Cynthia Brugnetti lives in Schenectady, so she has seen the physical work being done to prepare Mexican Radio for opening day: the construction crews, the painters, the deliveries.
But she may have been the only person to stumble into the restaurant for lunch Monday without realizing that it just opened. “Wait, today is opening day?”
“Well isn’t that lucky,” she added, laughing.
Her son Ed Ross was in town from Atlanta and they happened to be walking around downtown looking for a spot to grab a bite for lunch, they said, before stepping up a short Mexican-tiled staircase into the new restaurant at 325 State St.
Practically everyone else who showed up during the lunch hour Monday had been hyper-aware of opening day. The restaurant appeared to get a steady stream of customers for lunch. Some had taken the day off from work to try it out, and realized midinterview they probably shouldn’t be advertising
that fact. Some arrived in groups on their lunch breaks, walking over from General Electric, MVP Health Care, Proctors and the Chamber of Schenectady County, all local employers in the immediate vicinity. Some came in from the suburbs for a special treat to celebrate a graduation or birthday.
Brittany and Schyler Houck of Rotterdam took their brood of three to opening day to celebrate 4-year-old Connor’s recent graduation from preschool.
“Mexican is their thing,” said Brittany, nodding toward the kids. “They especially love tacos.”
Evelyn and Mike Clifford were the first to show up a good 15 minutes before the heavy wooden doors opened at 11:30 a.m. Originally from Chicago, the couple now lives in Scotia and has eagerly awaited the opening of any restaurant that offers more than just Italian food.
“We’re used to different ethnic foods from when we lived in Chicago,” Evelyn said. “So when we knew this was opening, we were really excited because we love Mexican food. We’ll try anything, though. We like the Thai restaurant across the street, too.”
What’s with the name?
Mexican Radio does offer a break from Schenectady’s many well-known and loved Italian restaurants. In addition to Thai Thai Bistro, downtown offers some ethnic cuisine, like Indian food at Taj Mahal Restaurant, Moroccan food at Tara Kitchen, Asian food at Zen Asian Bistro and Middle Eastern cuisine from a new spot on Jay Street called Persian Bite.
But as far as Mexican food goes, Nicole DeAngelo, who lives in nearby Scotia, is relieved Schenectady has finally filled the niche.
“We love Mexican food,” she said as she waited for her husband to meet her for lunch. “The only places we really go now are to La Fiesta in Clifton Park and Chili’s, which, let’s face it, isn’t really very good Mexican food.”
Olivia Dunn just finished her last day ever at Scotia-Glenville High School on Friday, and decided to start her summer vacation with some food that reminds of her home.
“I’m originally from Texas, so I like Mexican food a lot,” she said. “When we moved up here, there were not really a lot of places to get it. So I’m here to see how it tastes. I’m ready to try something else, you know?”
A half dozen employees walked the few paces down the block from Proctors to grab lunch. The bright green and yellow building is just the latest in a string of buildings downtown to be redeveloped over the past decade. When it went up in 1910, it housed an upscale department store called the Imperial.
The Proctors group has eagerly awaited opening day, and said they were happy to see Mexican Radio locate its third restaurant in downtown Schenectady of all places. Its other locations are in New York City and Hudson.
“I’ve been to the Hudson space many times,” said Michael Eck. “I love it. I just went, in fact, two weeks ago. And I actually took a tour of this space a month ago with [owner] Lori [Selden].”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko stopped by to show his support and declared the restaurant another investment in downtown’s “urban comeback” as a livable, walkable, sustainable community.
Samantha Blackmon of Niskayuna brought her daughter out to opening day to check out the menu and see what all the fuss has been about.
“Their colors are the only elaborate colors in downtown Schenectady,” she said. “It’s really been hard to avoid.”