El Cholo Cafe

April 27th, 2008, by Francesca

The best part of my homework this weekend was dining out to write a 500-word restaurant review – that sure beats studying sanitation – so off I went with Ben to El Cholo Cafe, a Mexican restaurant in South Pasadena.

I like the multi-level arrangements of the various rooms, and the variety of settings: long tables in the fireplace room, small tables, booths – large and small – a balcony overlooking an indoor court, and the outdoor patio.

The receptionist was the only non-Mexican looking person on staff and the only one not wearing traditional clothes. Everyone else looks and sounds the part, although for all I know they could be from Salvador or Puerto Rico and I wouldn't know the difference. My friend Jorge from Tijuana used to tell me how Hollywood keeps employing Puertoricans, Cubans and all sorts of central and south american actors to play Mexicans in movies.

Every time we've been at El Cholo on a weekend evening, a Mariachi band in full costume regalia was playing typical Mexican songs. The music is fun and I prefer music that goes with the place and the food to 80's American pop, although the trumpet is really too loud and makes conversation impossible when the players are close to your table.

This band includes two guitars, a trumpet and a fiddler, and the trumpet player doubles up as solo singer.

This time we were seated at a tiny booth, with a full view of the kitchen, featuring a prominent trash can.

The menu is in a good looking color scheme that fits the décor, but its design and typographic style gets in the way of reading; some items recede in the background and are hard to find (where the heck are the fajitas?).

The decór has more flair than the larger Mexican restaurant chains such as El Torito and Acapulco. I particularly like the old photos and the sense of history that comes at you from the walls, the partitions and everywhere around.

The phrases and saying in Spanish painted on arches and other surfaces close to the ceiling add another touch to the ambiance. Some are quite funny, as "No llores, hay mas peces en el mar" (don't cry, there's more fish in the sea).

Our first dish was a fiesta platter with chicken chimichangas, crab and beef taquitos, quesadillas, and some nachos hiding under the guacamole and the sour cream.

Margaritas are de rigueur and we had a house margarita and a Cadillac (a regular margarita with a shot of Grand Marnier). Both excellent.

Next, a chicken fajita and a tostadita salad. The chicken fajita comes sizzling in a typical cast iron skillet set on a wooden board.

Instead of the unattractive plastic containers used in most Mexican restaurants, our flour tortillas were served between two plates. I liked that.

Both the tostadita and the chicken fajita included tomato pieces that were, surprisingly, blanched and peeled. Not the level of care and attention to detail I have come to expect from the Mexican restaurants we usually frequent. That was really a nice touch.

More dinners will certainly be had at El Cholo Cafe.
And now I'd better go write those 500 words for my class assignment, where I'll have to concentrate on the food and critique aspects such as use of salt, consistency, temperature, plating, and so on. But all this talk of food has made me hungry… breakfast first!

3 Responses to “El Cholo Cafe”

  1. Steven Kesler Says:
    I can't believe I missed this restaurant while we were still living in Pasadena. Your post reminds me of all the great Mexican restaurants around Pasadena; New Zealand is utterly devoid of decent Mexican food. Cheers, steven
  2. steven Kesler Says:
    P.S. Did you try the flan for dessert? steven
  3. Ava Says:
    Now I'm hungry too! Will you share your 500 word review? Off to eat dinner now...

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