GROTON -- Over the past decade, an empire of Mexican restaurants has been quietly built in Massachusetts. Its newest outpost is Ixtapa Cantina at 765 Boston Road, former home of Oliver's Pub.

The founder of close to two dozen eateries is David Brambila, who began living his dream by opening two restaurants in Washington State and four in Idaho.

Prior to having his own restaurants, he worked as a cook and server in Seattle. His first Massachusetts restaurant was Acapulcos in Sudbury, which opened in 2001.

Fast forward 12 years, and today Brambila is at the helm of successful Mexican-themed restaurants located throughout Massachusetts with two located in Connecticut. They operate under the names of Acapulcos, Casa Blanca, Mexicali Fresh Mexgrill and Ixtapa Cantina.

Shying from the limelight, Brambila has brought in cousins, brothers and other relatives to operate each location. These general managers have more than just responsibilities for each site; they are partners, too, each sharing in the rewards of their never-ending hard work.

"You have to be in the thick of it 24-7," Brambila explains. "There are no breaks, no vacations; if you have passion, it becomes rewarding and then work stops being work, which is the whole point of life. Working with family members can be a wonderful thing; we share the same values, experiences and backgrounds and are united in our goals. I am lucky that I have so many hard-working people working in these ventures. This is why we are able to grow.



The Groton location is packed for lunch and dinner. The large convivial bar with its multiple large-screen televisions and section of small two-top tables has become the meeting place for locals from surrounding towns. The comfortable booths provide a cozy headquarters to dine on fresh Mexican specialties and perhaps the best authentic margaritas this side of the border. Frozen fruit-infused margaritas are available with or without alcohol, too.

General manager Eric Brambila is a smiling and willing manager, already a pro at the age of 27. Lauren Lynde (from Pepperell) runs the door and the phone and handles the takeout orders -- all without ever losing her smile.

We savored the grilled shrimp quesadilla

that had baby shrimp and melted Jack cheese in a warm, grilled soft flour tortilla. This big plate is partnered with fresh guacamole and sour cream.

The sizzling fajitas of chicken and steak were served in a hot skillet. The meats were lightly marinated and seasoned. The accompaniments are rice, beans, warm tortillas, shredded cheese, sour cream and guacamole.

Call ahead and your take-out will be waiting for you.

Ixtapa Cantina, 978-272-1465,