“Oh my gosh, this is just like what I had in Cabo!”
When customers make comments like this, Mave Greene beams with pride because it confirms the authenticity of the menu at her restaurant, Ortega’s Taco Shop in Ranson, West Virginia.
The Eastern Panhandle is no stranger to ethnic foods, but it’s the Baja-inspired menu that makes Ortega’s Taco Shop stand out against similar venues. Mave says Mexico is like America in the way that the different regions of the country serve different types of food.
“Texas people like to smother their food,” she offers as an example. “I don’t like to smother anything. The only thing I smother is nachos.”
Neighboring restaurants, all of whom Mave maintains professional relationships with, off er similar fare but her shop is the only one that specializes in menu items that reflect the flavors originating in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.
WEST MEETS EAST AT ORTEGA’S TACO SHOP
A native of Southern California, Mave’s parents met in La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur, where her mother’s family traveled to take part in the fishing trade.
“It was love at first sight,” Mave reminisces, “[My mother] met my dad when she crossed the room and he fell in love with her. He had to meet her. He made a point of finding out who this girl was.” After a courtship, the two married and went on to start a family.
Mave and her husband also started their family in Southern California where she went to culinary school. She went on to work in the hotel industry until her husband’s job took them to Texas, where she worked in the dietary section of the local hospital.
When her husband’s job brought them to the East Coast, Mave’s dream of opening her own shop became a reality. She’s been serving authentic Baja-style food six days a week since the shop opened on June 13, 2013.
Why only six days? She maintains, “I will never open on Sunday. I believe that’s a commandment, and I believe people need a break. If He told us, ‘Don’t work on Sunday’, then we don’t work on Sunday.” She points skyward and nods, crediting prayer and hard work for the success of her restaurant. Mave’s son returned to the West Coast but her daughter stayed here and graduated from Shepherd University.
“She studied mass communication,” Mave says with pride. “I give her more than half the credit because she’s the one who has me on Twitter, Yahoo, Yelp, and everything. People here love us. We have a great following.”
Social media is essential to helping customers find Ortega’s Taco Shop, which is near Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, known to many as simply “The Track”. Located less than a mile away, you could almost walk there.. The restaurant’s Yelp page (www.yelp.com/biz/ortegas-taco-shopranson) has over 75 reviews which culminate in a rating of 4.5 of out a possible 5 stars.
About her dedicated customers, Mave shares that in addition to locals, “I’ve had people from Washington come from the track. People come here because of Yelp before they go to the casino. I’ve got a family that comes from Winchester once a week.”
A FLAVORFUL MENU OF FAMILY RECIPES
Although her mother is of Irish descent, Mave describes her family as being well-integrated in Mexican traditions on both parents’ sides. The recipes handed down from one generation to the next among her aunts and sisters are the same ones she uses in her shop today.
Mave explains that Baja is neither Tex-Mex nor traditional Mexican food. The idea is “fresh, outside patio eating” which is why during fair-weather days, customers are welcome to enjoy their food in the patio area outside Ortega’s Taco Shop.
Because she has a passion for flavor, Mave uses authentic Mexican queso and prepares her own sauces, despite also offering an array of commercially produced hot sauces for customer use.
When you walk through the door of Ortega’s Taco Shop, it’s like travelling across the Contiguous United States to the west coast in a single step.
People flock to the vintage building at traditional lunch and dinner times to nosh on the freshly prepared menu items, but the shop maintains a steady stream of business between those hours, too.
Because the food Mave and her staff prepare quickly sells out, you can be sure that your order is freshly prepared with fresh ingredients that withstand the heat of the cooked-to-order meats.
The current menu includes seven items which include burritos, nachos, and of course the shop’s namesake, tacos which include:
STREET TACO – a smaller portion with carne asada or pollo topped with a cilantro and onion mix
REGULAR TACO – contains choice of meat topped with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa
BAJA TACO – a fan favorite, regular-sized taco filled with panko-breaded, fried tilapia topped with cabbage, salsa, and an original recipe, mayo-based sauce
The nachos at Ortega’s Taco Shop are phenomenal. The chips, made in fresh batches each day, are thick enough to withstand being dipped in salsa or guacamole while retaining a satisfyingly crisp crunch. It’s an experience you won’t get from eating commercial brand tortilla chips.
The menu offers the same basic items year round, with the addition of soups for fall – like a chicken tortilla or a hearty vegetarian. Twice a year Mave returns to the West Coast to visit with family and get ideas for new things to try in her shop here in the Eastern Panhandle. The ideas are inspiration for short-term specials, such as fajitas.
HIGH STANDARDS REFLECT IN EVERY AREA OF THE BUSINESS
Mave trains her staff to follow her presentation so her high standards are always in place. As a result, she says, “I care. [My daughter] cares. I got my employees to care. We look out for the customers and people are happy eating here.
“My big motto for the kids is safety and sanitation. I’m always after them. I’m so repetitive that I see them do it. Because of my experience, everyone I hire starts at dishwashing. If you can’t wash a dish, you don’t belong in the kitchen. Wash, rinse, sanitize.”
These standards are imperative as the restaurant expands. Although they’re not yet up for providing food for big festivals or the county fair, they did serve food at the 2016 Happy Retreat Craft Beer and Music Festival. Mave also has a catering menu for various meetings and events. She just needs 72 hours notice to prepare food for about 100 people.
As these expansions take place, Ortega’s Taco Shop is always on the lookout for part-time workers with restaurant experience. Applicants with prior experience have a shorter learning curve than someone who has never worked in a restaurant before.
Visit Ortega’s Taco Shop every day except Sunday at 211 S Mildred Street in Ranson, West Virginia. For more information or to ask about job openings you can call (304) 728-4321. Look for Ortega’s Taco Shop on Facebook, and be sure to follow @OrtegasTacoShop on both Twitter and Instagram.