Sunny days are few and far-between in Michigan during the month of March, and I’m a firm believer that sunshine and margaritas go hand-in-hand. Therefore, this weekend when the temperature reached a balmy 43 and my eyes needed to readjust to the sudden ball of fire in the sky, I needed no further encouragement to head to Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in Sturgis.
The City of Sturgis has been blessed with a plethora of authentic Mexican restaurants from which to choose, and I was convinced to follow recommendations from trusted fellow foodies to experience Maria’s after seeing countless rave reviews on social media.
Located right off of US-12, the building was a bright, red beacon that beckoned me with the promise of tacos and tequila. Despite arriving during the dinner rush on a Saturday evening, my dining companion and I were warmly greeted and quickly sat in mere minutes of entering the cozy eatery. The decor inside was vibrant, friendly, and offered a familiarity which made us feel right at home.
We barely had time to take our coats off and begin to peruse the menu when a basket of chips and a mini-decanter of salsa were delivered to our table. Now, I would never dream of judging a book by its cover, but I will always judge a restaurant by the quality of its tortilla chips. Maria’s were obviously homemade, satisfyingly delicate, and perfectly salted. They were also the ideal vessel for shoveling copious amounts of Maria’s homemade salsa into our mouths, which was bright, tangy, and had the right amount of spice. We wasted no time adding a small bowl of Choriqueso Dip ($6) to our table, which was a velvety-smooth cheese sauce, filled with fiery bites of chorizo.
When our mouths were appropriately buzzing from the heat of our appetizer and ice water just wasn’t quite quenching our thirst, we knew it was time to call in reinforcements. My dining companion ordered himself a Diablito ($8) which consisted of tequila, cranberry juice, and Squirt. It arrived to our table brilliant and orange like a fireball, and with a rim of Tajin seasoning. I snuck a sip and it instantly reminded me of a delicious fruit cocktail cup from my days of public school lunches — just with more tequila. I ordered the Vampiro ($8), and although it was a simple cocktail of just tequila and sangria, it tasted like a beach vacation and I finished every last drop.
Maria’s menu is extensive, and covers all the classics like quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, and enchiladas. My partner and I went the less-traditional route, and selected our entrees from the portion of the menu called “Maria’s Specialty Dishes.” This is where one can find more authentic options such as molcajete, tacos de carne asada, and pollo michoacan. My dining companion ordered himself the Carne Asada entree ($10), which was a lean steak served with rice, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, jalapeño, and tortillas. The fact that this meal was a mere ten dollars is absolutely shocking to me. His plate arrived with a hefty portion of tender and juicy steak, and piled high with all the fixings.
I ordered the Carnitas ($13), which is only available on Saturdays and Sundays, and was equally stunned by the amount of food I received. My plate was studded with giant chunks of seasoned, deep-fried pork and served alongside lettuce, tomato, sliced avocado, rice, refried beans, and tortillas. The meat was truly unreal, tasting like it had been slow-roasted for hours, with painstaking attention given to every spice used in the process. Even the rice and beans were showstoppers in their own right, only being outdone by the warm and fluffy homemade tortillas. We ate until we were embarrassingly and uncomfortably full, and yet still somehow had leftovers to stash away for later.
By the time we were rolling ourselves out the front door, Maria’s was bustling with energy with every table occupied and a line queuing near the entrance. It seemed Sturgis already knew what we had only just discovered — Maria’s Mexican Restaurant is a true gem in the crown of Mexican restaurants in the community, and we will absolutely be back soon…sunny day or not.
Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.