We have discovered a tiny Mexican cafe that can deliver more than one would expect from its appearance. Restaurante Chano & Chon looks, from the outside, like another clone of Todosbertos, as we call them, although among the multitude of signs on and above the window is one proclaiming "real Mexican food." Its owner and chef is Jose Antonio Ruiz, who also works as a sous chef at the restaurant at Gainey Ranch Golf Club. Because of his other job, Jose himself is not always present at the cafe, but he has told us that the most likely times to find him there are Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. On a couple of occasions we have stopped in to find it unexpectedly closed -- apparently when Jose has a big catering job at the golf club or perhaps sometimes he just gets overwhelmed with the two jobs.
There are about ten tables, and the menu on the board reflects very simple options -- tacos, tortas and burritos with choice of the usual fillings including carnitas, lengua, chorizo, buche, etc. If you sit at a table, the waitress (sometimes Jose's daughter) will bring a menu that shows additional choices including appetizers such as queso fundido and some dinner combinations. Seafood toastadas, shrimp flautas, quesadillas and chile rellenos are also availalble, and sometimes they have a blackboard special.
We stopped in for breakfast one Sunday and Jose was there. I was looking for great menudo, but this wasn't it -- although it was devoid of grease, as he pointed out, neither was there a lot of flavor in the broth. However, my husband ordered chilaquiles, and what he got was the most beautiful plate of chilaquiles I've ever seen. Jose had tossed the tortilla pieces with green chile sauce in a skillet and topped it with fluffy scrambled eggs, chunks of white cheese, pico de gallo and crema and avocado wedges. It looked like a photograph in a food magazine.
Jose told us that if we came back on Tuesday he would have some fresh shrimp, and he would make something special for us. When we returned on Tuesday evening Jose wasn't there, but his daughter retrieved him from the nearby video store, and he greeted us like old friends. He served us fish fillets, simply sauteed and sauced Veracruzana style (chopped tomato, pepper, cilantro, onion and olives), accompanied by four shrimp sauteed with garlic butter, and rice. This was much like the seafood we've had in Mexican seacoast towns like Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada, and we were very happy. As I recall, he charged us something like $16 for the meal, with drinks (horchata and soda).
The next time we returned was on a Wednesday, and Jose wasn't there. His daughter was very apologetic and offered to call him to come in, but we didn't want to make him do that. She mentioned that he was very tired and had gone home early. She offered to bring us something nice, and we settled on a sope topped with chopped lengua, lettuce, white cheese and crema, and queso fundido, both of which we shared. The sope was perfect, the masa base not hard and greasy like many of them are. The queso fundido, topped with chorizo, was good but could have been a bit more melted because we had some trouble breaking off the strings of cheese (yes, we could have asked them to take it back and heat it a bit more but we didn't so we really can't fault them). Then she brought us a platter with about ten shrimp in coconut batter. These were definitely made to order, not pre-battered and frozen. When she totaled the bill it came to around $11.50 and we said that couldn't possibly enough, and she said the shrimp were on the house. We argued that we want them to make money so they will stay in business, and ended up paying $15.00. Obviously they are being especially nice to us because they are trying to build up the business.
They serve no wine or beer, but Jose mentioned that we are welcome to bring our own. We are thinking this would be a good place to hold a group dinner, which of course would have to be arranged in advance in accordance with Jose's schedule. He says he plans to quit his other job and focus on the restaurant, but that will probably depend on how the business grows. He also does catering from the restaurant, and supplies food for a nearby sports bar once a week.
Jose and his restaurant have great potential, and we hope that more customers will discover him.
Restaurante Chano & Chon
5140 W. Peoria Avenue Suite 144