John and Julie Cuevas have only been in Boise for a couple of months, but they know potential when they see it.
Even if a few windows are broken out of it.
The husband and wife are in the process of reinventing a cinderblock building at 1034 S. La Pointe St. They plan to open Madre, a fast-casual boutique taqueria, in February 2018.
The Cuevases came from San Juan Capistrano, California, bringing years of food-service experience.
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John, who will run Madre’s kitchen, was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Pacific in 2008.
“John is a classically trained chef,” Julie says. “He has been everywhere from five-star restaurants to really cool gastropubs. And I’ve been in the business for 15 years, and came from hotels. We are ready to do it for ourselves. So we’re really excited about this venture.”
The taco-and-beer restaurant will be the latest newcomer in the fast-developing Lusk District near Boise State University. With student housing across the street and Ann Morrison Park a stone’s throw away, the area is starting to exude the feel of a social destination like Hyde Park, the North End’s dining and shopping hangout.
Madre will be two doors down from Lost Grove Brewing, which opened in October. Another two doors down from Lost Grove is The Shed bar and grill, which opened in 2016. (It was called The Lift 2 before rebranding this year.) The Lusk neighborhood also is home to Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters and the Boise Bicycle Project.
“We love the location,” Julie says. “We also love the idea of going into an area that’s older and that needs some love. That area, the Lusk District, it’s really cool to be a part of it.”
John says that everything at Madre will be made fresh and in-house daily. If you’re a Mexican-food traditionalist, you’ll be able to grab a chicken taco. But Madre will be an “adventurous taqueria,” he adds, with creative options on the menu.
“We want to keep the Idaho potato thing, so an Idaho spuds and Spanish chorizo taco,” he says. “I want to do trout for my fish taco. Stuff that people don’t typically see in a taco setting. Just really non-traditional, fun, in-your-face, good food.”
Customers will order at the counter. Tacos, salads and drinks will be brought to tables. (Yes, non-beer drinkers, Madre will serve wine.)
Unlike many fast-casual restaurants, there will be a focus on customized table service at Madre, Julie says.
“As simple as, ‘Do you need extra napkins? Can I bring out taco sauce or hot sauce?’ ” she explains. “Just an added component of the service that you’re having, and it’s not so much you go sit down and we forget about you.”
At 2,300 square feet, Madre should have seating for about 70 people — plus another 60 outside, where there will be a wraparound patio and firepit.
To hit that February target date, there’s plenty of work to do on the building, which housed a tile and marble company for years. Madre’s decor will have a modern Spanish feel. “It’s like, OK, we gotta put some paint on this pig and get it prettied up,” Julie quips.
But when it comes to priorities — first things first.
“We’re transplants from California,” she says with a laugh. “We’re trying to change our license plates as quickly as possible.”
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