By Kathy Montgomery | Photograph by Paul Markow
Ask anyone from Graham or Greenlee counties about good Mexican food, and they’ll likely talk about La Paloma Restaurant.
“If someone’s from the [Gila] Valley, they know La Paloma,” owner Nick Tellez says. “I would say something about La Paloma, and someone would go, ‘Hey, I’m from Safford,’ or ‘I’m from Pima,’ or ‘I’m from Thatcher, and we love La Paloma.’ It’s been one of those things that has connected people when they leave here.”
For the rest of us, La Paloma feels like a hidden treasure, tucked away on a side street in the tiny, largely Hispanic community of Solomon, near Safford.
Located in a modest Santa Fe-style building, the restaurant has been serving up Sonoran classics to its faithful for more than 40 years.
First hired as a dishwasher at age 12, Tellez learned the business from the ground up, holding a variety of positions before leaving to attend college at 22. After working for several years in Phoenix restaurants, Tellez returned in 2011 to manage La Paloma, with the goal of taking it over from its longtime owners. He bought it on January 1, 2016.
Upon his return, Tellez began tweaking the menu, freshening the Sonoran recipes the restaurant was known for and adding new items: seafood dishes such as ceviche, tilapia tacos and a shrimp fajita salad, as well as grilled meats and veggies for fajitas and other dishes. He also added side dishes he grew up with, including fideo (Mexican-style pasta made with sautéed onions, tomatoes, sauce and spices) and calabacitas (summer squash with chiles, cheese and sautéed onions).
A new brunch menu features traditional Mexican breakfast dishes, along with playful versions of American classics, such as sopapilla “pancakes” (fluffy pillows of fried dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and served with butter and maple syrup) and La Paloma’s version of chicken-fried steak: breaded flank steak bathed in chicken enchilada sauce and served with eggs.
Tellez’s efforts have certainly paid off. La Paloma won the professional division of Safford’s annual SalsaFest in 2012, the first year it entered. This year, the restaurant was one of 13 Arizona businesses to receive a Success Award from the Arizona chapter of America’s Small Business Development Centers.
The changes have also allowed La Paloma to attract new diners looking for something fresh and different, while keeping longtime customers, families who have patronized the restaurant for generations, happy.
“I see guests who have eaten here for a lifetime, and they still eat the same thing,” Tellez says. “And the children I waited on [when they] were 3, 4, 5, they’re now 30. So it’s an intergenerational thing, and we’re constantly innovating, so we’re getting those new generations in, too.”
La Paloma Restaurant is located at 5183 E. Clifton Street in Solomon. For more information, call 928-428-2094 or visit www.lapalomarestaurant.net.