Restaurant brings the taste of ‘new Mexican cuisine’ to Cullowhee

While driving down Old Cullowhee Road, it’s hard to imagine that the small, strip section of buildings housing a tattoo parlor and beer store, would also be the home of some of the freshest Mexican food in town. Sazon Restaurant, hidden behind the unassuming facade is a diamond in the rough.

Alex Rodriguez came to the United States with a dream.  Ten years ago, when he moved to Cullowhee from Mexico City, he knew he wanted to open a restaurant and continue the cooking tradition that his grandmother started. Sazon is that dream realized.

“I just had a dream to open a little restaurant and share the ‘new Mexican cuisine’,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez and his wife Alma Acevedo opened Sazon about two years ago to bring this fresh, Spanish and French inspired food to Cullowhee. The word Sazon translates to someone who can cook. “It means one hell of a cook,” said Rodriguez. “That is why I picked the name.”

The menu is not your typical tex-mex style food. Rodriguez uses fresh ingredients; many purchased from local farmers and every dish is cooked to order. Nothing is precooked.

“We don’t even own a freezer,” said Acevedo.

Rodriguez and Acevedo come in two and a half hours before opening the restaurant to cut fresh vegetables and to prepare the salsa and fresh chips for the day. All the recipes are passed down from Rodriguez’s grandmother who, at one time, was a chef for a Mexican president.

“I can remember being six or seven year’s old and peeling onions in the kitchen with my grandmother,” said Rodriguez. “These recipes come from the heart.”

Although Rodriguez moved to U.S. from Mexico City, he was raised in a town called Puebla, Mexico. Rodriguez discussed how approximately 75 percent of Mexican cuisine comes from Puebla.

“It’s the heart and soul of Mexican Cuisine,” said Rodriguez.

Owners of Sazon Mexican Restaurant Alex Rodriguez and his wife Alma Acevedo. Photo By Heather Mason.

Rodriguez loves Cullowhee and although he has had several offers to move locations and expand, he stays true to this area.

“This university made us,” said Rodriguez. “All of my employees are students from WCU and we are close. They are like family.”

Rodriguez explained that each employee leaves him with something. Whether it’s a friendship or something business related. One of his employees created the website for the restaurant. He feels that by showing pride in his food, it creates pride in the workplace for his employees.

The future for the restaurant is exciting. Rodriguez plans to have a food truck by the end of the summer and he will call it “Sazon to Go.” This will expand his client base and he hopes to provide food from his truck for football game tailgating parties and campus events.

For more information and hours of operation, visit their website  or Facebook.

Below is a video of Alma Acevedo preparing  vegetarian black bean nachos.

Video produced by Kathleen Kiser.