Silvi's Mexican Restaurant offers fresh, traditional homemade specialtiesSeptember 22, 2012
Dimitri and Silvia Avila have lived all across the country, so they had the flexibility to move to Pittsburgh four years ago when Dimitri’s employer, the Hofbrauhaus, transferred him here. But the couple, who often had served their traditional Mexican foods to guests at home, never let go of their dream of someday opening a restaurant where they could offer those same traditional foods.
Two of the couple’s friends, Bob Hamilton of Aliquippa and Gabi Kurbjuhn of South Park, encouraged the couple to follow their dream.
“Gabi told me we should open a restaurant and call it ‘Silvi’s SouthSide Kitchen,’ ” Silvia Avila says. Silvia was German-born Kurbjuhn’s name for her friend — she is the only one who calls Silvia by that nickname.
Hamilton joined the couple as a partner, and the restaurant opened in June on the South Side, serving not only Mexican specialties but some American standards, too.
The three owners are in the process of changing the name to “Silvi’s Mexican Restaurant” to reflect properly what the restaurant is all about. The sign outside on Carson Street already has been changed to the new name; the owners are working on changing the restaurant’s web address.
“People didn’t know if we were a soup kitchen or not,” Dimitri Avila says of the old name.
The Avilas try to keep prices reasonable; no entrée costs more than $10. The restaurant does not serve complimentary chips and salsa. Dimitri says restaurants that do, add the cost to their entrees.
“People fill up on chips and salsa,” he says. “I would rather you ate my good food.”
That’s not to say Dimitri’s chips and salsa aren’t good, too — far from it, Hamilton says.
“He makes each chip by hand — the salsa, also,” says Hamilton, a Connecticut native. “I was impressed with his cooking. I bragged (about it) to everyone. I truly believe he has the best Mexican food in the city.”
Dimitri, of Mexican descent, is a native of Brownsville, Texas. His family tree goes back to the days when Texas was part of Mexico. Silvia is a native of Mexico, born in San Diego, in the state of Guanajuato.
As a child, Silvia would jump onto a chair to watch her abuelita — her grandmother — cook. From her, Silvia learned how to make many traditional foods, including the flour tortillas used in some of the restaurant recipes.
Dimitri went to culinary school in Indiana.
“A lot of the basic recipes are hers,” Dimitri says of their restaurant. “I did (the logistics of) how we put it into a restaurant — how to keep it fresh and how to put it out in quantities. But, she taught me these flavors.”
Silvia also makes tamales, which are so labor-intensive the restaurant features them only as an occasional special. Occasionally, the flavor of tamales appears on the menu in a tamale soup of the day ($3.29 per cup and $4.99 per bowl).
Entrees include Silvi’s Big Burrito ($8.99) filled with chili, rice, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, and Bistec a la Planca ($9.99), a grilled steak with peppers and onions, served with rice, beans and tortillas.
The restaurant offers steak, chicken and pork tacos ($3, two for $5) from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a rollaway salad bar, where diners can add an array of toppings and sauces.
Taco Times have been a hit with the weekend South Side crowds, and “people getting out of work, people going to work — we get a little of everyone,” Dimitri says. “Taco Time is really strong. It’s a great place to have dinner and relax with wine or a bottle of beer.”
In addition to beef, poultry and seafood meals, the owners offer vegetarian dishes.
“Mexican food lends itself very well to vegetarian diners,” and people who might eat only fish, Dimitri says. If vegetarian diners inform the servers, the cooks can amend the rice dishes, which often are made with chicken broth, to accommodate their preferences.
And, even diners not in the mood for Mexican food can find something on the menu.
Silvi’s offers burgers, including a South West burger ($8.99) that includes sliced pit ham, pico de gallo and shredded pepper jack cheese. The Birmingham Reuben ($7.99) includes pastrami and corned beef with traditional additions.
“Our lunch business is building. It’s tough because we don’t have a parking lot,” Dimitri says.
After meeting in Mexico and marrying 22 years ago, the Avilas lived and worked in locations “from Texas to Indiana, from Kentucky to Cincinnati” before settling in Pittsburgh, where they expect to stay for the indefinite future, Dimitri says.
“They love each other so much, and that love comes out in their food,” Hamilton says.
“We are a long way from home,” Dimitri says. “But, little by little, the people from Pittsburgh have made us feel welcome.”
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.
Dimitri Avila, co-owner of Silvi’s Mexican Restaurant, gives credit to his wife, Silvia, for the flavors of the Mexican food they serve to their customers.
One of the restaurant’s signature dishes, Chicken Acapulco, uses Silvia’s special combination of spices to give the chicken a vivid Mexican flavor without heat. Green and poblano peppers and onions add zing, while a pool of warm queso sauce and avocado balance the zip with mellow flavors.
Diners can eat the dish as a regular entrée with a knife and fork, or can cut the chicken and place it in tortillas with the grilled vegetables and fresh cheese, if preferred.
For the chicken:
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons Silvia’s Secret Spice (see recipe)
1 chicken breast
1 ounce onion, julienned
1 ounce sweet green bell pepper, julienned
1 ounce poblano pepper, seeds removed and julienned
2 ounces queso sauce, heated (cheese sauce)
1⁄3 medium-size avocado, sliced, for garnish
1 ounce queso fresco (fresh cheese), for garnish
Spanish rice, for serving
Beans, for serving
Lettuce, chopped, for garnish
Pico de gallo, for garnish
Warm tortillas, for serving, if desired
For Silvia’s Secret Spice:
Garlic, onion, freshly ground black pepper, Adobo seasoning, salt, cumin
To prepare the chicken: Heat a grill or skillet and place the oil on to heat.
Sprinkle Silvia’s Secret Spice on both sides of the chicken breast and grill on one side; add the onion and peppers. Cook the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, to an interior temperature of 165 degrees. If the vegetables cook too quickly directly on the grill or skillet, place them on top of the chicken while it continues to cook (See Photo 1). If necessary, cover the chicken while cooking and add a bit of water to steam-cook it.
To prepare Silvia’s Secret Spice: Combine equal parts garlic, onion, pepper, Adobo seasoning and salt. Add the cumin in an amount that is half that of each of the other spices. Grind the spices together.
To serve the chicken: When the chicken is finished cooking, spread the warm queso sauce on a plate, with the chicken on top of the sauce. Place the vegetables on top of the chicken and garnish with the avocado and queso fresco.
Serve with Spanish rice and beans of your choosing. (Photo 2). Garnish with chopped lettuce and pico de gallo (traditional salsa garnish made with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and cilantro). Serve with warm tortillas if desired. (Photo 3).
Makes 1 serving.