By Ana Alexander
HOWARD LAKE, M N Carlos Olivar grew up eating fresh tortillas, fish caught from the river the same day it was cooked, and cheese made the same morning it was eaten.
It was this experience in Puebla, Mexico that led Carlos and his wife, Noreen, to open Frontera, a new restaurant in Howard Lake.
As a child, Olivar helped his mother sell food on the street. Working with his mother and seeing the passion she had for food sparked Olivar’s interest in cooking. Now, Olivar is channeling that interest into starting Frontera.
Frontera’s grand opening will take place Sunday, Sept. 4 from 5 to 7 p.m.
“We’re going to have a little fiesta,” Olivar said. “We’re going to have a mariachi band come here, there’s going to be decorations, and a lot of people.”
Olivar moved to the US 24 years ago, and has been in Minnesota for 22 years.
“I still haven’t gotten used to the snow,” Olivar joked.
Olivar began working at different restaurants, and noticed something about the Mexican restaurants around him.
“There were many Mexican restaurants, but there was something missing about [them] and that is that along the way, they kind of lost the essence of the Mexican flavors,” Olivar said.
He explained that most people think of tacos, burritos, or chimichangas when they think of Mexican food.
“It is about a lot more than that,” Olivar said. “I believe that Mexican food is more about simplicity, it is more about fresh ingredients, and more about tradition and family. I wanted to reflect that into the food.”
Olivar began teaching cooking classes and doing some catering, while the idea of starting his own restaurant continued to tug at him. After 12 years of developing his ideas, Olivar is finally seeing his long-time dream realized. He and his wife, Noreen, decided to open a restaurant in Howard Lake, because most people in the area have to travel at least 20 miles to find a Mexican restaurant.
“We just realized we are right in the middle of everybody, so we want to embrace that and be part of the community, and grow along with everybody,” Olivar said. “Everybody has been so welcoming and everybody has been helping out and been really nice. The community is great.”
Initially, Olivar wanted to name the restaurant after his mother, but eventually decided on the name “Frontera.”
“Because of my heritage and because of where I am right now, I wanted it to be more of a variety,” Olivar said. “Frontera means ‘borderlines,’ like the border of Mexico and the United States. That’s why we wanted to draw a line on the menu. If you look at the menu, one side is all Mexican food, and the other side is all American food. We want to combine all of those not combine the flavors, but bring both of those cuisines into one place.”
The menu also has a section called the “crossovers,” where the flavors unite to create more of a Tex-Mex style of food, such as chimichangas and burritos.
“It’s like your typical Mexican food, but it is not actually Mexican, and it is not actually American food,” Olivar said. “I wanted to take those flavors and bring them in too, because they are part of the entire cuisine, too. So, then you get authentic Mexican and you get All-American, and then you get ‘crossovers,’ so you actually get a taste of everything.”
According to Olivar, many people expected him to do more of a Mexican fusion, which typically includes melted cheeses and Americanized Mexican food. However, Olivar expressed that he wanted to keep the food authentic, with the addition of the crossovers section.
“It is the passion that’s what is driving this place. It is family that is driving this place,” Olivar said. “What drives my passion is to let people know what Mexican food is all about.”
Olivar is most excited for people to experience the flavors of the food. Simplicity, flavor, and freshness is what food is all about for Olivar.
“I want them to experience how simple everything should be. Mexican food is not about how spicy it is, or how many spices you put on it. It is a very simple way of cooking very minimal ingredients.”
Olivar is ready for people to enjoy and experience the restaurant he has always dreamed of owning.
“I just want them to enjoy the food,” Olivar said. “I want them to come to this place and feel at home.”