The best thing about this job is that week in and week out we have the opportunity to discover hidden gems in our community. This week was no exception. After what seemed like an eternity of not sitting down together for a meal, we broke bread, dipped it in olive oil and cracked some black pepper to add some spice. We found our latest eatery scrolling through our Facebook feed and noticing that our friends at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce had welcomed a new business to their city. We found ourselves ordering up a storm at Bella Mia, exactly three days after their ribbon cutting.

Found on the corner of South 15th and Cano, Bella Mia’s ownership took an old, once alleged, church (or so our sources say) and flipped it into an Italian American restaurant. Don’t expect dim lighting and white linens when you walk in. Instead expect a warm welcome, a hot dish and a passionate conversation about food from Bella Mia’s Owner/Chef Juan Guarcas.

Chef Juan immigrated from his home of Guatemala and moved to New York City where he met Italian Chef Pietro Senes, while working as a dishwasher. Chef Pietro took Juan under his wing for the next 28 years during which he became Chef Pietro’s Sous Chef. More than three years ago they both embarked on an adventure and moved to the Rio Grande Valley to help open another local, favorite Italian restaurant of ours.

After the unexpected passing of Chef Pietro, Guarca decided to finally be “his own chef”. He took what he learned from his teacher, put his own spin on it and first opened Bella Mia in San Juan. He then decided to relocate to Edinburg, 14 months after he first opened the doors. It took him four months to relocate and, in the meantime, no one in San Juan could get a bite to eat from their favorite local Italian place. People were searching for him. Believe us, we know!

When we first walked into Bella Mia, there was a table of about a dozen Winter Texans. Chef Juan had come out to say hello to them. It looked like the party and the chef were already acquainted. The leader of the group said, “We had been looking for you and we couldn’t reach you by phone, but we found you on Facebook and we had to come out to enjoy some food.” If that doesn’t shout out loyalty, then we don’t know what does!

If there is one item that stands out above all is Chef’s tomato sauce. We dubbed it the slow and low (mind out of the gutter people!). Guarca was extremely proud of it. With a smile on his face he stated, “All I use is salt, pepper, basil and cook low for 3 hours. Nothing else is added!” The sauce was light, sweet and non-acidic. We even asked for some extra to throw on one of our 3 baskets of bread.

We shared a bottle (or two) of red wine as we ate freshly baked, sliced bread-perfect for dipping in olive oil, Caprese Salad-thick slices of creamy mozzarella, fresh basil and ripe tomatoes drizzled with Balsamic vinaigrette, Chicken Parmigiana (lightly breaded filet of chicken breast topped with homemade red sauce and mozzarella cheese) and a Shrimp Scampi (linguini pasta with jumbo shrimp sautéd in white wine, garlic butter sauce, finish with freshly squeezed lime juice). Don’t worry! We most certainly left room for dessert. Nothing other than Carrot Cake with tiny bits of pineapple and nuts to really seal the deal!

Bella Mia located on 500 E. Cano Street, Edinburg, TX. Their hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sunday closed. If you end up visiting Bella Mia  anytime soon know that Chef Juan and staff are more than happy to let you bring your own bottle of wine or beer. But not for too long as they will be getting their license soon and be able to offer a variety of yummy items to pair perfectly with your meal! To learn more about Bella Mia  you can reach them at (956) 513-1113 or find them on their social media platforms @Bella Mia Italian American Cuisine.

Gaby Jones and Trisha Watts work hand-in-hand with the service industry. Jones is in charge of craft and imported beer for L&F Distributors-South Texas and Watts is a freelance writer specializing in the marketing of the service industry. Each week they will have a new adventure and provide an opinion on multiple locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley. They can be reached at dishin.it.956@gmail.com.