Carmen Legaspi, 53, Columbus Junction
Owner @ La Reyna, Iowa City
You and your husband Carlos moved La Reyna to Iowa City from Columbus Junction about three years ago. Why did you want to come to Iowa City?
I just come here because it’s a bigger market, it’s a bigger place. We bring something different than the rest of the restaurants here: More authentic food, not commercial, more close to the authentic taste of Mexico than any other restaurant. People value the food. They look for more authentic things. This is why I come. I’m so happy to be here in Iowa City.
What’s the difference between authentic Mexican food and Americanized Tex-Mex food some of us might be used to?
My recipes are originally from Mexico. I don’t want to put in extra things for American people. I cook like my home style, my family style. At other restaurants you don’t find things like mole poblano. That’s something from Mexico. Rajas poblanas, this is from Puebla, Mexico. Chiles rellenos, those are from Puebla, too. Enchiladas, my enchiladas come from my home recipe.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
Garlic. Garlic gives a whole flavor to everything. I use a lot of garlic in my dishes, to flavor it. We use a lot of dried peppers, too.
Are you going to bring out any special dishes for Cinco de Mayo?
I will have complete authentic Mexican buffet all day long. The items that people requested are enchiladas, carne asada, carnitas, tamales. It’s going to be a lot. And this is the first year that we are serving margaritas. I’ll be open late – until 10 p.m.
Where did you learn to cook?
In my house. My mama cooked. My family. In our culture, every day we cook. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not very often that we go out to eat. Every day, at home, we’re always together for meals. That’s where I learned how to cook. I didn’t take classes.
What kinds of things do you cook at home now?
Right now I’m not cooking at home because I’m here all the time. I’m home only for rest. When I have the opportunity to cook in my house, I do, but I cook something completely different. When I cook at home it’s something like hamburgers.
You also own a grocery store that’s right next door to the restaurant. What kind of things can people find there?
You can find everything fresh, like, I make guacamole, lots of guacamole, so we have good avocados. I have a meat department. I have fresh tortillas and cheeses, a lot of different cheeses. I have a lot of items from Mexico and South and Central America.
What does your name – La Reyna – mean?
The name is The Queen. I pick this name because it’s easy and people keep it in mind.
Details: La Reyna, 1937 Keokuk St., Iowa City, eat-in or carry out, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, (319) 358-8182