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Takeout Tuesday: New menu, new location on tap for family-owned Juan's Mexican Cafe and Cantina

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Posted at 7:51 AM, Mar 30, 2021

The story of Juan's Mexican Cafe and Cantina is one about family.

"I got into the restaurant business originally with my father in Williamsburg about 28 years ago," recalled Juan Carrillo.

When Carrillo, a first generation Mexican American, went on to open his own place 15 years ago, only one name made sense.

Not only is Juan his first name, it's also his father's name and his grandfather's.

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Juan Carrillo opened Juan's Mexican Cafe and Cantina 15 years ago.

"We're definitely a traditional Mexican restaurant with a local flair. We use a lot of local ingredients," he said.

Juan's location in Gloucester was the first, followed by a location on Bland Blvd. in Newport News five years ago and a third at Peninsula Town Center in Hampton three years ago.

Carrillo says a fourth location, Juan's Taqueria, will soon join them on N King St. in Hampton near the entrance to Langley Air Force Base.

It's a locally-owned business that's clearly seen a lot of success. Carrillo says a focus on innovation has been key.

In 2020, for example, when other restaurants were implementing online ordering in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Juan's had already had an online system in place.

"When everything closed down and that turned on, that was our lifeline," said Carrillo.

Most recently, Juan's released a new menu containing 'birria,' a Mexican dish that's exploded in popularity over the last year. Juan's has two versions; 'tacos de birria' and a 'quesabirria.'

"They're just super sellers right now," said Carrillo. "You can make birria with beef or lamb. We make it with beef, so it's a beef cooked slowly in a stew with peppers and chiles and stuff and then we put it on a tortilla with some cheese, cilantro, onions. Kind of grill the tortilla over. It's really neat. Those are amazing."

In addition to the new menu and new location, Carrillo says he's also looking forward to Cinco de Mayo, though he's not sure what the celebration will look like just yet.

"We're kind of playing by ear with what the state and local governments let us do as far as capacity," he told News 3.

But Carrillo admits, things are looking up.

He's noticing more people choosing to dine-in at his restaurants. He loves seeing families, in particular, coming in to enjoy a meal together.

After all, family...and a love for food and culture...is what made Juan's possible. It's a love he intends to pass down to his own two children.

"They hopefully (will) follow in our footsteps," he said.