Author: Clif Cody
Walking by Jugos Azteca on York Boulevard, the first thing a passerby notices are the walls, painted an eye-catching lime green with large graphics of the shop’s menu printed on a banner across the front.
Inside, piles of organic cucumbers, apples and pineapples overflow behind the glass front counter. Three towering glass jars are grouped together near the checkout. Today — Nov. 3 — they are filled with combinations of lemon and cucumber with chia, strawberry lemonade and orange and guava with blackberry. Ice cubes and pieces of fruit float in the middle of each jar, causing a domino-like swishing sound when workers use large steel ladles to scoop the juices into plastic cups for customers.
Jugos Azteca, owned and operated by Veronica Rodriguez and Efrain Peña, opened seven years ago, and has since become a go-to choice in the neighborhood for fresh juice and hot tortas according to Raul Peña, the morning manager and owners’ son. Still, it manages to fly under the radar for some Occidental students, despite being a nearby destination for reasonably priced, high quality drinks and sandwiches and — at least for this time of the year — protection from the common cold.
Rodriguez long dreamed of opening a shop from which she could share her homemade cooking. Raul Peña said that she would regularly make him bean tacos before school as a kid.
“It was her dream to bring what she would make for her kids to other people,” Peña said. “So she chased her dreams and then she opened this spot.”
His parents are not new to the restaurant business. Jugos Azteca is their fourth store, with three Mexican eateries in Echo Park, Downtown and on Figueroa. It was, however, their first juice endeavor.
Since opening in 2008, the store’s juice and smoothie selection has expanded to over 50 options, with a full menu dedicated to “healing juices,” including drinks like #4 Circulation made with pineapple, celery and parsley. Their most popular drink on the menu is relatively new: the Green Juice.
“We would always make it, but we didn’t give it a name,” Peña said. “People would just come in and ask for all this green stuff, and then my dad starting seeing this big trend, so one day we just named it the Green Juice.”
While Jugos Azteca started as just a juice bar, it was only when Efrain Peña – Rodriguez’s husband – left his job at Huarache Azteca, a Mexican restaurant two doors down, that they started offering food.
First they added cold sandwiches, but they weren’t very popular. Once Efrain and Rodriguez got a grill, however, the demand for food started increasing.
“We started cooking stuff up, so people come in the morning for the egg sandwich and bacon,” Peña said.
The hot food selection also expanded to what now currently includes items such as tortas — the most popular item on the menu — corn on the cob, shrimp tostadas, sandwiches and tamales.
Will Bergman (senior) is a regular at Jugos Azteca, and usually gets the carne asada torta.
“As far as local options go, it’s one of the healthiest,” Bergman said. “They have quality ingredients, it’s very fresh in terms of vegetables and fruits. They’re always producing just really high quality items.”
The food isn’t the only thing that keeps Occidental students coming back. Tess Langseth-Depaolis (senior) said that the customer service creates a welcoming environment.
“When I go, I usually get one of their daily juice specials,” Langseth-Depaolis said via email. “Such a friendly staff and delicious fruity drinks.”
Peña’s family members have lived in Eagle Rock their entire lives and now reside just five blocks from Jugos Azteca.
“We’ve been here, we’ve seen how York had grown within these years and stuff, how the bike lane, a lot of art galleries within this year and last year two new juice places opened up,” Peña said.
Peña said that Jugos Azteca brings in a wide range of customers — even fellow juice bar owners — ultimately making it a place that connects the community.
“The greatest feeling is us getting to know and being compatible with the Oxy students, with the Franklin students, with all different types of people, the art shops, the other juice bars,” Peña said.
Jugos Azteca can be found on 5213 York Boulevard and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
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