GOULDSBORO — This town is nearly 3,000 miles from Michoacán, the state in western Mexico where Peter Valencia and Teresa Jungo grew up. These days, the couple make their home in Maine and are giving folks a taste of authentic Michoacán food at Downeast Mexican Takeout.
Located off Route 1, to the right and in back of their previous location, the Gouldsboro couple recently opened their own, newly constructed, bright red takeout about 20 miles east of Ellsworth.
At Downeast Mexican, enchiladas are the most popular menu item, Teresa says. To make them, she fries tortillas in a red guajillo chili sauce, fills them with cheese and meat and tops the dish with potatoes, carrots and onions. The sauce, like many of the restaurant’s offerings, relies on ingredients that the couple import from Mexico in order to give diners a true taste of Michoacán cuisine.
While Mexican food of any variety is a rare find in Maine, Jungo and Valencia say that using Michoacán-specific recipes and spices makes their cooking different from the standard Mexican food that many Americans are accustomed to.
Other specialties include huaraches, resembling the sole of the classic Mexican sandals, which is similar to a quesadilla but made from corn dough instead of flour. They have a special machine to make the “tortillas grandotas” (really big) necessary for this dish. Also popular is the chimichanga, a sort of fried burrito topped with lettuce, sour cream and homemade salsa. When it comes to drinks, the restaurant sells Mexican carbonated soft drinks such as Jarritos and Sangría Señorial, and offers an assortment of Mexican candies for dessert.
Other menu options, like the walking taco — which combines nacho chips, beans, rice, meat, sour cream and cheese in a bowl that can be eaten on the go — are more of an American adaptation, a reflection of the blended lifestyle the family has created after living in Maine for nearly two decades.
Neither Teresa nor Peter planned on becoming restaurateurs. Teresa says she wasn’t much of a cook growing up in the town of Santa Ana Maya, Michoacán.
“She’s a good cook now,” Peter says in Spanish as he watches her fry tortillas from across the kitchen. He was born in California but grew up in Morelia, Michoacán’s capital. His mother sold food in street fairs when he was a child, but he never thought he’d go into the food business himself.
He moved back to California eventually and worked in the fields picking almonds and apples, among other jobs, before moving across the country to Bath, where he found employment fishing. Eventually, he made his way north to Hancock County.
Then he met Teresa — not in their shared Mexican home state, but in Gouldsboro, where they both worked at the Stinson Seafood plant. They were married in 2001, and now have five children, ages 3 to 15.
After working other jobs for many years, the couple opened Downeast Mexican Takeout in 2016. This past winter, the couple and their eldest son constructed their own takeout. They painted it a bright red color, which they hope will attract passers-by from Route 1.
Of all the places Peter has lived, Gouldsboro is his favorite.
“We like the tranquility here,” he said in Spanish. “Life is fast in other places; in Maine, it’s a little slower.”
Work at Downeast Mexican Takeout can be fast or slow, depending on the day. Every Tuesday through Sunday — the restaurant is closed on Mondays — Teresa gets up at 5:30 a.m. to start cooking. She makes the beans and rice fresh each morning, and gets a head start on chopping lettuce and cilantro. Sometimes, business is booming, and she has to scramble to make more; other days there isn’t much traffic and she calls up her extended family to come enjoy dinner so the food doesn’t go to waste.
The pair recently had shirts designed with the name “Downeast Mexican Takeout,” and photos of landmarks in Morelia and Santa Ana Maya, a nod to their hometowns. Still, the family has set down its roots in Gouldsboro, and they’ll keep serving up Michoacán food so long as customers continue coming.
“I’m glad to keep cooking,” Teresa said in Spanish.
Downeast Mexican Takeout is located at 22 Old Route 1 in Gouldsboro. The takeout has a Facebook page. Tel: 546-6065.