John Ambriz, general manager at the Valle Luna Mexican Food & Cantinas in Chandler, and regional general manager for all three Valle Luna restaurants Chris Espinoza stand outside the eatery on West Ray Road in Chandler.

A Mexican restaurant known for adding flavor and fun to family dinners, happy hours and any special occasion is throwing a party to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

On Dec. 13, the hotspot Valle Luna Mexican Food & Cantinas will mark two decades of feeding and serving Chandler in the festive style its customers are accustomed to.

The restaurant will have Santa’s Workshop from 5 to 7 that night at the eatery at 1949 W. Ray Road in The Boardwalk at Andersen Springs Shopping Center, just east of Dobson Road.

Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and an elf will mingle with children. Kids can have their pictures taken with the Christmas crew and decorate sugar cookies and drink hot chocolate for free.

A snow machine will add to the magic feel. Because it will be family night, customers can take advantage of dinners at reduced prices, as they can every Wednesday evening at the restaurant.

“We’ve done weddings, wedding rehearsals, retirement parties, baby showers, anything to celebrate,” said Chris Espinoza, regional general manager of the three Valle Luna restaurants, which are all in the Valley. “We are very family-friendly. We have phenomenal customers, a lot of repeat customers. Our servers get attached to them.

“It’s amazing how fast 20 years went.”

Employees and customers say the tasty dishes and delicious drinks on the Sonoran-style Mexican menu, as well as the welcoming staff and beautiful view of a man-made lake from Valle Luna’s patio, keep them coming back.

Customers can order mild to extremely spicy foods from the menu. Owners Bill and Janie Riddle also own a Valle Luna restaurant on West Bell Road in Phoenix, which opened in 1983, and one on North Cave Creek Road in Phoenix, which opened in 1985.

Espinoza said one popular item on the menu is the fundido, which comes rolled in a flour tortilla with jalapeño cream cheese, deep-fried and topped with melted cheddar cheese. It comes with chicken, steak, shredded beef or pork inside.

Another favorite is the shrimp-stuffed poblano chiles, which are two chiles stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese, onions and tomatoes served with a jalapeño-lime cream sauce, as well as calabacitas, Spanish rice and beans. Fajitas with steak, pork, chicken or shrimp or a combination of two of those fillings, are also frequently ordered.

The Sonoran enchilada is “fairly rare” among local Mexican restaurants, Espinoza said. It has two homemade masa (corn) patties blended with cheeses, onions and black olives, and it’s deep-fried and has an egg on top. It comes with rice, beans and a tortilla.

Valle Luna has senior nights from 3 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays at all three locations, when anyone 50 and older can buy one meal and get one free.

People can get the discounted meals at all three Valle Luna locations on family nights, including the items on the kids menus, on Wednesday nights starting at 4 p.m.

Diners can get breakfast for $3.99 on Sundays. Happy hours give customers a chance to get specials from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Customer Charly Lehlbach said she has been going to Valle Luna since she was a child.

“I love that it’s been the same for so long, the place itself and the food,” Lehlbach said. “It’s comforting because so many places try to ‘change with the times.’ I like how they have a separate area for the bar, so if it gets rowdy during a game or something, the sit-down side is totally separate.”

Customer Lisa Powell said Valle Luna is “our family favorite.”

“I really like the atmosphere, servers are always friendly and the food is great, too,” Colby said.

Valle Luna is also a go-to place for Barb Lesniakowski and her family.

“My family has been going to Valle Luna since it opened,” Lesniakowski said. “We’ve had birthday dinners, memory dinners and celebratory dinners there. When my nieces and daughter ‘became women,” that’s where my mom took them to celebrate. I got stuck in a booth when I was pregnant, and my husband, sister and brother-in-law just laughed at me.”

Janie Riddle, CEO of the three Valle Luna restaurants, said with the Chandler restaurant “being on the waterfront, it’s the prettiest” of the three eateries she and Bill own.

“The ambiance out there is fantastic,” Janie said. “There’s nothing like sitting out and looking out over the lake. It’s a fantastic family community.”

Janie and Bill love to help Chandler and the other communities in which they have restaurants. They sponsor youth sports teams and support many nonprofit organizations and other entities.

“We’ve always been giving back ever since my mother-in-law was alive here,” Janie said. “We try to instill giving back to the community with our employees and family members.”

Christmas trees are up at the Valle Luna restaurants and customers can grab notes on them with requests from children in need, then buy them gifts for the holiday season and bring them back to the restaurants.

Chandler High School’s football team gets treated to dinner every year at the Valle Luna in Chandler, Espinoza said.

Janie and Bill’s generosity toward employees and the community fosters loyalty among workers and customers in the Valley, Espinoza added.

“The owners are phenomenal people,” Espinoza said. “They’re very community-minded. They’ve served on lots of different boards. Their generosity is amazing. They’re just giving, loving people. I certainly believe our success has come from their community involvement.”

She said many employees at the Chandler restaurant have worked there for 10 or more years. One employee at the Bell Road restaurant has worked there since it opened in 1983.

Bill and Janie’s daughter Joey White is chief financial officer for the Valle Luna company, and their daughter Reda Riddle-Bigler administers all the medical and 401(k) benefits, and she is also a Phoenix Fire Department captain.

“For a small, family-owned and operated business we’re very fortunate,” Espinoza said. “It’s very nice that our employees can stay.”

Janie said she and Bill try to continually keep their restaurants remodeled and to “provide the best working environment for employees and the best dining experience for our customers.”

“We just hope everybody will come out and join us on our celebration on Santa’s Workshop,” she said.


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