Mexican culture enlivens new cafe |

Mexican culture enlivens new cafe

by Scott Neuffer

A fun-loving Indian Hills couple with a passion for Mexican culture has based their new cafe in Johnson Lane on a bright, bold color scheme, and fresh, homemade cuisine.

The wavy-rayed papier-mache sun hanging on the far wall says it all – Cafe del Sol.

Danny and Tina Esquivel opened the eatery on Annie Court in February. It took six weeks of renovation beforehand to create the atmosphere they’d envisioned, becoming a work of art in the process.

Danny, a former dry wall contractor, brought in timber he’d kept in his backyard since Copeland Lumber in Minden closed its doors. He fashioned a network of ceiling beams, stained a deep mahogany, with diamond-shaped, turquoise clavos, and a set of thick tables and benches to match. Slabs of polished granite were laid under a slotted wall, so that food could be passed from the kitchen. Chalkboards with turquoise frames now complement the cafe decor, along with a classic latte machine.

Tina added the artist’s touch, with papier-mache bowls, vessels, suns, roosters and snakes. She also refurbished some antique shelves and a chair she’d found tossed in the garbage.

She said much of her inspiration comes from the mysterious woman pictured throughout – famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – in some way the patron saint of the restaurant.

But it’s not just the artwork that characterizes Cafe del Sol. The menu is as colorful as the interior.

“Fresh food with a Mexican flair” is how Danny described it.

Dishes are selected both from the menu and specials board. There is a chile relleno pot pie with masa crust, but also turkey and clam chowder pot pies. There are burritos, enchiladas, tacos, tamales and tortilla soup, but also barbecued beef sandwiches, salads and coleslaw.

Breakfast proffers both a burrito and bagel sandwich.

“We really focus on seasonal items,” Danny said. “We both grew up poor in the San Joaquin Valley, and would have to go outside to see what there was to eat in the field.”

“If it didn’t come out of the garden, we didn’t eat it,” added Tina. “I ordered my first cookbook, a Betty Crocker cookbook, when I was 13 – out of necessity. I prefer fresh food because that’s how it used to be in the orchards.”

Tina, 54, and Danny, 55, have lived in Indian Hills for 10 years. They have three children and six grandchildren. They first met at Lake Tahoe in 1976.

Danny actually ran a drywall company at Incline Village for more than 30 years. When construction was slow, he found himself cooking at a local joint. Tina waited tables off and on. Thus, the couple has some experience in the restaurant industry.

“Danny always tells me that I’m a good cook, even when he’s mad at me,” Tina said.

Semi-retired, however, the couple built their business around a lifestyle more than anything.

“There’s a lot of sad, angry people in the world right now,” Danny said. “It’s not about making money for us. We’re trying to make people happy. When someone who’s grumpy comes in and sees the color, you can actually see them light up. We’re trying to live in the sunshine.”

Relying mostly on word-of-mouth, and a ’64 Chevy truck Danny parks on Johnson Lane, the couple has attracted some repeat customers. Surrounded by a business park, the restaurant has become a regular stop for employees of the Starbucks roasting plant, North Sails and Rite of Passage, Danny said.

“Once they’ve come in here, they come back,” he said. “We want residents to start begging us to open for dinner.”

Cafe del Sol offers catering services as well. Located at 1166, Annie Court, Suite E, Minden, the restaurant is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday.

For more information, call 721-9866.