For more than 20 years, the Cruz family has been well-known for serving great meals in an atmosphere of familial hospitality at both of their Washington County restaurants. Pepe’s and Maricela’s.
Most recently, the Cruzes have brought their brand of authentic food, blending California and Texas Latina styles, to downtown Milledgeville with the opening of La Taverna Mexican Bar and Grill located at 119 S. Wayne St.
Pepe and Maricela’s son, Cesar, is the general manager of La Taverna and despite his youthful age of 22, is well-trained in restaurant management; skills he obtained from many years working in his family’s other restaurants. Although not familiar at first with Milledgeville, he knew immediately that the downtown location was the perfect place to expand the Cruz restaurant business.
“We knew downtown had not had an authentic Mexican restaurant in many years and once we saw this building we knew it would be a perfect fit for us,” said Cruz. “We wanted to bring our unique style of Mexican food to Milledgeville, and we are very excited to be located in this wonderful downtown area.”
Cruz’s pride in his parents and their work ethic is evident as he praises their lifelong commitment to running two successful restaurants. For La Taverna, his mom was the decorator, while his father assisted in the first few weeks getting the establishment up and running.
“My dad is trying to retire, but when he is here he cannot stand still and is constantly working,” he said. “I tell him to relax and that I have everything under control, but he has to be working if he is here.”
As for his mom, Cruz said that he relies not only on her skill as a decorator but her warm hospitality as well. He said that she makes everyone feel welcomed as if they were simply dinning in their home and not out at a restaurant.
“I want our patrons to feel our warm family welcome when they dine with us. My mom is the best at that, and I want to continue that tradition here at our La Taverna — great food in a relaxed setting,” he said.
The restaurant is cozy, but with an upscale feeling. Traditional Mexican décor is dotted throughout, and several televisions flank the bar area broadcasting various sporting games.
The menu at La Taverna is extensive, reasonably priced, and includes appetizers, soups and salads, vegetarian choices, pork, seafood, chicken, beef, and many specialty dishes.
“In developing the menu, my dad and I really wanted to showcase the California influence that we brought with us when we moved to Georgia from San Diego,” said Cruz. “My parents wanted a better environment to raise their children, so that’s how we ended up in Washington County. We never wanted to lose the California style of Mexican cooking we loved so much.”
A full bar offers standard margaritas, daiquiris, domesticated and Mexican beer, wine, and any mixed drink a patron could desire.
Start an evening at La Taverna off with one of the many different appetizers on the menu including the Nachos al Pastor, consisting of corn tortilla chips loaded with marinated pork strips cooked with chunks of pineapple and covered in cheese sauce.
Do you want a change from the standard cheese dip to go with your chips? Try the Chori Queso, which is a combination of chorizo sausage and melted cheese topped with fried jalapenos.
Several vegetarian dishes are provided including fajitas, taco salad, enchiladas, quesadillas and burritos and rice.
Pork dishes include Enchiladas Rancheras, two cheese enchiladas topped with pork and cooked with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers and topped with nacho cheese. The Chuletas Mexicanas consists of grilled pork chops and fries topped with grilled mushrooms and onions.
For Cruz, the menu’s seafood dishes are some of the best meals they have to offer including the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo, which is shrimp laced with garlic, grilled and served on a bed of rice with garlic bread and a salad. The mango salmon is served on top of rice with vegetables and topped with a special mango sauce.
Steak is prominent on the menu including the New York steak a la Champinon, which is topped with grilled mushrooms, onions and melted cheese and served with a baked potato and a salad. The La Taverna Steak is a New York strip topped with shrimp, mushrooms, and a chipotle cream sauce.
Pepe’s Specials reflect the Cruz’s dad’s favorite home cooking including Choripollo featuring a grilled chicken breast with chorizo sausage served over rice and veggies. The Aztec Shrimp sounds delicious and includes shrimp sautéed with broccoli, zucchini, and carrots, and flamed with wine.
La Taverna also offers many of the standard Mexican restaurant favorite combination dishes that pair up tacos, fajitas, burritos and quesadillas. Specials run throughout the day for both lunch and dinner and are created daily for patrons looking for something off the menu.
You don’t enjoy Mexican food but still, want to join your friends for dinner out at La Taverna? Not a problem. The eatery has plenty of non-Latina dishes to choose from including a fried shrimp platter, hamburger steak, Hawaiian grilled chicken, shrimp scampi, fettuccine alfredo, and a steak and shrimp platter.
La Taverna Mexican Bar and Grill
119 S. Wayne St.
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday-Thursday 10:30 am-10 pm
Friday & Saturday 10:30 am-11 pm
Sunday 10:30 am -11 pm
Catering is offered but must be booked at least two weeks in advance.