410 Broadway, Chula Vista
History in Chula Vista? You betcha. Like, the other day I came across a couple of geezers outside an eatery, yakkin’ away like there was no tomorrow. Seems they’d just met up again after half a century.
“We’ve changed,” one’s saying. “This ol’ place hasn’t one bit, beyond a lick of paint.”
It’s a cream-colored stucco building with a big sign that says, “El Patio. Fine Mexican Food since 1954.”
Wow. It’s exactly 54 years since ’54. Have to check it out. Eating solo tonight, anyway. Carla and I…discussion…money again…ugh. You don’t wanna know. So feeling — how do they say it? — lugubrious. And this might be just what a lugubrious lughead needs. The inside’s warm, red, low-lit, with paintings of Mexican street scenes all around the walls. Even at this early evening hour, around 5:00, the place burbles with clumps of people, mainly in booths. Older and younger folks, all together.
Bamboo skirting and a plank timber ceiling make it feel woodsy. Low-light Tiffany lamps make it ’50s-romantic. All the chairs are really big and old, made of twirly, rounded, heavy-looking wood. Bet they started life here in ’54 too. And the tables look like flattened oak trees, with thick trunks and four gnarly leg-roots spreading over the carpet. Another ’50s touch: the “tablecloths” are maroon Naugahyde. And another: the cashier sits at a separate cash-register booth, facing the rear.
Lady in the next-door booth has brought her nephew to one of her all-time favorite places to try one of her all-time favorite dishes, enchiladas.
“They have the best green salsas here,” she says.
The booth on her other side is full of ex-Diegans visiting from Kansas City, Missouri. This was their favorite place for years. “I first came here in the ’70s,” says Pat, looking up from her carne asada burrito. “I used to eat this dish all the time. It’s still good.”
Jim, across the table, takes a pull on a Dos Equis before plowing into his combo chile relleno, enchilada, and taco. “Nothing to beat this in Missouri,” he says.
I get a bit of sticker shock, though, when Martha the waitress brings me the menu (and it’s a big one). Two of those enchiladas cost $9.50, with rice and beans. So does the carne asada burrito. The chile relleno, enchilada, taco combo goes for $11.95. Lunchtime looks easier. If I’d eaten here earlier, I could have had an open-faced chiliburger with fries for $6.95, or a beef or chicken tostada for $5.95. Most lunch items run seven to ten bucks. Like, two ground beef enchiladas are $7.95.
I see that breakfast (served till one in the afternoon) is even cheaper. Chilaquiles with an egg and frijoles costs $6.95, and two eggs with bacon or sausage are only $5.50. Omelets will run $7–$9. And, hey, “El Patio omelet” sounds absolutely scrumbo, dammit. “Fluffy eggs, wrapped around bacon, sausage, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, then topped with sour cream, $8.95.” But it’s way too late for that. Now, in the evening, most of the chow goes for $8–$14. Gotta be real careful here.
“Ohmygosh,” cries this lady Laurina at a booth where another multigenerational family’s having a get-together. She has this big fried tortilla stacked with everything. Beef, looks like, in a big mound of salad. It’s a “flying saucer,” an appetizer, if you can believe it. “And this is only half,” she says. Wow. Half-size goes for $8.95 ($7.95 at lunch). Full-size, it’s $12.95, anytime.
Strikes me, this is a place for traditional Mexican food. Good, unsurprising, filling, maybe a little pricey at night for the likes of me.
“So what’s the most popular dish?” I ask Martha.
“Try number 17,” she says.
It’s “The original famous…shredded beef burrito with our FAMOUS cheese sauce,” according to the menu.
“Tell me about the cheese sauce,” I say.
“I can’t,” says Martha. “Family secret. But it’s a gravy type of cheese sauce.”
Hmm, $9.50. But so’s most everything.
“I’ll take it,” I say. And when it comes, there’s plenty to the original Famous Burrito, stuffed with shredded beef and splurged over with cheese sauce. The sauce is slightly smoky, maybe, and there sure is a lot of it, along with the rice. Not mind-blowing wow, but gut-filling good.
I eat till I can eat no more. And get a box for the rest.
“We have three generations coming in here,” says Guillermo, who runs the place with his daughter Lili. They’ve had it 2 years, but for the first 50, it was run by the family of Alex Monguia, the original owner. “He came from El Paso, Texas,” Guillermo says. “We took over their recipes, their cooks, their staff. We’re new, but we’re still a family.”
I get up to pay the backward-facing cashier lady. I guess this is like the original corner Italian trattoria, say the one Olympia Dukakis goes into in Moonstruck. (With Cher, remember?) I can just imagine the number of Chula Vistans who did part of their growing up in here. Birthdays, engagement dinners, wakes, the whole enchilada. A ton of emotional attachment.
So don’t come here with your fast friends. Come to get embraced by the coziness, to, well…reconcile with your main squeeze. Carla, can we talk?
The Place: Restaurant El Patio, 410 Broadway, Chula Vista, 619-422-9745
Type of Food: Mexican
Prices: Breakfast chilaquiles with egg, frijoles, $6.95; two eggs with bacon or sausage, $5.50; El Patio omelet (fluffy eggs, bacon, sausage, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, with sour cream), $8.95; flying saucer, half-size, $8.95 ($7.95 at lunchtime), full-size, $12.95; two enchiladas with rice, beans, $9.50; carne asada burrito (same sides), $9.50; chile relleno, enchilada, taco combo, $11.95; lunchtime open-faced chiliburger with fries, $6.95; beef or chicken tostada (lunch), $5.95; two ground-beef enchiladas (lunch), $7.95
Hours: 9:00 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Monday–Thursday (breakfast till 1:00 p.m.); 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. Friday–Saturday; 8:00 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Sunday
Nearest Bus Stop: G and Broadway
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: H Street, Chula Vista