Serving up a family tradition

Restaurant: Lista's in Pasadena celebrates its 30th anniversary with a blend of hospitality and charm.

March 28, 2004|By Ruth Hakulin | Ruth Hakulin,SUN STAFF

For most people, March signifies the end of winter, the beginning of long-awaited spring. But for Ruben and Kathy Evangelista, this month means something better. They are the proud owners of Lista's Restaurant, which is celebrating a milestone - its 30th anniversary.

It all started with Ruben's father, Florencia. In the early 1900s, after his parents were killed in the Philippines, Florencia Evangelista fled there.

His love of cooking instilled a desire to become a chef. He worked on merchant marine vessels and studied cooking styles in several different countries, becoming an accomplished continental chef when he came to the United States.

He worked from New York to California, where his brother lived and he planned to settle. Along the way, he stopped in Colorado, where he met and later married his wife, Nana. He settled there instead.

His son, Felix Evangelista (Ruben's oldest brother) and Nana Evangelista started Lista's Restaurant in a small strip mall in Applewood, Colo.

It was then that Ruben's talents shined, and he firmly established his place in the kitchen. The hospitality, friendly family atmosphere and delicious large plates of seasoned "New Mexican food" kept a crowd of regulars visiting.

In 1978, Ruben and Kathy were married at Lista's in Littleton.

They decided to bring Lista's to the East Coast to be closer to Kathy's family and opened Lista's of the Southeast in Virginia Beach, Va.

It soon became a favorite place for residents and tourists. In 1993, Kathy and Ruben moved Lista's to Fells Point to be closer to Kathy's aging mother. Many of the Virginia Beach customers would travel to the Fells Point restaurant.

But in 2002, the Evangelistas decided to downsize from their 450-seat establishment in Fells Point. They settled in a cozy, 80-seat neighborhood restaurant on Mountain Road in Pasadena.

Helpful and friendly

In its third year at the new location, Lista's is billed as the "place where locals meet their friends." Many of the faithful Fells Point customers often visit, and the staff followed Kathy and Ruben to the new location.

The staff remains consistent and gets to know the customers' needs and wants. They are always more than willing to serve people or help them make selections from the menu.

Though the appearance of the exterior and interior reflect Ruben's Southwest heritage, this is not a traditional Mexican restaurant.

The menu has slowly evolved to an eclectic mix of all types of food, while not losing the emphasis for which Ruben has become known.

While Kathy keeps the front of restaurant flowing with her charm, Ruben runs the kitchen. You can't miss him when he ventures away from the kitchen to visit the guests for the evening.

He doesn't wear the traditional chef hat. Instead, he favors uncharacteristic hot chili pepper pants with his white chef jacket.

Their blend of personalities and desire to keep the customers happy is evident. From his secret recipe for margaritas, which are mixed daily, to the many appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts, one can always recognize Ruben's love of food and how he flavors each item.

Ruben cuts and ages his steaks and has become known for items such as steak rancheros, blackened rib-eye, steak relleno, carne tampiquena, carnitas and the best "backyard grilled."

Recipes for success

This is truly a family restaurant: One of my favorite items is a recipe from Kathy's mother. It's listed on the menu as "Nana Kline's Crabcakes" - the best in flavor and consistency of any that I've had in my 20 years in Baltimore.

The array of items on the menu can please the most discerning appetite. Although Lista's has faithful followers, and some menu items are standard, like the garlic shrimp appetizer, Ruben changes the menu every couple weeks. And they celebrate the holidays, too.

Lista's also is gaining a reputation for being a place to go when on a diet, as they have an Atkins-friendly menu and can customize a meal to your dietetic needs.

Ruben is so devoted to the art of cooking that his vehicle boasts "WE COOK" as his license plate.

Lista's Restaurant

Where: 2412 Mountain Road, Pasadena.

Telephone: 410-437-8999

Open: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards: All major cards accepted

Prices: Appetizers, $5 to $9; entrees, $8 to $25; desserts, $3 to $5

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