A line of patrons consisting of an extended family and a couple of single men wait for a seat at Las Dos Marias restaurant in Donna, standing in what little space exists between the six tables already taken by families and couples sipping on their morning coffee in mismatched mugs and enjoying an array of homemade Mexican breakfast dishes.
Owners Maria and Jose Compean opened the restaurant almost 10 years ago, earning themselves a special place in the community for their reminiscent of home flavor that often leads newcomers to jokingly ask, “Mom, are you here?”
On top of the flavors from home, Las Dos Marias adds an extra Mexican spice to their customers’ visits with the cozy ambiance created by Christmas lights dangling down from the ceiling and a 19-inch television set on a corner tuned to Spanish-speaking programming. Its bright orange walls with green trimmings on the windows and doors are accented by black and white framed pictures; one of Mexican comedic actress La India Maria, another of Mexico’s most infamous villain Pancho Villa and others of actors from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema like Pedro Infante, Maria Felix, Luis Aguilar, Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Cantinflas.
The Compeans decided to open a restaurant with their savings when their trips up north as migrant workers began taking a toll on their children’s education. Working in the Rio Grande Valley enabled them to form a life here year round without having to remove their children from school.
“My husband suggested we sell breakfast tacos in the morning only, but with the many state requirements for new businesses, it made sense to go all the way until lunch,” said Maria Compean.
The addition of a lunch menu and many unforeseen expenses led Maria Compean to ask her sister Maria Luisa Lopez to become her business partner; hence Las Dos Marias, (the two Marys). Lopez left the business after a year due to a high-risk pregnancy, and a third sister Diana Garcia took her place; however, the name of the restaurant remained the same.
“Customers call me Maria and I respond” said Garcia with a laugh.
According to Garcia, most of their food is natural using mostly salt, pepper, hot peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic for flavor and not too many condiments.
“For breakfast, our most popular dishes are gorditas, huevos rancheros and menudo,” said Maria Compean. “For lunch it is carne guisada, caldo de res, bistek ranchero and picadillo con papas.”
San Juanita Martinez has been a customer for one year, and eats at Las Dos Marias four times a week. Her favorite dish is tacos of machacado and beans with Mexican cheese for her daughters.
“I’ve been to all the other places in Donna, but this is the best,” said Martinez. “Their service, style of cooking, the way they sauté their food is different from others.”
Although Maria Compean and Garcia learned to cook on their own, their recipes consist of dishes that have been cooked in Mexican kitchens for many generations.
“Sometimes senior citizens tell us that our cooking reminds them of their mother’s,” said Garcia, “And that was a while back (for them).”
Braulio Hernandez has been a customer for five years and can attest to that. He said he eats at Las Dos Marias daily because it reminds him of his mother’s cooking. On busy days he’s even had to stand in line outside.
“Well, there’s no where else I want to go so I just wait,” said Hernandez. “This place is like a home to me; their food is delicious and they treat us very well.”
Besides genuine Mexican food, Maria Compean said another great aspect the restaurant offers is an opportunity for community members to build friendships amongst each other as well as with them.
“People have been coming here for 10 years and we have all gotten to know one another,” said Maria Compean. “A customer once told me that because he felt comfortable here, it made the coffee taste sweeter.”
Along with newfound friendships, a sense of trust was created to the point that some meals are sold on credit. The restaurant only accepts cash, which many times people do not carry. The customers are offered to eat their meal now and come back to pay later.
“We leave it up to their conscience,” said Garcia, “but they always come back to pay.”
Maria Compean finds pride in the personal service they offer and anxiously waits for the day when she will be able to call Las Dos Marias her own. While she is only two years away from paying off the bank who is financing her business, Maria Compean said Hurricane Dolly set her back and the Federal Emergency Management Agency could not help her.
“It blew off our roof and destroyed our walls completely,” said Maria Compean. “I had to dig into our savings again and pay for the repairs—closing the restaurant for a month.”
Fully repaired now and packed daily with customers ordering favorites like sautéed potatoes with bacon and refried beans on the side accompanied by a stack of warm flour tortillas or a large gordita filled with chicharones en salsa or carne guisada, Maria Compean hopes to expand her business as well as her menu in a couple of years.
Las Dos Marias operates Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is closed on Sunday.