New restaurant promises traditional Mexican cocktails and cuisine

Alan Raines, who with his fiancée, Samantha Eaves, opened the Mexican restaurant Tortuga y Chango in Decatur nine months ago, said Decatur is evidence that a busy community can thrive with primarily independently owned businesses, particularly restaurants. “Decatur has so many great restaurants, I wouldn’t open one here unless I was offering something special,” Raines said.

The “something special” at Tortuga y Chango is traditional Mexican food, not modified for American tastes, according to Raines. “It’s as close as we can get to what you will find in restaurants in Mexico. It’s spicy and flavorful; we don’t hold anything back,” he said. Raines had many opportunities to sample foods from various areas of Mexico starting in the 1990s when his sales jobs included travel through much of North America, with him often spending three to five days at a stretch in Mexico.

“I was in and out of sales over a period of about 35 years, even while opening restaurants. At one point my territory was all of Mexico, the United States and Canada. “It was basically an elaborate scheme to eat at as many restaurants as I could,” he quipped.

Raines, who grew up in east Tennessee, said his first experience with restaurant operation came when he was 15 and worked with his brother at a New York style Italian restaurant and pizzeria with an Italian family. “I worked there for several years, learning the importance of ingredients, recipes, and overall ethics of a good experience for patrons,” he recalled.

Although Raines worked for a while in the kitchen of an upscale Atlanta restaurant where he learned a variety of cooking techniques, he said, “I’m not a chef. My role at a restaurant is more as a visionary. I envision what it should be like from the menu to the décor to the atmosphere. Many of my friends are chefs, so we have a lot of in-depth conversations about the industry.” He has owned restaurants in East Atlanta Village and elsewhere in Decatur as well as in the Edgewood neighborhood.

Raines describes his vision for his newest venture, Tortuga y Chango on West College Avenue, as “a modern style Mezcal cocktail bar of the type found in Oaxaca, Mexico, blended with mostly cuisine from Acapulco with a few Oaxaca classic dishes and moles.”

His inspiration to achieve high levels of success with Mexican cuisine, Raines said, was Rick Bayless’ restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago, which opened in 1987. “He spent nine years in Mexico learning the food and culture and it shows through in every aspect of his restaurants. I can only hope to meet this same level with what we do. I believe our staff does.”

Everyone in the kitchen at Tortuga y Chango is from Mexico, according to Raines, who said he is especially proud of his chef Victor Hugo Suastequi, who is from Acapulco, a Mexican city known for its seafood dishes. “We fly fresh seafood in from Florida and use the best ingredients from regional growers and even our own gardens,” Raines said.

The restauranteur also said special things go on at the bar, where award-winning mixologist Orestes Cruz, who grew up in Mexico City and New Orleans, prepares signature cocktails and serves many lesser-known liquors, a rotation of Georgia craft beer selections, and other offerings.

“When we learned from the building owners that the space on West College Avenue was available, we jumped at the opportunity. However, we never choose a place just because it’s available. The area already had a great mix of businesses. We were just what was needed to round out the neighborhood,” Raines commented.

“We’re on the other side of the tracks, but we’re still in downtown Decatur,” he continued. “It’s really a perfect space for a place like Tortuga y Chango. It’s an intimate space—just 45 seats. We’re in a neighborhood where people can just drop by for a cocktail or dinner. We’ve been here nine months, but it feels like we’ve been here eight or 10 years.”

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