From Sanchez to San Juan

By on May 30, 2018

One of Jackson’s best-overlooked restaurants has expanded with brighter digs and a breakfast menu

Sanchez has been remodeled into San Juan, a veritable sit-down restaurant where the veggie and fish tacos are still a must-order. (Robyn Vincent)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Rigoberto Sosa and Maria Carlos Aviles’s story encapsulates the American Dream. Born in San Juan, a small town in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, Aviles came to the United States at the age of 14. She met her husband, Rigoberto, while living in Idaho Falls, and the pair moved to Jackson in 2003 to work at Sanchez. It was one of Jackson’s favorite unsung Mexican eateries but lacked seating and space.

In 2016, Sanchez owner Salvador Zarate offered them an opportunity that would change their lives (and the lives of their four children) forever: to buy his restaurant and become business owners.

As luck would have it, the neighboring jewelry store on Pearl Avenue had just shut down, opening up one of Jackson’s last standing historical log cabins. When the landlord offered them the space, they pounced.  

With new ownership came incremental changes, starting with the restaurant’s name. “‘Sanchez’ doesn’t have meaning to us,” Aviles explained. “I am from San Juan, and we wanted to make this place ours.”

The biggest alteration would be their expansion into the newly acquired property, knocking down the dividing wall and renovating the old retail space into a bright, airy dining room. Little did they know the rigmarole their renovations required.

“We paid a lease for two years for nothing,” Aviles said, “but we didn’t want to lose the space to someone else before we could renovate.”

The Mexican decor at San Juan pairs well with its authentic Mexican food.

The pair learned just what it takes to own a business in Jackson—they paid a fee for employee housing and acquired and paid for an alcohol license that they could not use for one year until the new addition was ready. When they thought they were finished, town officials pulled the breaks. They came by and said a partition wall needed to be moved a few inches before passing code inspections.

Back to work they went.

Three months ago, their tenacity paid off and the doors to San Juan finally opened for business.

Another change? Breakfast is now on the menu. Arriving at 7:30 a.m. to open at 8, they serve food all day long, going home to their children at 11 p.m. five nights a week. (The restaurant is open until 4 p.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.)  

Long hours are a price the couple is willing to pay: “I want my children to have the opportunities we didn’t and for them to go to college,” Aviles said.

It’s a team effort. Sosa, along with another Sanchez veteran, cooks up some of the best Mexican dishes in Jackson while Aviles serves them to hungry patrons.

Guacamole lends San Juan’s grilled shrimp tacos a tasty contrast between creamy and crunchy.

Sanchez amassed a reputation for its tortas (massive Mexican sandwiches) and burritos, which are still highlights of the menu. But San Juan’s tacos are not to be overlooked. As a good taco should, the protein is the highlight, but is given a fresh boost from crunchy onions, tart lime and sweet cilantro.  

The grilled shrimp tacos are cooked perfectly and served with just enough guacamole to accompany the shellfish without drowning it. And don’t be squeamish, order some tender, rich lengua (beef tongue) tacos. Served with their house green or red salsa (a top-secret family recipe), an order of three will sate your hunger and taste buds.

Though the menu hasn’t changed much since becoming San Juan, Aviles hopes to bring classic dishes from Guerrero, where Spanish, French and the indigenous flavors of Mexico coalesce. Already, San Juan is serving the breakfasts Aviles grew up with: jalapeno and cheese or pork tamales with champurrado, a delicious Mexican take on hot chocolate; huevos rancheros; chilaquiles and burritos.

Of course, when discussing San Juan’s space, one cannot overlook the outdoor seating. Tall shrubs have created a lovely enclave for diners while they sip on margaritas and cervezas.

About Helen Goelet

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