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Cactus Mexican Dining celebrates 15 years in historical Woodbridge

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Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007 10:00 pm

Woodbridge is one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of towns. If not for its historical district that lines Lower Sacramento Road, passersby might not even know it was there. However, it's the businesses that make up the historically rich section of town that continues to draw people to the area.

An example is Cactus Mexican Dining smack on the corner of Lower Sacramento Road and Mokelumne Street. Since its opening in 1992, Cactus has earned a loyal customer base.

In fact, there are Friday night regulars, as well as people who dine at the restaurant two and three times a week.

That's something that co-owner Mia Lane is proud of, considering the previous restaurants that occupied the space didn't last very long.

The space was originally offered to Lane - who has owned and operated Head Quarters salon in Galt for close to 25 years - as a hair salon, day spa and wine, cheese and cappucino bar.

Her husband, Efrain Gomez, was running Las Palmas in Sacramento with his brother at the time. They decided to open Cactus instead of a salon.


Chef Efrain Gomez Jr., puts the finishes touches on a dish on a recent Tuesday afternoon at Cactus Mexican Dining in Woodbridge. (Whitney Ramirez/News-Sentinel)

The restaurant boasts a full-service bar, three levels of dining and a banquet room that seats 90. The banquet facilities are free to use and can host business luncheons, receptions, parties and just about any large gathering.

This year they are celebrating 15 years of making fresh Mexican cuisine and playing host to all their patrons. They will be celebrating with special offers and events from Sept. 25-30. Tuesdays will be known as Taco Tuesdays. Two small tacos will only be $1, and for $1 more, patrons can get rice and beans. Karaoke Wednesdays will have different drink specials. Thursdays they will have two-for-one house margarita specials. On Saturdays the sampler platter will be half-price, and karaoke will return on Sundays for kids (Noon-2 p.m. will be for kids 12 and under and 2-4 p.m. will be for teens 13 through 18 years old).

One of the key elements to Cactus' success is the food. Everything is made fresh. From the corn and flour tortilla chips to the salsa, each item is made in-house.

Anyone who has ever eaten at the restaurant can spout off a list of favorites, like the Oaxaca burrito, the crab and shrimp enchiladas or even the chips and salsa.

Gomez is in charge of all the recipes, the sauces and the specials (which change on a regular basis), while Lane is responsible for overseeing Wednesday night karaoke and the decor of the restaurant. She also has the privilege of being the official taste tester of each new dish. Lane splits her time between her salon and Cactus, and Gomez puts in about 60 hours a week at the establishment.

What: Cactus Mexican Dining
Where: 18961 N. Lower Sacramento Road
House Specialties: Cancun (Steak with tortillas, sauce, cheese and a boat of shrimp); Calamari; Crab and shrimp enchiladas; Tapatia.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Karaoke on Wednesday from 8 p.m.-2 a.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 4-11 p.m.; Sunday, Noon-9 p.m.; Closed on Monday.
Information: 367-1632

One of the house specials is the "Stuft Chili," a pasilla pepper filled with cheese and ground beef wrapped in bacon and grilled, then topped with an onion and pico de gallo and served with a side of beans and rice. (Whitney Ramirez/News-Sentinel)

Ingredients
4 large pasilla peppers
Monterey Jack cheese
taco seasoning
ground beef
bacon

Directions
Roast peppers in broiler. Turn over after 10 minutes. Continue roasting until peppers are shiny and soft. Remove from broiler, cover in a towel. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Carefully peel the top skin off the peppers. Cut the top part with the stem off the peppers and gently pull out the seeds. Be careful not to tear the peppers.
Stuff with Monterey Jack cheese (or cheese of your choice) and ground beef
seasoned with taco seasoning.
Wrap peppers with a strip or two of bacon.
Grill peppers in frying pan on medium-high heat until bacon is cooked.
Top peppers with pico de gallo, cream sauce or red sauce.
Enjoy!
- Source: Efrain Gomez and Mia Lane

One of Lane's main goals is to attract more business to the area. She believes the history of the area, and their building (built in 1867 and serving as a grocery store for miners) is a major draw.

"We have just a really great combination with great food, a beautiful building, a nice atmosphere and our location is quaint," Lane said. "We're really hoping to promote historical Woodbridge and see if we can't get people to know where we are."

Gomez and Lane aren't alone in reaching their goals. Ricardo Torrez, Jose Luis Zamora (their head chef) and his brother Romero Zamora have been with Cactus for its 15-year history. Lane admits they couldn't run the business without them.

Another key cog in the Cactus wheel is their bartender, Casey Evans, who has been with the restaurant for nine years.

"He's the best bartender in town. He's the best. He's totally for the customer," said Lane. "We couldn't do without Casey."

And outside of the hostesses and waitstaff, another important employee is Gomez and Lane's son, nine-year-old Austin Gomez. His job on Friday nights is to refill the chips and salsa - it doesn't get much more important than that.

With cactus seeing such success over the years, will Gomez and Lane look to open more locations?

"We're looking at opening another place, somewhere. We just haven't decided exactly where," Lane said. She went on to say that her step-son, Efrain Gomez Jr., who was a chef at Roy's Restaurant in Maui would be the one to run the new location.

But for now, Lane and Gomez will be focusing on taking care of their well-raised 15-year-old.

Contact Lodi Living Editor Marc Lutz at marcl@lodinews.com.

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