Restaurateur brings dream from Tijuana to Huntersville’s La Unica
by Staff Writer
by Cathy Swiney
Willie Ceballos is living the American Dream.
Fourteen years ago he immigrated to the United States from Mexico, hoping for a better life and dreaming of owning his own restaurant. That desire came from working in the restaurant business and later owning his first business, a street taco stand in his hometown of Tijuana.
“I hear stories in Mexico and never thought I’d have my own business (in the United States),” Ceballos said.
But with hard work, determination and faith, he’s proved that dreams can come true. Ceballos and business partner Martin Alcantar opened La Unica, a thriving Mexican restaurant in Huntersville, nearly four years ago.
Noticing with dismay that Mexican restaurants in his new home featured a menu of mostly Americanized Tex-Mex, Ceballos said he wanted his menu to offer more of the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine.
Customers are noticing the difference. Ask regulars what keeps them returning to La Unica, and their eyes light up. Answers usually include words like “authentic” and “best Mexican food.” For them, the restaurant’s name is appropriate – it means “the only one.” It is the go-to Mexican restaurant to satisfy a basic craving for a taco, enchilada or burrito or experience something more original.
“In Mexico, there are no hard shell tacos,” Ceballos said. “In Mexico, there are soft shell; what we have here. What I have on the menu is what you are going to get in Mexico.”
For instance, there is Guisado, a stew-like mixture of steak, chorizo and cactus tenders sautéed in a spicy tomatillo and chile de arbol salsa. Ceviche, shrimp and fish cooked in lemon juice with onions, tomato, cilantro and avocado, is another traditional dish.
“We try to make ours so it’s not too sour and not too fishy,” Ceballos said.
Frequent crowds are evidence that the balance of authentic Mexican and American influence is a winning combination. The tables in the bright, tiny space tucked into a strip shopping center on Sam Furr Road often fill quickly during prime meal times with business workers, firefighters, couples, families and groups that cross ethnic lines.
Not bad for a place that has no sign on the street.
Once there, enjoy complimentary chips and two salsas – mild and hot – which are served with a bowl of lime wedges, and sip on a margarita or cold Mexican beer.
For an entrée, try The No Name Dinner, a meal big enough to share. It features two burritos filled with spicy crab meat and shrimp, and two chicken flautas topped with sour cream and cheese. It is served with rice and half of an avocado filled with pico de gallo. The Carne Asada, made with steak that has marinated in a special blend of Mexican spices, arrives with rice, beans and tortillas.
If Tex-Mex comfort food is in order, combination plates offer choices of favorites such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, chile rellenos and chalupas.
Ceballos got his start with tacos, and he offers choices to enjoy them. Menu tacos range from carnitas (chunky pork) and al pastor (roast pork) to chorizo (Mexican sausage), asada (chopped steak) and to the less familiar lengua (beef tongue), each topped with cilantro and onions.
“We have fish tacos like I used to have in my hometown,” he says, “and now I serve them here.”
If there is room after eating a basket of chips and dinner, choose from several desserts. Among them are Xango, fried cheesecake in a flour tortilla with honey, cinnamon sugar, ice cream and whipped cream. Churros, cinnamon bread sticks, and sopapilla, lightly fried flour tortillas with honey, cinnamon sugar and whipped cream, are other options.
“I enjoy being part of a small business,” Ceballos said of living his dream. “You have to be faithful that it is going to work.”
Celebrate Cinco De Mayo
Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Fox and Hound Restaurant in Huntersville with Fiesta Group Trivia from 5 to 7 p.m. Drink specials and giveaways will be offered all day long.
Tequila drinks will be on special at The Dirty Martini in Cornelius. Also receive free mustaches, hats and chips and salsa.
Enjoy $2 Corona and Corona Light bottles and $2 fish tacos at Galway Hooker in Cornelius.
Miciah’s Speak Easy in Mooresville will have Corona and margarita specials. Cold Bait, Live Beer will be playing from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Treat Mom to a Meal Out on Mother’s Day, May 13
Dressler’s Restaurant in Huntersville (and Charlotte) will be offering its regular dinner menu in addition to special features from noon to 8 p.m. Features, which cost $22-$27, include prime rib, Maine Lobster and Jumbo Lump Crab Quiche and grilled Atlantic salmon. For reservations, call 704-987-1779.
A buffet brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Red Rocks Café will include among other selections: prime rib, sliced ham platter, lemon dill salmon filet, fried chicken, homemade chicken salad, fresh fruit bowl, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, assorted breads and muffins, mac and cheese, garlic smashed potatoes and assorted desserts. Cost is $25 for adults and $11 for children ages 12 and under. For reservations, call 704-892-9999.
Alton’s Kitchen & Cocktails in Cornelius will serve a breakfast buffet from 10 to 11 a.m. Among the fare: praline baked French toast, beef tenderloin benedict, breakfast potatoes, muffins and biscuits. Cost is $16.95 for adults, $9.95 for children 4-12 years old, free for children ages 3 and under. A buffet brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. includes the above as well as roasted prime rib, brown sugar ham, cedar plank salmon, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, ginger glazed carrots, chill asparagus salad, yeast rolls and various desserts. Cost is $26.95 for adults, $12.95 for children 4-12 years old, free for children ages 3 and younger. For reservations, call 704-655-2727.
Campania Café & Trattoria in Davidson
A special brunch will be offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entrees include Sausage & Wild Mushroom Frittata, Quattro Fromaggi Frittata, and salmon sautéed in a lemon, caper and white wine sauce in addition to other Italian fare. Moms can also enjoy a complimentary mimosa. Entrees range from $10 to $19. For reservations, call 704-987-5111.