Mama’s Ladas only has two items on its menu: enchiladas and more enchiladas. It’s a minimalism customers of the West 11th St. Mexican eatery are just fine keeping simple.
“I love it when a restaurant sticks with what they’re good at,” Mama’s Ladas patron Jana Hurley said. “I like that I don’t have to peruse a ‘menu book,’ especially when I’m starving. Plus, their enchiladas and guacamole are out of this world.”
Owner Jayme Mothershead opened the restaurant with her husband, Matt, in Nov. 2001 after graduating with a business degree from USD. Overeducated and under-experienced, Mothershead said she was looking for a job, any job, when she came up with the idea of opening her own business.
Mama’s Ladas’ enchilada recipe fittingly came from Mothershead’s mom, while her dad supplied the land for the lot. The rest is delicious history.
With a staff of only 10, Mothershead said her goal is to make Mama’s Ladas feel like home. And that it does. The entire eatery is comprised of one square room, a bar and approximately seven dining tables of assorted sizes. Cozy is an understatement. Multicolored lights complement the rustic brick, and art from local artists adorns the remaining wall space. It’s eclectic, it’s cramped and it feels like home.
“We want our customers to leave feeling like they just had dinner at a friend’s house,” Mothershead said. “Although our staff is small, they all give 110 percent everyday, something you don’t get at most chain restaurants.”
And like eating in mom’s kitchen, sometimes the choices are limited, but they’re no less tasty because of it. Enchiladas are Mama’s Ladas’ specialty, and they do them well.
A choice of beef, chicken or seafood enchiladas comprise the list of entrees, while homemade salsa or guacamole serve as sides for any meal. Everything down to the chips are made in-house, and it’s noticeable. The tortillas are a perfect balance of crispy and chewy, the meat succulent and the accompanying lettuce, tomato and sour cream light and fresh. The enchiladas are nothing radical, they’re just plain good.
The salsa, on the other hand, is where Mama’s Ladas gets inventive. Comprised of mushrooms and olives in addition to the expected tomatoes and onions, the restaurant’s salsa is anything but typical.
After nearly 15 years in the business, Mothershead said she still has a lot to learn. Though budgeting and ensuring food consistency have been the owner’s primary challenges, Mothershead said the rewards of running the eatery have far outweighed the stresses.
“My favorite part is definitely the customers,” she said. “Seeing those same customers come in over the years and become friends is something I really value. I’ve watched kids grow up here, catered their graduations. The sign above our door is really true, people enter as strangers and leave as friends.”
It’s a sentiment that keeps customers coming back time and again, one enchilada at a time.