La Penca Mexican restaurant in Verona guards its secrets and techniques | Meals & Drink

Verona, simply southwest of Madison, has just lately develop into a hub for Mexican meals. With this collection, we’re introducing the most recent eating places to open there, serving acquainted favorites like tacos and tamales in addition to regional dishes drawn from household recipes. 

The primary on this collection was Taqueria Los Atlantes, specializing in mole and lamb barbacoa on 300 S. Principal St. Then we stopped by AzTec Taqueria on Keenan Courtroom, the place the tortillas are made by hand. 

This week, meet Jesus Ramirez Zuniga and his restaurant, La Penca, that includes huaraches and sopes impressed by his household in Guanajuato. 

La Penca 

Opened: Nov. 19, 2022

Proprietor: Jesus Ramirez Zuniga

Origins: Guanajuato, Mexico

When Jesus Ramirez Zuniga arrived in Madison from North Carolina in 2014, he introduced with him 16 years of restaurant expertise.

Zuniga moved from Mexico to the U.S. in 1998, and has labored in each space of eating places — within the kitchen, the bar, as a bunch, as a cashier. In Madison, he continued to be a waiter, however aspired to be his personal boss.

“I had been working in eating places for a very long time,” he stated, “and I believed I may do every part. So why not work for myself as a substitute of working for another person? I’m not saying working for another person is dangerous, however when you might have the chance to work for your self, it is good.”

Cunida opened the primary location of La Penca on Park Avenue in Madison in October 2019. His second location opened at 611 Hometown Circle in Verona in November final yr. “La Penca” is a part of a leaf, and may check with a part of the agave plant used to make tequila and mezcal. 

The Park Avenue restaurant does not have a lot parking house, because it shares the lot with a laundromat. That led to extra carry-out orders than dine-in. In Verona, the restaurant itself is larger and there’s ample parking, which has made it higher for eating in.

Some (don’t) prefer it scorching

At La Penca, Zuniga goals to supply conventional Mexican meals. Huaraches (flattened ovals of masa with savory toppings), sopes (masa fried right into a thick tortilla, then piled with toppings), enchiladas verdes and enchiladas poblanas are standard with the Hispanic group, he stated. 

A number of dishes are fully non-spicy, he stated. He needs to supply a menu for everybody.

“We at all times produce other issues to decide on on the menu when you don’t like spicy,” Zuniga stated. “Not all Mexican meals is spicy like how some individuals suppose it’s. Mexicans like spicy issues, however Central Individuals do not prefer it as spicy.”

Zuniga was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. His mother, brother and sister nonetheless dwell there. The mole sauce at La Penca is an previous household recipe and tastes just like the one he grew up with, and although the carnitas (pulled pork) is his chef’s recipe, it wanted Zuniga’s seal of approval.

“I at all times must approve every part now we have on the menu. I’ve to make certain it’s one thing near the meals now we have in my hometown,” he stated. “How we make carnitas there may be very completely different from different locations, the style is completely different.”

Barbacoa, through which the meat is cooked low and sluggish, is widespread again dwelling, Zuniga stated. For La Penca’s barbacoa, he adjusted the recipe. 

“It’s not 100% the identical,” he stated. “We don’t have the identical strategy to cook dinner it, and we’re lacking a number of the spices which can be onerous to recover from right here.” 

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Sopes are fried discs of dough topped with grilled steak at La Penca in Verona.

Inexperienced and purple sauces for enchiladas (verdes, rojas, and poblanos) are Zuniga’s personal recipe, paired with aguas frescas in flavors like mango, tamarind and jamaica (hibiscus). Much less historically, there are additionally lemonades flavored with strawberry, mango, raspberry and peach. 

And naturally there’s horchata, for which Zuniga has his personal recipe. 

What makes it particular? Zuniga demurred. “If I share, it received’t be my very own,” he stated. “It’s a secret.”