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Oscar Salcido, left, and Jorge Coch look forward to the opening of their restaurant Maria Bonita Grill and Cantina. With them is Coch's 19-month-old daughter Isabella.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Oscar Salcido, left, and Jorge Coch look forward to the opening of their restaurant Maria Bonita Grill and Cantina. With them is Coch's 19-month-old daughter Isabella.

GRANDE OPENING
Maria Bonita 'FINALLY'
set for business

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com ˇ 340-2469

If you work in downtown Decatur and Mexican cuisine is in your lunch plans, leave your car parked.

Maria Bonita, an authentic Mexican restaurant, opens Wednesday for lunch at East Moulton Street and Second Avenue Southeast.

"Finally, with big letters," co-owner Oscar Salcido said. "We're really opening, and we're not going to be like any other Mexican restaurant in Decatur."

Added partner Jorge Coch: "We planned to be different. We wanted an atmosphere that is laid back but is nice where people can take their family or a date."

For reasons they said were beyond their control, it has taken Salcido and Coch more than two years to open what they describe as an upscale Mexican restaurant without upscale prices.

The lunch menu, for example, starts at $5.75. For dinner, entree prices range between $7.95 for enchiladas to $17.95 for grilled tenderloin, halibut, baby scallops or coconut tiger shrimp. You can order filet mignon with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes and mixed grilled vegetables for $12.95.

What separates Maria Bonita's menu from those of other Mexican restaurants is that Salcido and Coch have added traditionally non-Mexican dishes that will be cooked in Mexican spices and sauces.

For $6.95 at lunch, for example, you can have fettuccini Alfredo with beef, chicken or shrimp cooked in Mexican sauces.

There's also a menu for dieters that includes a tuna wrap, grilled shrimp and chicken breast salad.

Maria Bonita's building has served as a restaurant location for more than a decade.

In the 1980s it was Sports Page Deli, and in 1990 Court Street Café started a six-year run. Albany Station followed in 1997, then Albany Grill and, lastly, Beauregard's. The last, which specialized in chicken wings, closed in 2003, and the building then remained vacant.

Salcido and Coch are not worried about the building's history. They believe they can make it in downtown Decatur, in part, because they are not going to be like any other restaurant in the city.

During the summer months, for example, they plan to serve food outside and provide live entertainment.

"We also plan to have chef's specials and a soup of the day," Salcido said. "We think this is a good location with a good atmosphere, and we're going to do what we can to meet the needs of our customers."

Salcido first announced plans to open the restaurant in January 2005. What he called a series of "unfortunate" mishaps delayed the opening.

Restaurant furniture stayed wrapped in plastic as the owners restored the floor, replaced faulty wiring and plumbing, and sealed a leaking roof.

Salcido had a delay getting a liquor license and at one point lost his cook, who had returned to Mexico and became ill.

But, he never lost sight of coming downtown because "I believe people will drive here for good food in a good atmosphere."

Maria Bonita finally took off when Salcido forged a partnership with Coch, his cousin from Mexico.

"We were raised together," Coch said. "When we were little, we sold candy and donuts (on the streets) in Mexico."

As for the name, Maria Bonito honors their late grandmother, Maria Mercedes Montes de Oca, and Maria Felix, a famous Mexican actress.

The Marias were friends in Mexico. Salcido and Coch said their grandmother died in the United States about three years ago.

Bonita, they explained, means beautiful in Spanish.

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