By: Loreli Hassan
Celebrating their 62nd anniversary as one of El Paso’s most cherished Mexican restaurants, Jalisco Café and its exquisite dishes have made way into the hearts of many El Pasoans and have since established a lifelong love for authentic Mexican food in our region.
It was in 1954 when Antonia Chavez began making history with home-style Mexican cooking inside her restaurant’s kitchen in Segundo Barrio. Little did she know it was the beginning of a longtime family owned diner offering classic Mexican dishes at affordable prices.
“My aunt opened Jalisco Café with $1000 when enchiladas and tacos were only 5 cents. That was nothing!” owner Hector Chavez said. He took over in 2004 after his aunt Antonia passed away in 2003. “She was an incredible lady. She was at the restaurant seven days a week! Until this day people still talk about her.”
Jalisco Café offers authentic Mexican food made from scratch. Lunch is a busy time with frequent diners and downtown business people. Judges and politicians have also visited the corner diner and even a few have a dish named after them; the Sen. Jose Rodriguez and former Sen. Elliot Shapleigh (who dines in Sundays for his special dish) specials. Former mayor John Cook and notable news anchor, Estela Casas are among Jalisco’s most frequent customers.
“This is as close to original as it gets,” Chavez said. “We make the hominy for the menudo ourselves and we offer it on weekends. The chile rellenos are also another one of our most popular dishes.”
Jalisco Café offers other signature items, such as mole, flautas or daily specials, like albondigas served on Thursdays. Huevos rancheros and huevos a la mexicana are the most popular breakfast dishes on the menu, served with tortillas made fresh daily and a choice of agua fresca or freshly-made coffee.
“When I took over, there were hardly any customers. They ran off because of the limited menu and raised prices. I ended up adding more items to the menu and I would also walk through downtown passing flyers and handing out food samples at the courthouse and police stations. People said that after my aunt passed away Jalisco wasn’t the same. I can say that now I’m almost at the level where she was at,” Chavez said.
Jalisco Café, once a home, also delivers the same homey feel, serving customer’s needs daily. This past Thanksgiving was the restaurant’s fifth year preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the entire “barrio,” feeding 300 people.
Hector Chavez also plans to open another Jalisco Café in East El Paso.
“Sometimes you have good days or even bad weeks in this business, but I just think about my aunt and she keeps me going. It’s incredible how she was able to manage all of this,” Chavez said.