A downtown fixture for the better part of a decade and the subject of a brief but intense political controversy last year, Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila is known for its modern Mexican dishes, its plentiful sangrias, and its vibrant nightlife – all of which are definitely bipartisan issues, if you ask me. Owner Wendy Carr recently took the time to share her history with Latino culture and cuisine, and her love for the community she was raised in.
A Spanish major in college who was originally most interested in study abroad opportunities, Wendy went on to obtain a Masters degree in International Studies: Latin Development, which took her over to Spain and down to Ecuador to study indigenous cultures.
“I backpacked through South America and fell in love with all the markets – the textiles, the artisans, the crafts,” she shared. She returned to her hometown of Westerly after graduation, ready to tackle her next adventure.
“Growing up in a tourist community, everyone worked in a restaurant to put themselves through school,” Wendy said. “If you love this area and want to stay here, it can be hard to find a job unless you make your own, so that’s what I did. When the space that became Prime Time Cafe became available, I went for it.”
Initially planning to attend law school as well, Wendy eventually decided to focus all of her attention to making Prime Time the best it could be, and it took off almost immediately.
Over the next 17 years, Prime Time became known for its Mexican and Latin inspired specials, from food to events, thanks to the passion of Wendy and her cooks. When Dylan’s closed and the space on the corner of Canal Street and High Street became available, Wendy decided it would be a great spot to open Westerly’s only Mexican restaurant.
“We had a good reception right from the start,” she reflected. “There was no other place in town offering modern Mexican, and I think people were really ready for that.”
After a year of juggling the two restaurants, Wendy decided to sell Prime Time and move forward with Amigos.
An array of traditional dishes are always available, but Wendy and the kitchen staff like to shake things up by creating unique items with a Latin flavor, like fried churros or fish and chips with a Corona beer batter. The bar also focuses on tequila, offering one of the largest selections in the area, including twenty infusions such as jalapeno, turmeric, basil habanero, and green tea.
“We’re always fine-tuning our menu, trying to listen to suggestions from customers and staff,” Wendy explained. “I want to keep prices low and portions big and food quality high, and offer our customers what they can’t get anywhere else.”
Beyond the menu, Amigos offers a fun, loud atmosphere with nightly special events, like karaoke on Thursdays, live music on Fridays, and a DJ on Saturdays, as well as annual cultural celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Día de Los Muertos. The restaurant also hosts yearly field trips for the high school’s Spanish classes, allowing students to sample Mexican food while having conversations with native speakers.
“When you’re sitting in Spanish class, maybe you think it’s boring and you won’t use it, but then things like this help to bring it to life and ground it in reality a little,” Wendy said.
Community is key for Wendy, from the family-oriented restaurant itself, staffed by employees who often stay for years and whose children have grown up and now work alongside their parents, to the regular customers, summer tourists, and fellow business owners who have helped to support the revitalization of the downtown scene.
“84 High Street and Pizza Place and I all started at the same time, so we’ve seen the change downtown first hand. The Chamber has been so supportive, and I think one of my strengths is fundraising so I like to volunteer and give back, too.”
Over the years, Wendy has helped to initiate and foster the growth of many downtown fundraising events to benefit organizations like the Jonnycake Center and the Harmony Trail. Wendy’s most recent event is the Chocolate Stroll which, in its third year, has sold out completely and raised $5,000 for the Westerly Light Parade.
Whatever your politics, everyone is welcome at Amigos. What unites us all is our shared interest in seeing our community grow, and our love for friends and family – and maybe some tacos, too!