Home » Local Eats: Maggie’s Kitchen is a family-run Grand Rapids institution, offering authentic Mexican cuisine

Local Eats: Maggie’s Kitchen is a family-run Grand Rapids institution, offering authentic Mexican cuisine

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – From their famous barbacoa tacos to their staff, everything at Maggie’s Kitchen is expertly seasoned with decades of culinary experience.

Located at 636 Bridge Street NW, the restaurant has been serving up authentic Mexican cuisine for nearly 40 years on Grand Rapid’s West Side. People are willing to travel for the popular Styrofoam-plate meals.

Owner Luis Ramirez said that the restaurant doesn’t need to move because people come to it – upwards of 100 miles in some cases, with patrons spanning from Chicago to Traverse City to Lansing.

The draw is the restaurant’s renowned barbacoa tacos — a seemingly simple combination of barbacoa, cheese, onion, cilantro and a soft corn tortilla — which puts Maggie’s on the map for many. The beef cheek is cooked slowly in its own juices for over five hours in a steam kettle cooker, resulting in juicy barbacoa with a rich blend of seasonings.

For those traveling for Maggie’s iconic barbacoa, the pilgrimage begins a week out with an order and ends with picking up the melt-in-your-mouth meat by the pound ($10 per pound) in some cases.

The combination of barbacoa tacos and matching weekend menudo soup at Maggie’s is iconic in West Michigan and beyond, he said.

“It’s a tradition that we built slowly,” Ramirez said. “The barbacoa and the soup that we make, that is a specialty soup, which is called menudo. Even though we only offer 50{431c92db2ef93c421a350be785d244bd702e2c73a34f2b6f60cd8fd62b61507d} of the restaurant’s (capacity), people love to come in on the weekends, especially Saturday, and have a bowl of menudo and a couple of barbacoa tacos.”

Under Michigan’s COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants and bars are limited to 50{431c92db2ef93c421a350be785d244bd702e2c73a34f2b6f60cd8fd62b61507d} indoor dining capacity.

While many can’t remember a time when Maggie’s Kitchen wasn’t serving up classic dishes in Grand Rapids, there was a time they weren’t bringing Michoacán cooking to Michigan. However, Ramirez said there hasn’t been a time where his family hasn’t been in food service.

Originally from the border of Texas and Laredo, Mexico, Ramirez’s first job at 16 was at a hotel restaurant, which is also where his mother, Maggie, worked. Ramirez’s family moved to Chicago in 1972 where he continued to work in hospitality as a bartender before deciding to settle down in Grand Rapids years later.

The goal was always to open up a family business, so on Cinco de Mayo in 1982, Maggie’s opened its doors as a little shop with a deli.

The original space wasn’t truly a kitchen, but as Maggie was making a meal one day, some construction workers starting on a multi-month highway project stopped in and asked for a meal, which kicked everything off.

“So, my mom committed to making meals for 12 to 15 people five days a week,” Ramirez said. “When I saw that, I said, ‘Wow.’ We just have a little, itty bitty kitchen, but there wasn’t really a restaurant. So, I said right away that I’m going to start building something for my mom – a kitchen, a real kitchen.”

Ramirez and his son built that kitchen, opening to takeout only. As people came, Ramirez said they would ask to borrow the chairs employees would have for breaks so they could eat in-house. That inspired another expansion in 1984-85 to build a dining section with 10 tables.

As the restaurant has continued to grow, it’s been a family affair. From his wife to his kids and now grandkids, Ramirez said they do it all.

“Yeah, everybody’s involved,” he said. “We’re not afraid to work. I’m not afraid to clean the sidewalks every day, thrash and whatever needs to be done out there. When you own the place and there’s something you care for, you do a little bit of anything.”

The menu was also built up as the restaurant’s reputation grew, but much of the food has been in Ramirez’s family for generations. That food has grown to become local favorites.

On the breakfast side of the menu, Ramirez said Maggie’s huevos rancheros ($10.95) is an all-day favorite. The dish pairs two sunny side-up eggs with rich ranchero sauce over a fried corn tortilla. It comes with all the fixings – homemade beans and rice that are made fresh daily in house.

For lunch, Ramirez said taco platters ($12.50+) pair a range of proteins with beans, rice, salad and tortillas to fill a belly or two. All tacos come with the option of mild salsa or spicy salsa verde, which Maggie’s Kitchen makes daily.

The food is a slice of home, Ramirez said, and is just one way the restaurant welcomes its patrons.

Between an open kitchen and an airy dining area complete with colorful décor, he said guests are always welcomed to the table. Just in case, Ramirez personally roams the restaurant to check in on them, asking how they like the food or getting to know them.

Those homestyle flavors have become a focal point for other patrons, and Ramirez said Maggie’s Kitchen has grown into a hub for its community. The restaurant has worked with the neighborhood to raise money for community members with lofty medical bills and fundraise for migrant children.

But when it comes down to breaking down Maggie’s successful formula, Ramirez said it’s simple: keep your family close and cook the food you love.

“What we do here is not a secret,” he said. “We cook fresh every day… You can taste the difference when you come to eat at Maggie’s Kitchen.”

Maggie’s Kitchen is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and can be reached at (616) 458-8583. Check out the full menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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