La Villa Mexican Grill is the little Longboat engine that could. It took Estella Villegas 16 months to open the new restaurant located at 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed everything down from remodeling to buying tables and chairs. Villegas would know, this is not the first restaurant she and her husband have opened.
The original La Villa is in Valrico and opened nine years ago. The menus are representative of different regions in Mexico because the cuisine varies across the country.
“I lived in Mexico City for 19 years and never ever heard the word fajitas,” she said. “We don’t eat burritos in Mexico City either. That’s more of the northern part of Mexico.”
Both dishes are on the menu, and both offer vegetarian options.
Villegas left Mexico City for the United States at 19 years old. She started out in the Tampa Bay area, then gave Chicago and Dallas a try, but returned to where she started to settle down in 2003 with her husband and two children.
The kids are in college now, but help with the restaurants when on break. Still a family business, husband Juan Pingarron currently runs the Valrico location, and her nephew works with her on Longboat Key.
“My husband is the one who created most of the dishes,” Villegas said. “He’s at the other restaurant, but we’re planning to bring him here once the season gets busy because he’s the best cook.”
As with any homemade family dinner, it may take a little longer to prepare. Stop in on a Wednesday, and a mariachi band will serenade your table while you wait. The band plays every other Wednesday for now. They’ll play weekly when the season is in full swing.
“Please be patient because nothing is premade, precooked, frozen or canned,” Villegas said. “Everything is fresh and made at the time you order it. We use the best products.”
With rising prices, Villegas says it’s tempting to go with lesser quality ingredients, but the couple choose not to. Pingarron drives to a produce market in Plant City two to three times a week to keep both kitchens freshly stocked.
They also have a fully stocked liquor bar, and Villegas says people really like the margaritas.
La Villa is open seven days a week from 12 to 8 p.m.