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Generations of cooks helped craft the food at Amelia's, which operates two locations in Hillsboro

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in our Hillsboro's Best special section. Every year, the Tribune solicits feedback from the public for our annual Hillsboro's Best awards.

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Amelias operates two locations in Hillsboro, both with different approaches to authentic Mexican food. The menus may differ, but the restaurants strive to keep things as traditional as possibleAs a little girl in Mexico City, Amelia Ramirez grew up at her mother's skirts, watching her cook recipes from scratch, peering up at a stove too high for Ramirez and her sisters to reach.

"Looking at my mom, the way she cooked, I wanted to learn that," Ramirez said. "I said, 'That has to be a part of me.'"

As the smells of good cooking infused the air of her mother's kitchen, a love of traditional Mexican food was instilled in Ramirez. Now 55, she is the brains behind the authentic fare served at Amelia's Exquisite Mexican Dining in downtown Hillsboro.

Her father built the girls a wooden stool just so they could reach the top of the stove and help, she said.

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Location: 105 N.E. 4th Ave.

Hours: Monday through Thursday,10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"To be successful in this kind of business, you just put all your passion and all your love into it," said Ramirez. "You do that and you see customers happy saying that you have very good food. That's what keeps me going."

The business began as Mely's taco truck in 1993, the first of its kind in Hillsboro. Ramirez and her son Josue Mondragon sold their three taco trucks in 2007 to open Amelia's, and in 2014 opened their second location.

"I never expected to have a restaurant like today, and now we have two," said Ramirez. "When the opportunity to open this little place came, to be honest, I didn't want to take it. I was afraid to have a restaurant."

But something told her to take the leap.

"The first year was really tough -- it was really, really tough," said Ramirez. "It was in 2008 when the economy went downhill."

One day she set down a two-pound Loco Burrito in front of a customer and his eyes went wide, she said.

The Yelp review he left brought customers pouring in.

"We just want the public to know how a traditional dish is supposed to taste," said Rafael Duenas, Ramirez's nephew who manages their second location.   

"I noticed that a lot of the Mexican restaurants put on their logo 'authentic Mexican food,' but mine is not only authentic, it's traditional," said Ramirez. "I try to stick with the old recipes. The most antique recipes I can find in Mexico."

Ramirez studies the food, traveling to Mexico regularly to seek out recipes from the smallest towns she can find.

"I like to go to rancherias -- like really small towns -- where the poor people know how to cook because they've had those recipes in their families for generations," said Ramirez.

There's recipes from multiple parts of Mexico on her menu, she said, carefully crafted and made from scratch, including fresh handmade tortillas and several different sauces — called mole, or molli.

"On the menu you're going to find recipes and traditions from Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero, from Mexico City, from northern Mexico, the Yucatan, and Puebla," Ramirez said. "It takes a couple days to make mole, but I don't mind because I love it so much."

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