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Growing Restaurants Bring Flavors of Mexico to Salem

Written by Kathy Hall on Feb. 8th, 2024
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Two homegrown businesses are kicking off 2024 with energy, optimism, and Mexican-inspired food.  Fiesta Pizza and Delicias Oaxaqueñas are local restaurants that both have opened their doors in new locations.  This might be a positive sign that Salem’s restaurants are making a steady comeback after rough times during the pandemic.

A U.S. restaurant industry non-profit – the James Beard Foundation – recently shared its findings on the state of the industry.  They polled restaurant categories spanning the gamut from fast casual to fine dining during the Fall of 2023.   67% of respondents said 2023 had been a good or average year for their restaurant.  And 36% said they had more customers in 2023 than the year before. The biggest challenges for restaurants are rising food and labor costs.

According to Axios, the Oregon restaurant industry is on the upswing with 25 new Yelp restaurant listings for every 100,000 people.  

So how can restauranteurs be successful in these economic times?  Innovation, perseverance, family and community support seem to be the secret sauce for Salem’s Fiesta Pizza and Delicias Oaxaquenas. 

Fiesta Pizza owner Victor Duarte, a 30-year Salem resident, has been refining his business and recipes for more than six years in Salem.  He sees his new location at 1122 Lancaster Drive NE, as an opportunity to bring his fusion pizzas to more customers.

Fiesta Pizza’s menu features unique pizzas that incorporate authentic Mexican flavors including their best-selling pastor and carne asada toppings.  

Duarte is from Mexico and has found running his own business challenging and rewarding.  He says he and his wife Maria Juarez make a “good team” running the restaurant together.  He credits her cooking skills, their distinct pizza recipes, and the support of his family to their success.  

Duarte’s brother and cousin also own pizza restaurants – but in Mexico.  They encouraged him to open his own restaurant in Salem.  Duarte says the new, larger location will give him room to create and serve a wider variety of pizza flavors and toppings.  

Duarte says his pizzas are “a slice of Mexico” and that every customer is “treated like family”.   

Delicias Oaxaqueñas is an authentic Mexican restaurant now located at 1950 Lancaster Drive NE, #131.  Owner-operator Elizabeth Leon Bautista has been in business for three years serving up traditional meals from her native Oaxacan region of Mexico.

“This restaurant is also a family affair.”  Leon was encouraged by her sister, friends, and her five children to start her own business.  Three of her grown children work with her at the restaurant.  Leon said she likes to “share the flavors of her food and her culture” by cooking for customers and enjoys seeing the “new faces” coming into Delicias Oaxaqueñas. 

Leon has two sons and a daughter who works with her at the restaurant.  Her teen son, Emanuel Santos Leon, said he’s gaining valuable experience “working with his mom and learning.” 

Elizabeth Leon’s personal favorite menu item is Mole Oaxaqueno which she says is also their best-selling dish.   Burritos, breakfast burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, and chilaquiles are some of the items on the menu.  

Delicias Oaxaqueñas also takes special orders for a variety of tamales during the holidays including chicken with mole, chicken with green sauce, and chicken with red sauce. 

Leon says the Salem restaurant community has been very supportive, including Victor Duarte of Fiesta Pizza.  She said her focus every day is to cook delicious food for each one of her customers.

Both Duarte and Leon’s experiences might be an indicator that better times are on the horizon for Oregon’s restaurant industry. 

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