On any given morning, Sandra Castillo is probably in the kitchen at Lago Azul, her Mexican and Salvadorian restaurant in Hailey. She’s not just preparing food—through cooking, she’s sharing a lifelong passion for Salvadorian cuisine.
“I grow my passion to cook through my customers. I cook like I want to eat the food,” she said. “I like when they say they love my food. It’s the most satisfying when I hear good feedback.”
Good feedback is common—overwhelmingly positive reviews come in-person and online.
Such high regard has been decades in the making. Sandra moved to California from her native El Salvador in 1976 and cooked at a food truck with her sister. The family moved to Idaho in 1994 and to the Wood River Valley in 2000.
“She’s been cooking since she was 7 or 8 years old,” said Chris Castillo, Sandra’s son. “It’s just something she’s wanted to do.”
The family operated a grocery story in Bellevue and a cleaning business, and visited Lago Azul under a previous owner, who sold them the business in 2003.
“It was going really good with the store, and people kept telling her, ‘Do something bigger,’” Chris said. “We came in and redid the menu, tweaked the recipes, and it took her three, four years to get it where it is now.”
They soon closed the store and cleaning business as Lago Azul grew to employ Chris’ aunt, brother and sister-in-law.
Customers enjoy the variety of changes they can make to menu items, or requesting other dishes altogether, Chris said, but often, they just trust Sandra.
“I have customers that say, ‘I want the mama special.’ They don’t want to see a menu,” she said. “That means a lot for me.”
Lago Azul offers more than food—a twice-weekly after-school program teaches kids culinary and restaurant-operation skills—and safe, responsible habits, Chris said.
“We’re trying to get more involved with the community,” he said. “We’re trying to make it into something bigger.”
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