Isabel’s Cafe celebrates 47 years

Junior Martinez, Dora Ramos and Andres Martinez arrange to-go orders at Isabel’s Cafe on May 26. Photo by Gaige Davila.

By Gaige Davila

Save for it’s dining room being closed, it’s business as usual at Isabel’s Cafe, which celebrated its 47th anniversary this past Monday, May 25. 

“The phone starts ringing right at seven o’clock,” Dora Ramos told the PRESS inside Isabel’s Cafe. “On weekends, it doesn’t end until close to closing (at 3:00 p.m.).” 

Andres Martinez hands a customer a to-go order curbside outside Isabel’s Cafe on May 26. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Nothing has slowed down at Isabel’s Cafe which, even with only curbside to-go service, is seeing the same rush of customers daily.

The restaurant has served Tex-Mex staples on the intersection of Port Road and Highway 100 since May 25, 1973, when it was just Isabel Gonzalez, the cafe’s namesake and original owner, taking orders, while her mother, “Mama Lupe,” worked in the kitchen.

Forty-seven years and five generations of family later, owner Dora Ramos says not much has changed.

“We try to keep everything the same as possible,” Ramos said. “We think more about our customers, not about us.”

Ramos was a student at Port Isabel Junior High when her mother opened Isabel’s Cafe. In 1973, the Port Isabel Junior High campus was across the street from the restaurant, where Ramos would cross the street during lunch to eat. 

Since then, Ramos has worked at the restaurant, one of five generations of Gonzalez’s family to be employed there. Gonzalez died in 2015, after which Ramos took ownership of Isabel’s Cafe. 

Andres Martinez finishes sanitizing check books at Isabel’s Cafe on May 26. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Like many restaurants in the area, Isabel’s Cafe was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening at the beginning of the month after a 32-day closure. 

On March 18, after Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order to limit dining room seating inside restaurants, Isabel’s Cafe also decreased the number of available tables. The next day, on March 19, they closed their dining room.

On March 24, Isabel’s Cafe closed for 32 business days, not counting the Thursdays they’re already closed. The restaurant reopened on May 1, much to the excitement of residents.  

“People were calling and asking, ‘When do you open?’” Ramos said. “We just knew we had to get back to work, and start serving people again.” 

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

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