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Restaurateurs bring lifelong friendships to new Carbondale venture

Locations: News Published

If you’ve walked past the location of the former Mi Casita restaurant lately, you may have noticed the brown packaging paper that once covered the windows is now peeled back, allowing passersby to peek in and satisfy their natural curiosity.

Located at the corner of Weant Boulevard and Main Street, La Raza hopes to add a little wiggle room to Carbondale’s much-in-demand restaurant scene. The owners promise patrons a full-service restaurant with authentic food and drinks from the Guadalajara and Oaxaca regions of Mexico.

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Rigoberto “Rigo” Vasquez, La Raza co-owner and head chef, is no stranger to the area or restaurant business. He has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 24 years and worked with current Mi Chola restaurateur Adam Malmberg for 18 years.

Growing up in the city of Guadalajara with his seven brothers and one sister, Vasquez remembers the kitchen as a bustling beehive of activity. Meals for family were cooked in clay pots over a fire, and his mother and grandmother, known for their delectable dishes, catered weddings.

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Those beginnings taught Vasquez that anyone with passion can cook. “If you have a tomato and a chicken breast in your house, you can be creative and do anything you want with it… anything,” he said.

Malmberg, Vasquez and their other La Raza partners, Brad Smith and Jordan White, have been good friends and business partners in various restaurant ventures, including Aspen’s Mi Chola and one of the city’s most-missed haunts, the now-closed Red Onion.

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The quartet’s first foray into the Carbondale restaurant scene, they assured that La Raza would feature cuisine unlike any of their other ventures.

Vasquez offered up a couple of his favorite menu items, including cochinita pibil, a dish from Mexico’s Yucatán region made from pork. After the pork has been marinated in spices, it is wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked. The meat can be eaten with tacos or tortillas, topped with pickled onions and a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice.

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Another Vasquez specialty is molés, particularly molé negro, a richly-flavored Mexican sauce made with black chilhuacle, a rare chile that grows in the mountain valleys of Oaxaca.

During the remodeling, White explained, the team made every effort to use repurposed materials, including wood from trees killed by mountain pine beetles. The tables and chairs are repurposed from a recently-closed restaurant.

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White shared, “It’s not only cost-effective, but we also don’t need to be the next restaurant crew coming in here and throwing everything in the dump to start from scratch. If it’s usable — we’ve used it.”

The restaurant’s ambiance will include a smattering of art depicting ranching and rodeo life, including Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) and one historical image from a Carbondale rodeo.

Malmberg shared, “We’re looking at the blend of cultures between ranching and the rodeo and between Carbondale and Mexico.”

Smith, former manager and owner of The Red Onion, who Malmberg called “an amazing chef,” will work alongside Vasquez to put the finishing touches on dishes.

The four friends, with many years of experience in the restaurant industry, have brought that tight-knit bond to their La Raza business venture. They want Carbondale and the surrounding community to embrace La Raza as a place to celebrate quinceañeras, birthdays and other special occasions.

Vasquez said that the restaurant’s name — La Raza — “has confused people.” He added, “Some people think it’s kind of racist, but I don’t see it from that perspective. When I grew up, it didn’t matter your color; it didn’t matter your race, it didn’t matter where you came from — it was about friendship and community relationship.”

He said the name reflects the idea of being all-in as a community and looking out for and honoring one another. He shared, “‘La raza’ means 100% friendship, community, honesty.

The La Raza family invites you to stop by for dinner and drinks. They will be announcing lunch hours at a later date.

Tags: #Adam Malmberg #Brad Smith #business #food #Jordan White #La Raza #México #Mi Casita #restaurant #Rigo Vasquez
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