dissected for authenticity.

One of those is Don Pedros Café and Bakery, which has managed to attract a loyal following with good food, reasonable prices and generous portions.

Located in the Santa Rosa Village shopping plaza on U.S. Highway 98 near Good News United Methodist Church, the restaurant offers a variety of Mexican dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the menu is also sprinkled with popular American specialties including burgers, fish sandwiches and salads.

Miguel Alvarez and his father Pedro Sr. are usually in the kitchen making sure every meal is properly prepared. Almost everything on the menu is cooked from scratch.

Miguel began at Donut Hole in 1989 and later managed Las Palmas in Seagrove Beach on Scenic 30A, before opening Don Pedros in 2000.

“We’ve been here 10 years. We made it through recessions, when the towers came down in 2001 and the Gulf oil spill,” Miguel says.

The support of family is critical to the success of Don Pedros, says Miguel. His mother, Guadalupe, is one of the most important members of the team, because while Miguel has been cooking for years, he had never cooked at an authentic Mexican restaurant.

“I learned to cook American dishes at Donut Hole,” Miguel says. “At Las Palmas there was Cuban influence to the foods we prepared, so my mother stepped in with her recipes when we started Don Pedros.”

She continues to be a strong presence behind the scenes arriving at 4 a.m. to prepare tamales, tortillas and checking to be sure her recipes are followed. Although some restaurant owners go on to create additional restaurants, Miguel believes it is difficult to recreate the same thing, “To be unique, you can only have one.”

But one is plenty for the locals that support the restaurant. Miguel says wintertime is good for him, while some restaurant owners cut back on hours or even close, his business sees the same steady stream of customers.

Miguel and his dad are strong community supporters acknowledging that while tourists are valued customers, it’s the locals that help keep the doors open. A good example of local loyalties is the breakfast crowd that gathers on Sunday morning after church services are over. Although the restaurant can seat 80 inside and another 40 outside on the side and front dining areas, Miguel advises customers to get there early on Sundays to avoid a long wait.

Another group of regular diners is apparent by the number of South Walton Fire District and Walton County Sheriff’s Office vehicles in the parking lot throughout the day. There’s just something comforting about walking in and seeing emergency personnel enjoying communal meals while chatting with customers and staff members.

The setting is casual, with diners seating themselves at either booths or tables that are often pushed together to accommodate large parties. There’s beer and wine on the menu, but the sweet tea is probably one of the best served in the area.

Miguel says he could add margaritas to the beverages; he’s even considered and then rejected the idea.

“I can do it and make money, but where are the families going to eat if I do that?” he asks. Miguel believes the problems that might develop if customers drink too much outweigh any advantage he might gain by serving mixed drinks: so diners will have to be content with the current beverage selection.

Providing a family-friendly gathering spot has always been one of Miguel’s main goals and after 10 years, Don Pedros continues to be a family favorite in South Walton.

The hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 

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Joyce Owen

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