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A new place with old friends

Former owner, manager of El Sol opening new Mexican restaurant
Gene Romero adds some details to one of the five acrylic paintings he has created for the Frida Kahlo Restaurant. Romero, of Santa Fe, teaches at New Mexico State University, but received his master’s degree from the University of Iowa and often returns during summer. (photo by Doug Lindner)

Solon Economist
SOLON– Familiar faces will greet patrons at the door, and familiar selections will be on the menu, but there will also be some new surprises at the Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery that will open in Solon at the beginning of August.
Diego Rivera, former owner of El Sol Mexican Cuisine in Solon and Mount Vernon, has partnered with former El Sol manager Joel Vazquez to bring the community a new restaurant at 101 Windflower Ln., (in the Dock’s old location).
Rivera shares the name with, but is no relation to, famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, husband of renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, for which this restaurant is named. He has been in the restaurant business since 2006, starting other successful ventures like Los Cabos and Casa Tequila. Since launching his restaurant in Solon four years ago, Rivera quickly became a well-known part of the area’s culinary landscape. Rivera sold El Sol in Solon a year ago, and the Mount Vernon El Sol just this month, in order to set a new course for himself and Vasquez.
“We just want to follow our dreams,” said Rivera. “The community has been very welcoming to us, our food and our ideas. We want to give the community something even better.”
Vazquez agreed.
“We wanted to have a bigger place, where people can sit and stay longer, and they don’t feel like they have to rush out the door when it’s busy,” said Vazquez.
The corner locale that has housed several other eateries fit the order for more space, and the two owners hope a successful restaurant will draw even more new businesses to the south side of Solon, without detracting from any other eating establishments in town.
That’s why they decided to incorporate some new offerings at Frida Kahlo. Rivera went to Mexico in December to take culinary art classes.
“Mexico is the most obese nation,” said Rivera, citing the colonization of that country by the Spanish Europeans as its dietary downfall, with the additions of meats from domesticated animals, heavy dairy products and rich sauces. Since he has been learning about pre-Hispanic foods– more salads, more seafood, vegetables and other natural ingredients raised by organic methods– he wants to add those fresh choices to his menu. He also tries to buy his vegetables from local sources, like Kroul’s Farm north of Solon and an organic tomato farmer near Mount Vernon.
“We will still have the same menu as before, but we also want to give people healthier options in addition,” said Rivera. Still available will be daily specials, as well as the owners’ personal creations that have become favorite dishes, like the molcajete (grilled ribeye topped with avocado, cactus salad and grilled onions), the unique parrillada, which is a mix of marinated steak, chicken, chorizo and shrimp served with grilled onions, tomatoes and peppers topped with Chihuahua cheese, and the famous flaming fajita.
“That was my invention,” Vazquez laughed.
The experienced Mexican chefs from the Mount Vernon location will be manning the kitchen at Frida Kahlo, but Rivera himself has decided to present a new specialty; fresh guacamole made right at each diner’s table.
“If you want guacamole, I’ll come right to the table with fresh avocado and fresh-chopped ingredients, and mix it for you right there, so you can custom-order it,” said Rivera. “You want more onions, you get it. You want less cilantro, no problem. I will make it how you like it.”
Also new will be the addition of Lucy’s Bakery. Lucy Vazquez is Joel’s wife, an accomplished baker whose side business has been making exquisite tres leches– three milks– cakes, all from scratch.
“She won’t let us order the whipped cream or other ingredients from vendors,” said Vazquez. “She makes everything from her family’s traditional recipes.” Lucy’s cakes will be displayed in a refrigerated case by the front door, and can be enjoyed by the slice at the restaurant, or whole cakes can be ordered for special occasions.
Frida Kahlo’s staff will be serving seven days a week, from 4 until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and open at 11 a.m. on Sundays to provide a fajita buffet. Customers can watch sports, including the Hawkeye games, on any one of eight televisions inside, or sit on the newly-renovated patio to enjoy a wide range of beverages: domestic, imported and Mexican beers on tap, or their famous margaritas, like the new Frida-Rita, a premium margarita topped with a Coronita cerveza. Happy hour is from 3 until 7 p.m. daily.
“Just as Joel has always been, we both want to stay involved with this community. We want to make this a family-friendly environment so kids can enjoy being here while their parents are eating too,” said Rivera. “We are excited to offer Solon another option.”
“We hope people will come to eat and stay as long as they like,” added Vazquez.