Milagros Fresh Mexican does Ashland proud.

Milagros Fresh Mexican does Ashland proud.

The new restaurant next to Market of Choice on Siskiyou Boulevard emphasizes fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients and enthusiastically caters to gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and other dietary demands.

Milagros, which means "miracles," opened Aug. 4 and is owned by Steve and Susan Means.

Susan Means first drove through Ashland Feb. 17, 1979, and it was love at first sight. She returned in 1982, stayed for nearly a decade and opened The Gourmet Coffee Cellar on Pioneer Street. After she and Steve, a commercial builder, got married, the couple led a nomadic lifestyle and spent time in the Caribbean, Nevada, Florida and Arizona before returning "home" to Ashland.

It was while they were living in Scottsdale, Ariz., surrounded by Chipotle Mexican Grills, that Susan was inspired to open a Mexican restaurant in Ashland.

Fans of Medford's Mucho Gusto will find a similar concept and atmosphere at Milagros. The interior lends itself to a clean and casual dining experience. Large portraits and still-life photographs by Ashland photographer Andrea Shapiro hang on the restaurant's colorful walls and four, red menu panels run the length of its cafeterialike counter.

A co-worker and I made a midday trip to Ashland to check out the restaurant. Like Senor Sams and Mucho Gusto, the food is custom-made right in front of you.

Milagros puts all its attention on four Mexican-inspired favorites: the taco, the burrito, the taco salad and the burrito bowl. For each, you can choose from carnitas, shredded beef, chicken, steak, tofu or roasted veggies.

The restaurant prides itself on serving only natural, free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats from Painted Hills Beef and Draper Valley Farms in Washington state. Most of the produce also is organic and, like the meat, delivered daily.

Each entree costs $7.95, a little steep for a college-student budget but fair when you consider the quality of the ingredients.

My friend chose the tacos, which come three to an order, with organic tofu and a side of pinto beans and cilantro-lime white rice ($3.50 for a 12-ounce portion). To mix it up, she asked that two tacos be made with flour tortillas, one with a house-made, crispy corn shell and all three topped with a different salsa variety — tomatillo green salsa, fresh tomato and smoked red chili salsa.

A mild red enchilada sauce gave the soft, white tofu cubes a more pronounced flavor in the tacos, and my friend liked that guacamole is included with tofu or vegetarian combinations.

In addition to roasting and grinding its own spices, Milagros makes all six of its salsa varieties and the guacamole daily. Steve, who received informal cooking lessons from a chef in New Orleans, conceived the recipes.

When my turn came, I ordered a burrito on a whole-wheat tortilla (no additional charge) with adobo-spiced pieces of chicken breast, vegetarian black beans, cheese, guacamole ($1.95 for a 2-ounce portion), cilantro-lime white rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. The waitress struggled to fold the tortilla over the heap of toppings, wrapped the burrito in paper-lined foil and put it in a basket.

We also tacked on an order of house-made chips and guacamole ($3.95) to share. The chips were thicker than the typical store-bought ones and lightly salted.

After struggling to manage the large burrito and eat it with somewhat flimsy, disposable utensils, I decided that on my next visit, I would forgo the tortilla and get the burrito bowl with a side order of chips ($1).

While we were content with water, Milagros also serves Naked juices, energy drinks, Jarritos, Tazo teas, Pepsi products, as well as local beers and wines.

While it's one week too early to tell, I predict the restaurant will be a huge hit among returning Southern Oregon University students, particularly those living in the dorms across the way.

Nevertheless, Mean said the restaurant is not partial to any demographic.

"I'm in my 50s," she says. "This is the kind of food I like to eat. I know the college students are coming in and many of them eat healthy, especially in Ashland, but we want to cater to the whole family, everyone."

— Teresa Thomas