Lago Azul blends Mexican and Salvadoran cuisines

It takes more than just fresh ingredients to make great food. It’s takes effort, experience and, most importantly, passion to make a great meal.

When you ask Sandra Castillo about what makes the food at Lago Azul so popular, the first thing she mentions is the most important ingredient.

“This is my passion. I love to cook,” Sandra said from her family’s small restaurant across the parking lot from the Hailey Library.

Sandra grew up in El Salvador and originally moved to the States in 1977. She has been in Idaho for 25 years now and purchased the Lago Azul restaurant in 2003. Sandra immediately changed the traditional Mexican recipes to a blending of Salvadoran flavors. She said that Salvadoran influence uses less cheese and spices than traditional Mexican food.

Sandra’s unique and tasty style quickly took off and Lago Azul now has a loyal following that includes locals and regulars from as far away Idaho Falls, Jerome and Boise. Perhaps the ultimate compliment to the food at Lago Azul is that the fan base includes lots of chefs, like former local chef Michael Gunyan. “Gunny,” as locals know him, has had a spectacular cooking career since his humble early days at Sun Valley Brewing. Chef Gunyan’s long list of accolades includes being invited to cook at the acclaimed James Beard House on multiple occasions and winning the National Trophy of Cuisine and Pastry from the L’Académie Culinaire de France. But whenever Gunny comes back to town there’s one dish that he never misses: Chile Relleno at Lago Azul.

“Their Chile Relleno is really special,” Chef Gunyan said recently from his farm outside Portland, Maine. “Chile Rellenos are not easy to make, so a lot of places will skip steps. To make a really great Chile Relleno takes passion, it takes love for the food. They actually make their Rellenos there and you can taste it.”

“She cooks for everyone likes she’s cooking for us, for her family,” said Sandra’s oldest son, Richard. “We love this community. We want people to come in here and feel like they’re home.”

Richard manages the restaurant, which has seen a recent remodel. His brothers and their families make up the staff. Chile Rellenos are just one of the favorites at Lago Azul along with their Tacos Tinga, Chile Verde and Pupusas.

Besides the restaurant, Lago Azul is very active in local events, supporting everything from celebrations at the Hailey Library to catering for local non-profits and helping to found the popular Hailey Hispanic Heritage Fest.

“I love Hailey,” Sandra said about her family’s support for the community. As for what it takes to make a small business successful, she joked. “I’m just the cook.”

 

Lago Azul is located at 14 West Croy Street in Hailey and is hosting this week’s Business After Hours on Thursday, October 17th from 5-7pm. The “BAH” free and open the to public. For more info, call Lago Azul at 208-578-1700.

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