Nearly three decades ago, Alex Lopez’s father began trying to live his dream. This year, the manager of Nortenita has brought that dream to life here on the west side of Wausau.
Lopez oversees the combination grocery store, bakery, and restaurant called Nortenita. He opened in February on South First Avenue.
Nortenita – which various sources describe as a Spanish reference to Northern Mexico, depending on the outlet – began in Eau Claire after Lopez’s father moved there after previously having a similar store in Mexico. They chose to expand to the east due to a growing market and a desire for nostalgia.
“A lot of Hispanic workers have come up here to these areas,” Lopez says. “We wanted to give people a little bit of a taste of home. It is very authentic and we do not sell any Tex-Mex food.”
Authentic at Nortenita
For those who are unaware, much of what is considered Mexican food in the United States is not like recipes native to the nation. Instead, the chili, nachos, and fajitas many enjoy are a blend of predominantly American (Texas) and some Mexican culinary instincts. This has led to Taco Bell being laughed out of existence in Mexico multiple times since 1992. Nortenita, however, is the real deal.
Cases in the grocery store feature signature products and brands not native to the United States. There are bags of various herbs customers can buy, take home and use in their own cooking next to the counter. Lopez adds that self-producing the things they offer is what sets them apart from others and, while business is good, they are mistaken for another culture.
“Some think we are Italian,” he says. “It is due to the top of the sign outside; the colors are also on the Mexican flag. They come in and ask for pizza and stuff like that, but no one’s been angry.”
That also might be because the building was once a Pizza Hut – and later was another pizza restaurant.
Made to order
Other standouts for the business include their flexibility with what they will make for a customer. Essentially, if they have ingredients available, they’ll make you things not included in the current menu of things that are not on the menu of quesadillas, and burritos. Lopez says this is designed to be like you are at home.
Eventually they want to add karaoke and outside seating. For now, customer Ana Busterud says they have made quite an impression in the short time they’ve operated.
“Some of the best caldo I’ve had in a while,” her Facebook review from earlier this year reads. “Definitely recommend trying those along with anything else on the menu … good business!”
Nortenita is located at 210 S. 1st Ave in Wausau. It is open daily from 9 a.m. through to 9 p.m. More information about them can be found on their Facebook page or by calling 715-393-4402.
Evan J. Pretzer is a contributor to City Pages. He can be reached at [email protected].