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Jul 24, 2014

North Of The Border: A Guide For Starting A Mexican Restaurant

Posted: Mar 01, 2013

American’s have a love affair with Mexican food that has been grown in leaps and bounds in the last few decades, and Mexican restaurants have started to pop up in neighborhoods across the country.  Though Mexican restaurants require the standard pieces needed when opening a restaurant (such as refrigeration, storage, prep tables, etc.), there are a number of pieces in both the front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house that are necessary before anything can be cooked.

Back-Of-The-House: Aside from things like a walk-in or a refrigerated prep table, there are some specific pieces of cooking and warming equipment that should be in nearly all Mexican eateries.

  • Fryers, Baskets, & Chip Warmers – A staple of many Mexican restaurants are the freshly fried taco shells, taco salad bowls, and tortilla chips, and without a commercial deep fryer, your business will be forced to use pre-made products.  In addition to a fryer, specific baskets to shape and form taco shells and taco salad bowls should be purchased to increase efficiency.  A chip warmer should also be on the shopping list to keep the large volumes of chips being fried warm for extended periods of time.
  • Range & Griddle – Mexican restaurants often times require a range top to cook sauces such as mole or queso dip, however it is a good idea to consider a range with a griddle top as well.  Many Mexican restaurateurs use a griddle to cook off large quantities of ground beef or to sauté pepper and onion blends, but do not necessarily have the pressing need to have their griddle constantly running.  A range with a griddle would be a great way to save on initial costs and space.
  • Charbroiler – Most of the proteins cooked in a Mexican restaurant (aside from ground meats) will be cooked on a charbroiler.  Take a look at the expected volume of cooking, and whether or not customers’ proteins will be cooked in advanced before sizing your charbroiler.
  • Flash Steamer – Flash steamers are the most popular way to heat soft tortillas in a commercial environment.  A flash steamer heats tortillas in seconds; making them more malleable without excessively heating or drying out the shell.
  • Steam Tables – To speed up operations in the back of the house, most Mexican restaurants will par-cook many of their foods in preparation, and then thoroughly heat them and hold their temperatures in a steam table or steam wells during service.  This allows cooks to meet the tremendous demand for hot foods that may otherwise be difficult to keep up with.
  • Vegetable Prep – Vegetable prep is incredibly important in a Mexican restaurant.  There is a tremendous amount of vegetable prep that goes into making things like salsa, pico de gaillo, or hot sauce, not to mention other vegetables that need to be cut.  Every Mexican restaurant shout have a slicer / dicer, a lettuce cutter, a food processor, and even possibly a citrus wedger (for lime garnishes or margaritas) to speed up prep work.
  • Meat Prep – There is quite a bit of meat preparing that needs to be done behind the scenes in every Mexican restaurant, so it is important to have the right tools.  Proper butcher cutlery, a chopping block, and even meat grinders (for those that intend on freshly grinding their meat) have their place in the BOH.
  • Utensils & Kitchen Accessories – Traditional kitchen utensils and accessories such as cutting boards, cutlery, cookware, etc. will all be necessary if you are starting a Mexican eatery, however, one of the biggest needs will be a surplus of hotel pans.  If you will be serving from steam tables, hotel pans will continually being filled, used and switched out, so it is important to stock up heavily.  Additionally, other accessories to serve from these pans will also be needed.  Ladles, tongs, serving spoons, and dishers should be on hand to assist in serving / plating.

Front-Of-The-House:  Front-of-the-house operations in a Mexican restaurant are much the same as other eateries, but there are a few specific items that make them stand apart from other restaurants.

  • Buffet Wells / Salsa Bar – A mainstay in most Mexican restaurants with a dining area, a salsa bar gives customers a fresh array of salsa and sauce options.  These buffets vary in shape and size depending on what business owners stock them with, but there are a few items necessary to set up every salsa bar.  Drop-in hot / cold wells (either separate or combination wells), as well as round wells for hot dips like queso, serviceware and countertop dispensing equipment for things like plastic ramekins will be needed on a salsa bar.
  • Specialty Smallwares & Serviceware – There are some specialty pieces of serviceware that are needed for specific menu items at Mexican restaurants.  Things like tortilla warmers and flat iron serving plates (for sizzling skillets) are just a few examples of items that will be required in Mexican restaurants that aren’t found in many other establishments.  Take a look at your menu before purchasing serviceware to find any items that may be essential to serve your food other than traditional flatware and plates.
  • Margarita Machine – Let’s face it, Mexican eateries with bars often go through copious amounts of frozen beverages, and blending drink after drink can get time consuming.  Installing a margarita machine behind your bar will save bartenders time without sacrificing the quality of the product you are putting out to your customers.


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