Mon’s Spanish Grill, which is located on Main Street in downtown Farmington, opened in October.
Mon's Spanish Grill, which is located on Main Street in downtown Farmington, opened in October. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — In the early 1720s, Phil Gallegos' family packed up their sheep and moved from Gallego, Spain, to what is now Rio Arriba County, where the family had been given a land grant.

Now, despite the hundreds of years that have passed, food still connects Gallegos to his ancestral homeland.

"We're fortunate that my dad and my grandfather kept some of the oral tradition alive," Gallegos said.

In October, he opened Mon's Spanish Grill, a restaurant in downtown Farmington that serves Spanish food from the Galicia area of Spain.

Galicia is a province in northern Spain that was settled by the Celtic people. The last name Gallegos means "the Celts" in Spanish.

Originally, Gallegos and his wife planned on calling the restaurant Celt Iberian Grill, but they quickly realized people didn't understand what that meant.

Gallegos grew up in eastern Los Angeles. Every year in school, his teachers asked students write about what they did during the summer.

From the ages of 6 to 17,Gallegos spent the summer at his grandparents' house in New Mexico. So, he wrote about how they lived in an old adobe house with a wood burning stove and no gas. Gallegos said his teachers encouraged him to write about that because it was so different from what the other students, who stayed in the city, wrote about.

"They couldn't understand that lifestyle because they were always in the city," he said.

In 1983 and 1984, Gallegos took a trip to Spain, searching for the village of Gallego.

While there, he realized the food they ate in Galicia was similar to the meals he grew up eating that his father prepared for him.

It was different food than he thought of when he pictured Spanish food. For instance, following Celtic tradition, the Galicians eat a lot of root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots.

Mon’s Spanish Grill owner Phil Gallegos poses for a portrait Friday at his restaurant in downtown Farmington.
Mon's Spanish Grill owner Phil Gallegos poses for a portrait Friday at his restaurant in downtown Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

When he looked at the stews and soups, he found the main difference between what he grew up eating while visiting his grandfather in New Mexico and what the Galicians ate was the spice. In New Mexico, his grandfather used chilis to flavor the soups and stews, while in Spain they tend to use paprika and Asian spices.

Opening the restaurant in downtown Farmington was something he and his wife often talked about. Gallegos said they joked about it being their retirement job.

His wife is from Guam, so the couple went back and forth about what type of cuisine to serve. Eventually, Spanish won out, partly as a way to tie the restaurant back to the state's past.

On one wall of the restaurant, Gallegos displays pictures of military service members and veterans. They started with pictures of Gallegos and his youngest son, who was injured while serving in the Marines in 2006 after an explosion.

Gallegos said his family has always been firm about saying they are Americans who recognize their roots.

The restaurant is named after Gallegos' father, Filimon, who was often called Mon.

"Too many people look somewhere else for their inspiration," Gallegos said. "If they look in their backyard, it's right there."

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.