HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Bernie’s Mexican Restaurant Has the Cure
- Published In: Hidden Gems: Wyoming's Best Eats
- Last Updated: Aug 22, 2023
Bernie's owner and namesake, Bernie Sanchez, stands before a fountain in his Laramie restaurant. (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley)
By David Dudley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
LARAMIE, Wyo.—There’s nothing like a hot bowl of menudo — a spicy soup with hominy and tripe — served with a warm flour tortilla on a cold morning.
A traditional Mexican favorite amongst those who had too much to drink the night before, the soup is also said to soothe cold and flu symptoms.
“It’s a health food, for sure,” said Bernard “Bernie” Sanchez, who owns Bernie’s Mexican Restaurant, when I ordered a bowl. “It’s good for you, and we’ve got plenty.”
I woke up that morning feeling as though a cold was trying to take hold, so I walked down to the corner of 367 Snowy Range Road, where I was greeted by a mural depicting a quintet of mariachis jamming on the side of the building.
It was just after 11 a.m. when I arrived, so I was the first customer of the day. The dusty pink walls near the register gave the sunlight pouring in through the large windows at the front of the restaurant a warm hue. Ritchie Valens’s version of “Donna” played softly in the background. A few feet from my table stood a statue of Elvis, with a pose that suggests he’s shaking his hips while strumming the guitar. But he’s wearing a sombrero.
While Bernie’s offers the staples we should expect from good Mexican restaurants — tacos ($7.50), burritos ($9) and enchiladas ($9.50), all served with beans and rice — I needed a dose of menudo ($5.75) stat.
There are two variations of the soup. Rojo (red) menudo is cooked with red chilies, so it has a spicier broth; it also can be prepared with beef tendon rather than tripe. Blanco (white) menudo has a mellower, savory broth and comes with honeycomb tripe. Both are garnished with lime wedges, chopped cilantro and onion, and dried oregano.
Sanchez, 73, brought a bowl of red menudo to my table and sat down to chat.
Sanchez said he likes all of the dishes on the menu, but he’s especially proud of his green chili ($5.50). Sanchez learned that recipe, like many others, from his mother.
“She made most of this stuff for us when we were kids,” said Sanchez. “Mi familia — my family — have helped every step of the way. Without them, and the good Lord, of course, none of this would exist.”
‘I’ve got all I need’
Sanchez was born in Chama, Colorado, but raised in Laramie. He joined the U.S. Navy fresh out of high school in 1968 and served in the Vietnam War.
When he returned to the U.S., he took a job as a laborer at Packers’ Cold Storage.
“They stored and shipped frozen foods for all over the country, like King Super and Safeway,” Sanchez said. “National stuff, you know? We shipped stuff on the railroad.”
He was fired from Packers’ after butting heads with a supervisor.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “That’s what started me down this path.”
Sanchez went into business in 1996, using a $1,000 loan from his brother to pay rent and remodel the building that now houses his restaurant. He tried a few different ideas before settling upon opening a restaurant, including a video rental business and convenience store. He sold burgers and tacos. The latter quickly became popular. That convinced Sanchez to open a restaurant.
“My family and friends helped with the remodel,” Sanchez said, “by accepting payment as we went along.”
Sanchez’s family is still involved in all aspects of Bernie’s Mexican Restaurant. His wife, Laura, 72, helps with preparation, cooking and cleaning. Their daughter, Tara, 49, assists with those tasks as well. And Tara’s daughter, Ashley, does the accounting.
Sanchez is thankful he took the risk to buy the building and pay in full eight years ago. When the pandemic set in and restaurants struggled to make ends meet, Sanchez was on solid financial ground.
“We were able to stay afloat by offering takeout,” he said. “Which wasn’t that different from when we sold tacos in the parking lot. There were tough times. I wondered if we’d make it. But our customers wouldn’t let us fail.”
They’re the ones that keep him going, he said, and he has no intention of retiring.
“What would I do?” Sanchez asked, rhetorically. “Sit at home? No.”
With that, he got up and returned to the kitchen, laughing to himself.
As I finished my menudo, the warmth of the soup and the combination of the spices and chunks of meat, soothed my throat. By the time I paid my ticket, I was already feeling like I could kick that cold.
Bernie’s Mexican Restaurant, 367 Snowy Range Road, Laramie, Wyoming; (307) 742-5425. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.