Noemy Martinez started working in restaurants at age eight, when she helped her parents serve customers at Latino’s Delight on the north end of Driggs. Two decades later, she has opened her own business, Valle del Sol, in the very same building.
Valle del Sol’s appeal is fast, affordable, authentic Mexican street food, where, as Martinez put it, you don’t need to dress up to come have a meal.
She moved to the United States from Mexico at age six and a short two years later she and her older brother were working the cash register and translating orders for their parents, Arturo and Augustina. The Diaz family started serving Mexican food on Sundays out of the Spud II Theater in Driggs. Martinez remembers lines out the door on those Sundays. It was some of the only food available to buy on Sundays, and the only real Mexican food in the valley, not including a Tex Mex joint in Victor. In 2000 they expanded to weekdays, and then Arturo bought the building with financing from the owner, Richard Wood, and started Latino’s Delight. Through the years the building also housed a laundromat and convenience store.
Arturo converted the former theater into an arcade and pool hall. That’s where her schoolmates hung out, Martinez said—there was nowhere else for teens to go in town. She wants to bring back that welcoming atmosphere by offering late night street food on weekends, hosting music, and even having salsa classes in the large dining room.
After almost a decade, Latino’s Delight shuttered because of the recession, and after running an auto shop in Driggs for a few years, Arturo and his family moved to Pocatello. Martinez quickly found her way back to Teton Valley, the place she loved.
Driggs has changed a lot since her childhood. In the early 2000s, town only stretched from the post office to where Agave now stands, and most of the neighborhood roads were dirt. However, Martinez said the community’s essence remains the same.
“The kids can still ride bikes around town, people are still respectful. That’s what keeps us here, we don’t have to worry about big city things.”
Martinez rents the restaurant space and the upstairs apartment from her parents, and while they still live in Pocatello, her mom comes up often to help make tamales. Several of the Valle del Sol menu items are Augustina’s recipes, and patrons who ate at Latino’s Delight 20 years ago know it.
Valle del Sol grew organically, in a similar way to Latino’s Delight. Martinez opened the small Valle del Sol convenience store next to the old restaurant (most recently home to Bangkok Kitchen) in December of 2018 and started preparing big batches of carnitas on Sundays, and selling pan dulces and other snacks she had baked. People started asking for salsa too. Soon she was serving food on weekdays and needed more seating for customers, so she and her husband Jesus took the leap and expanded the business. The old storefront is now closed and those concessions and house-made desserts are available to buy at the Valle del Sol restaurant.
After quietly opening early in 2020 and enjoying good business, Valle del Sol had its grand opening on March 14. On the same day, news broke of the first positive coronavirus case in Teton County.
That was extremely challenging, Martinez said. She had to lay off some employees who had already been trained, and figure out how to convert to curbside offerings. Closing down was out of the question; that would have likely been the end of the restaurant.
“People were so generous and supportive though,” Martinez said. “Especially with us being so new. And it’s been surprising to see curbside customers come right back to dining in now that that’s open.”
She loves cooking and baking but also enjoys the service aspect of owning a restaurant, checking on diners, and making recommendations. Her favorite thing on the menu is the huaraches, fried boats of masa dough that she likes to fill with carne asada and red salsa. (Definitely try every color of Valle del Sol’s excellent salsa.)
Martinez’s daughters are the same age she was when her parents opened Latino’s Delight, and are getting the same experience of living in the apartment above the restaurant and helping serve and wipe down tables (and demanding their share of the tips).
“My parents instilled their work ethic in us, and now we’re doing the same with my kids,” Martinez said. “It’s like a flashback.”