By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Cory Lucas likes to say he just fell into the restaurant business. Perhaps he’s making a bigger impact than he thinks. Lucas revived Rancho de Tia Rosa after his family purchased it in bankruptcy court and recently reopened the restaurant on McKellips Road.

“We purchased it from the bankruptcy court about four years ago,” he says. “It was gone. It wasn’t here. We had friends in the community tell us, ‘Hey, don’t let this go away.’

“So, my family, we went to the court proceedings. The courts closed it and I thought, ‘This is an Arizona icon. This can’t happen.’”

Banners marking its return to the Mesa location were hung near McKellips Road until it opened with much fanfare.

Since it opened a few months ago, the 8,000-square-foot hacienda-style eatery has attracted diners with its healthful take on Mexican grub. It mixes elements of Baja-Coastal-style cuisines. Lucas says it’s hard to pinpoint a signature dish at the restaurant.

“We’re Baja Coastal,” he says. “It’s sweet with flavors of papaya, mango and pineapple.”

The “tried and true” is the chicken enchilada with green sauce ($3.99), which Lucas describes as “not hot and spicy but sweet coastal.” The grilled salmon steak ($18.99) is another favorite, but the shrimp tacos—or the shrimp and salmon tacos ($4.49)—are popular.

“We also have our award-winning chile relleno,” Lucas says about the dish that sells for $16.99. “It’s not your normal relleno. It’s not deep fried. It is filled with delicious pork picadillo and has a beautiful presentation.”

For meat and potato lovers, there’s the ribeye steak ($26.99).

“It’s aged 28 days and we hand cut it right before grilling it to perfection,” Lucas says. “It’s our most expensive dish, so people initially think we’re just trying to sell them something expensive until they take their first bite. It’s USDA prime and amazing.

“We’re a Mexican food restaurant, but we also have wonderful chipotle mashed potatoes that are very good.”

The interior design and architecture will induce the feeling of beautiful cities in South-Central Guanajuato, Mexico, such as San Miguel de Allende and Cuernavaca. Bright colors and natural light fill the dining room.

“There literally are no other restaurants that come anywhere near this amazing look and ambiance,” Lucas says. “We have all this detail, all the hand-made Mexican tiles and the custom chairs and tables. We hand carved the chairs to celebrate the ones that were here when Tia Rosa originally opened here years ago.

“We specifically designed and decorated to bring back the original Tia Rosa everyone has come to know and love. You don’t see properties built like this. It has so much detail. You walk around here for hours admiring it.”

The patio doors offer a sneak peek into a plot that was a garden that Lucas is considering resurrecting. Greenhouses pepper the backyard. The massive parking lot, he says, would be perfect for a future farmers market.

“The community support is amazing,” he says. “People are so excited that we’re back. I see this as continuing to be the Arizona icon it has always been. The future is bright.”

Rancho de Tia Rosa, 3129 E. McKellips Road, Mesa, 480.659.8787, ranchodetiarosas.com.

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