The delivery vessel for the signature item at Republica Empanada is about as bland and drab as can be: a white bag adorned with a light, somewhat faint, black font that names the type of empanada inside.
It’s quite the contrast compared to everything else involved with the downtown Mesa restaurant.
The walls are decorated brightly, the atmosphere matches the frantic pace of the staff, the matriarch of the Mraz family displayed her gregarious personality on the Food Network and the food tantalizes the taste buds, especially the neon green salsa that touches every note you want from a homemade salsa.
The combination led to Republica Empanada, which has been open for about four-and-half years, being nominated by someone – they don’t know who – to be on the hit TV show “Diner, Drive-ins and Dives.”
The producers agreed so Guy Fieri and his red Camaro showed up in Mesa in October to tape and episode that aired on Dec. 22.
The title of the episode is “Mom’s Kitchen.”
It’s the perfect episode to feature Jinette Mraz. There’s no denying that Mraz, a retired bus driver for Mesa Public Schools, runs the show and the kitchen that produces Latin American comfort food.
“I’m still full of pep and vinegar, I tell ya,” she told Fieri.
With her dancing and the back-and-forth with Fieri wouldn’t suggest as much, but she was a bit timid to start the filming.
“She’s the heart of it all,” her husband, Edmundo, said. “She was nervous at first to be on the show, but her personality came out, just like it does with the food.”
Edmundo said business has increased a good 30 percent since the airing of the show and came during the usual slow down of the holiday season.
“Guy told us it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “We hired extra staff, and more cooks. It’s been a great experience for us.”
Most of the staff, including their son, Marco, as the general manager is still family. It gives a great feel to kitchen and dining areas as their pride in the work and food can be felt throughout the dining experience.
The menu focuses on the empanada – 16 savory, eight sweet (go with banana cream pie) flavors in the Latin version of a turnover – but don’t be afraid to go with one of the tortas – the salmon especially – or the platters, led by the arroz con pollo, a traditional chicken and rice meet brightly seasoned by achiote.
“I love that they offer vegan options, too,” patron Theresa Decker of Chandler said. “It’s a great experience every time we go whether I go with my son Ethan or a big group.”
Make no mistake, however, the empanada, a golden brown is what keeps everyone coming back to this place, which is approaching four-and-half years since the doors opening in June of 2013.
The El Capitan (ground beef, potato, boiled egg, green olives and golden raisin), cheeseburger and Cubana are the most popular, but don’t sleep on the pernil, which is well-seasoned pork.
The flakiness of the empanada is noticeable as soon as the fork begins to cut through the surface. It’s the perfect combo to with the mouth-watering, and seasoned pork, which has a nice mustard base backed up by garlic, cumin and red wine.
It’s simple compared to some of the other options, but so very succulent and when the green salsa is added it’s a terrific marriage.
The Mraz have been in Mesa for 50 years – Jinette being adopted out of Costa Rica at age 7 and Edmundo coming from Mexico – were happy to open their first restaurant in their home city after working out of cart at a co-cop that eventually closed after promises weren’t kept.
“It’s been a good location for us,” said Edmundo, who retired from General Motors when the plant closed. “We have some loyal customers and business has been taking off. I wasn’t sure about (the location) to start, but it has been a good fit.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 204 E. 1st Ave. (1st Avenue/Hibbert Street)
Phone number: 480-969-1343
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.