Doing what you love ingredient to new Oak Harbor restaurant’s success

Calixto “Cali” Cibrian opened Riverside Cafe on Pioneer Way last month. It replaces Mexican restraurant Valle Azul. The dining establishment offers a large menu of American food

Downtown Oak Harbor gained a new restaurant when Riverside Cafe, serving a large menu of American food including breakfast all day, opened last month at 705 Southeast Pioneer Way. It replaced Valle Azul.

The new eatery, whose expansive menu spans eight pages, is owned by Calixto “Cali” Cibrian, 43, who has a wealth of experience with cooking. His family worked in the restaurant business in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he grew up.

He washed dishes in a Tacoma restaurant after the family moved to the United States when he was 15. After a move to Anacortes, he opened Esteban’s Mexican Restaurant in Oak Harbor in 2002, then Taqueria El Gallito in Mount Vernon in 2008.

Two years later, “I decided to flip the page” away from Mexican food to American food, Cibrian said, and he founded the original Riverside Cafe in Mount Vernon, which he still owns and operates.

Unlike the Oak Harbor location, the Mount Vernon restaurant is in fact near a river: the Skagit.

Cibrian said he chose Oak Harbor for his second restaurant because he likes Island County and there isn’t much competition downtown.

Neither of Cibrian’s restaurant serves Mexican food.

“Just because my roots are in Mexico doesn’t mean I only cook Mexican,” he said. “I’ve been cooking American food since I was 18.”

Riverside Cafe cooks everything to order, making its own fries and fish and chips, Cibrian said. “It may take a little longer than the other guys, but it’s not sitting there and then reheated.”

The restaurant specializes in breakfasts, burgers and healthful salads.

Cibrian, who is married and has three children, said he works up to 17 hours a day. His wife works mainly at the Mount Vernon restaurant. The Oak Harbor location employs about 10 people, and the Mount Vernon location eight.

The new location is already getting return customers — a good sign, Cibrian said.

The Mount Vernon location has proven “pretty successful,” he said. “We’re making a living. It pays the bills, and we have enough for the kids. You can make a living, but you won’t get rich.”

Though he works hard, Cibrian said he’s happy to do so.

“When you do what you love, you just have fun,” he said. Still, owning two restaurants is probably enough, at least for now, he said.

Dori Cart, eating a birthday lunch out with two friends recently, praised the new restaurant’s apple pecan turkey salad and the BLT, as well as the attentive service.

“It’s nice to have another restaurant downtown,” she said. “It dresses things up a bit.”