I recently posted about my 3 favorite Mexican restaurants in Yuma, but there are numerous other places that I frequent that often prepare excellent food and are certainly worth visiting.
Viejo Loco – this small place has the worst location in Yuma, stuck in the back of small building east of and next to Mervyns on 32nd beyond 4th Ave. But some things make this place well worth the search. The salsa is hot, chile based, and flavorful. Often (usually when Danny the owner is around), it serves wonderful spinach enchiladas or spinach and chicken burritos, both of which are healthy alternatives to much Mexican food, but you have to ask about the spinach dishes as they are not on the menu. In addition, the chile verde and chile colorado are both stewed until the meat becomes shredded into the flavorful sauce. Fish tacos, prepared baja style, are large and good. The chile relleno here is a large chile with a light breading that can be served plain or covered with red or green sauce. It also makes a wonderful burrito, particularly served enchilada style with green sauce. Which reminds me, the green sauce here is some of the best in town – try it on the burritos or the enchiladas. Prices tend to be a bit high (around $6.49 or so for two enchiladas, rice, and beans) but I think the food is well worth it.
Las Palapas – far and away, this is Yuma’s favorite taco spot. With an outdoor trompo (al pastor rotisserie) and both indoor and outside seating, this place has a taco stand menu and ambiance combined with cleanliness and facilities one expects in a restaurant. The menu here is very limited – mostly focused on soft tacos with pastor, asada, fish, or shrimp fillings. The seafood is served baja style, deep fried with a crunchy crust and white sauce, and the salsa bar allows each customer to add onions, cabbages lime juice, and a choice of at least three different salsas. Guacamole sauce is also available, but you have to ask for it. In addition to the original 16th St location, they have a new facility at the big curve – which I haven’t tried yet.
Chile Pepper – I have never written about what is probably Yuma’s highest volume Mexican restaurant. The Gutierrez family (owners of Casa Gutierrez and relatives of the owners of El Charro) have been serving Mexican fast food for years at Mr G’s and the Chile Pepper (also called Mrs. G's). This is the Mexican food that generations of Yumans grew up eating because of convenient locations, reasonable prices, and quick take-out options. The menu also shows what the core items in old-school Yuma Mexican food are: burritos, dinners with flour tortillas, and rolled tacos. There is no pork on the menu; all meat dishes including the green chile, red chile, asada, and machaca are beef. There aren’t even chicken burritos. When I first moved to Yuma, various locals told me about this place, but when I tried the food a few times, it wasn’t to my taste (the machaca is mushy and the asada not very steaky) so I ate at other spots. But in the last couple of years, I’ve started getting food from here for several reasons. First, the family makes their own flour tortillas, which are huge, tender, and flavorful (and no doubt full of manteca). Second, while I find the red chile kindof dusty in flavor, the green chile is very distinct, with coarsely ground beef, chopped green chilies, bits of tomato, and at least one flavor that I can’t identify (epazote?), but find intriguing. The bean & cheese burritos are also yummy and satisfying. A new addition to the menu, beef fajita burritos, includes onion, pepper, tomato, and well seasoned pieces of steak. Much better and steakier than the carne asada.
Taqueria Jalisco (TJ’s) – right now this is a restaurant in transition. For years, it had been a favorite of mine for take-out (I live close), and also for some of the distinctive items on the menu. They had a powerfully spicy green chile made with chunks of beef, cactus soup, wonderful breakfast burritos con nopales (but they don’t open until 10), and excellent carnitas. However, the original owner sold the place sometime within the last few months to a new family. The new owner is not from Jalisco, but rather from San Luis Potosi. So far, the menu has not changed, but some items – most notably the green chile – are no longer prepared in the same way. One new item has been added, birria de res Potosini, but I have not yet tried it. I hope this little restaurant survives, and I hope that they find some new and different dishes to offer as the Yuma restaurant scene already has a lot of standard Mexican food choices.
El Zarape – the nice folks from Lucy’s taco cart moved into a real restaurant on 8th St, El Zarape. While doing a range of dishes, they are best at traditional Mexican standards like birria (de res or de chivo), menudo, or (when available) lengua in tomatillo sauce or puerco adobado. One of their problems is that the menu doesn’t offer many of their best dishes, but last summer I was able to try items like the puerco and lengua because they had a buffet all summer long. This year, no buffet, but those two excellent preparations are not on the menu and are rarely offered as specials. Nonetheless, the salsa here is good, and currently they have a couple different lunch specials at $3.50, which is a fantastic deal. One note: El Zarape was originally started by Pepe (of Los Manjares fame), he sold it to someone who served pretty poor food there for a while, so if you haven’t eaten there in a while, it may well be different than you remember.
La Fonda – this is a gringo friendly restaurant with generally excellent service. They are unique in that they pledge to use no lard in their cooking. I don’t know if this also includes no manteca in flour tortillas, but the frijoles are the only ones in town (I believe) that don’t contain the traditional dose of lard. Some dishes here are unique – the patty enchiladas are corn meal patties covered with red or green sauce and cheese, chicken, or beef. There are a couple different salads on the menu and many lunch specials come with a cup of distinctive albondigas; the meatballs are smaller than usual and the soup is redolent with the flavor of celery. The many lunch specials also include a choice of beverage.
Del Sol Market – If you want to sample an authentic Mexican buffet that can serve you a range of good and authentic food, often including unusual dishes like mantaralla, calabicitos, or puerco en chile negro, this is the place. The prices are good, but note this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. While both Del Sol markets may have buffets, I patronize the one at 16th and 4th , which has decent atmosphere (considering it’s in a small supermarket) and a huge parking lot.