In the city of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, there is a food establishment that opens and closes every day. Not just opens and closes for the day, but opens for its first day of business, and closes for its last day.
It’s hard to keep up with how many restaurants pop up all around you in this city. At the end of dirt roads, between big grocery stores, next to gas stations. Opening a new eating place can be done by anyone and almost anywhere, seemingly overnight.
A lot of them are not what you expect. They are kitchens, literally, in homes with seats out in the front and Now Open signs. A restaurant can be just that. Tables and chairs in driveways. Menus painting on walls. People living inside, making your food while enjoying the evening novela.
These kinds of restaurants are here today and gone tomorrow. They are good, but like most small businesses, the odds are against them. Delicious food and friendly smiles are only two ingredients in a winning business formula.
A friend and I drive around Agua Prieta on Sunday nights looking for these places. Our goal is to try a new one each week. Most of them are named after their owners, like “Pancho’s Burritos” and “Pizza de Paolo.” There is a certain personalness to these locals. People are proud to open up a new food stand, or food truck, or home kitchen with seats outside.
I trust a place with an owner that hangs his name on it.
Many of these temporary eateries serve “comida casera” or homemade-style food. The food you could make at home but would rather eat from a place that guarantees it tastes just like homemade food. The setup behind the counter looks like it was taken out of your grandmother’s kitchen. A regular stove. A cabinet with spices and dishes that don’t match. A lady with an apron and fast-moving hands. She knows what she’s doing, and she knows you’re waiting.
Everything in Agua Prieta is mixed up, and that’s what we like about it. The commerce district is in a residential neighborhood. Laundromats are next to bakeries. Churches next to plazas. Fire stations next to ice cream shops. Finding what you don’t expect to find is an important part of the experience.