Food & Drink

Los Arcos owners want customers to feel like family

Fajitas Los Arcos, a combination of chicken, shrimp and beef, are transferred to a hot cast iron pan at Los Arcos in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Fajitas Los Arcos, a combination of chicken, shrimp and beef, are transferred to a hot cast iron pan at Los Arcos in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Rigoberto and Marta Garcia have opened a lot of restaurants since first moving to Iowa in the 1990s.

“One of my customers said, ‘I’m counting how many you open,’” Marta said. “I think now it’s more than 13.”

Their latest, Los Arcos, opened Oct. 5 on Highway 1 in Iowa City.

They started in Columbus Junction in the 1990s, almost by happenstance. They were living in Chicago and were traveling, and stopped at a small Mexican restaurant in Columbus Junction for lunch. Rigoberto told the owner to call him if she ever needed someone to take over the restaurant. Soon after that, she did just that, and the couple moved to Iowa.

“It was a big change, but we liked it, because we are from a little town in Mexico,” Marta said.

Since that first restaurant, they have moved around, from small town to small town, with a stint in California in the middle. Over the intervening years, they’ve opened restaurants in Muscatine, Crawfordsville, West Branch, Conesville, Wapello, and most recently Winfield. All have since closed.

They’ve been looking for a place for a restaurant in Iowa City for some time. Their Winfield restaurant was named El Oasis, but when they moved to Iowa City they decided to change the name, so as not to be confused with the Oasis restaurant that already exists in the Northside neighborhood. Los Arcos was the name of their first restaurant in Columbus Junction, so they decided to return to it.

The couple are high school sweethearts — they both grew up in the same town near Guadalajara, Mexico. Los Arcos means “the arches” and refers to characteristic arches found in the architecture there, Marta said.

Rigoberto has been working in restaurants for 40 year but cooking since he was a child.

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“I learned from my mother. When I was little, I just stayed with her and watched her cook,” he said.

Marta remembers him bragging about his culinary skills as a child,

“In the fifth grade, he told us he’s a cook, and us girls didn’t believe him,” she said.

She believes him now.

“I’m so happy, because I’m not cooking,” she said with a laugh. “I can cook, but now with a passion. And for this, you need a passion. You need to cook with love.”

She also has a passion for the restaurant business.

“I love the people. You can see so many people and know so many people from different countries,” Marta said. “ You can ask where they come from, their histories, their hometowns.”

Rigoberto said they have customers who have followed them from restaurant to restaurant. Building community is important to them, he said.

“Especially these days when people don’t want to talk to each other, we want to talk to you,” he said.

“The customer is not a customer. They’re part of the family. Sometimes, if they stop coming, I worry about them,” Marta added.

The menu is full of Mexican and Tex-Mex classics, with fajitas and chile rellenos proving popular with their Iowa City customers. Rigoberto said his specialty are his soups, including the Seven Seas soup with fish, shrimp, oysters, crab legs, octopus, and crab meat, or menudo, made with beef in broth with red chili peppers.

“I have a passion for cooking,” he said. “This is what I like to do.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

l What: Los Arcos

l Where: 531 Highway 1 West, Iowa City

l Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

l Details: (319) 512-4141, facebook.com/losarcosia

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