CALDWELL — For Salvador Alamilla, cooking is a way to connect to his family and his past.

Alamilla, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and raised in Santa Ana, California, is taken back to his roots when making handmade tortillas from heirloom corn, or cooking authentic dishes derived from grains grown in his home country.

“When I cook, I feel that connection,” Alamilla said.

Now, Alamilla and his wife, Rebecca, plan to bring piece of Salvador Alamilla’s past to Idaho with the opening of their new Mexican restaurant, Amano Restaurante, in downtown Caldwell.

The Alamillas plan to make each dish by hand, or, in Spanish, “amano.” The Oaxacan-style menu will be inspired by Salvador Alamilla’s roots, with dishes specific to Michoacán and southern California, as well as some newer items.

“That’s what I am — it’s a reflection of me in a way,” Salvador Alamilla said. “I am very traditional, but I also want to throw in a few curve balls.”

Each tortilla will be handmade, individually pressed and ground in-house with lava rock, with corn sourced from Oaxaca.

Amano, slated to open in July, will also offer a full bar, with various cocktails using Mezcal — a distilled spirit made from any agave plant — and tequila. They’ll also have 24 craft beers on tap and wines from the Sunnyslope wine trail.

The growth and demographic of Caldwell drew the Alamillas to their location at 702 Main St., formerly home to the Bird Stop, a restaurant and coffee house that closed last fall.

“There is a need here, with the demographics and the development in downtown Caldwell,” Salvador Alamilla said. “It only made sense to come here.”

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Though they plan to keep some of the historic elements of the old building in Caldwell’s historic district, Rebecca Alamilla said they’re going to create a new space by brightening it up and making their own booths.

Looking toward opening, the Alamillas hope to create an environment where anyone can visit and feel at home.

“We want everybody to feel welcome, no matter race, background, if you’ve ever been in a Mexican restaurant, or you’ve been to one thousand,” Rebecca Alamilla said.

A HISTORY OF COOKING

Cooking has always been a part of Salvador Alamilla’s life — he remembers being captivated by food as he sat on the kitchen counter as a child, watching his mother, aunt and grandmother cook.

“I really loved that and respected what they were doing,” he said. “I always had that in me. I want people to feel what I felt about food, about family and about being cared for and loved.”

But cooking food, or even opening a restaurant, wasn’t always his plan. Cooking, he said, seemed more like something to do with family rather than a career, which led him to earn a degree in architecture.

“I realized that (architecture) just wasn’t for me,” he said. “I didn’t want to be sitting down in a chair drawing things; I wanted to move, I wanted to do things with my hands.”

From then, he set his mind on opening a restaurant. His career in food began as a dishwasher, and he eventually worked his way up to become an executive chef for Whole Foods. He later became the kitchen manager for Boise-based restaurant, Eureka.

“I fully believed in him,” Rebecca Alamilla said. “I had seen him cook, and whatever he did, he always did really well when he put his mind to it.”

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.

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