I had a waiter named Julio during my recent visit to the latest Don Perico. He was a crackup, probably a budding standup comedian who made quips throughout our dining experience that weren't laugh-out-loud crazy, but more like you-had-to-be-there funny and it really, really made the experience distinctive. For example, someone asked him where the bathroom was, and he went into a spiel, saying, "First you get on the road 'til you hit the 99." When he asked if he could take my clean plate away, he added, "I need to make sure because I don't want to lose my hand."
I'm sure some probably would roll their eyes at a jokey waiter, but I thought it was a perfect touch in a casual Mexican restaurant that isn't stuck on formalities. I came away with a smile on my face and a lighter step, all thanks to Julio.
The new location actually isn't new at all; the building housed the old El Torito for decades. The place has not been remodeled; it still has the old murals up and tables that look very familiar. Rather than ding them for that, I'll chalk it up to probably just smart business. Was it the location, the food or the staff that caused the old place to go belly-up? Best to see if the new restaurant can get a foothold before investing a lot of cash in a face-lift.
My experience with the Don Perico restaurants is that they don't have the consistency of, say, Que Pasa, another local Mexican chain. Not all have the same owners. I have had good experiences at the comparatively cramped White Lane restaurant, but that's not listed on the website with the Oswell, California and Hageman addresses, and there's another restaurant by the same name in Tehachapi. I have been so disgruntled by poor service at the Hageman Road restaurant that I won't go back unless forced. So I wasn't sure what to expect from the new one, but I ended up liking what we ordered.
My companion selected the sizzling enchiladas ($13.25), made with chicken or steak or a combo, which I assume is one of each. That's what she ordered, and they were presented fajitas-style on a hot cast-iron black platter, with the beans and rice on a separate plate. More show than substance, but different.
I do need to mention that the salsa is very spicy and garlicky, which I enjoyed but those who prefer blander fare might find off-putting. The chips are so thin -- shockingly delicate, in fact. I stared, transfixed, wondering how they got the mesa that thin.
Happy hour in the bar runs from 2 to 8 p.m. every day, there is a fairly decent menu for vegetarians (five choices), and during football season they have some great food specials during the games at the Oswell location (steak or chile verde fries for $4.75, three street tacos for $3.50). Considering how quiet the bar was when we visited, I'm sure that'll offer a similar deal here next fall.
And if Julio is handing out free quips with the tacos, I'm there.)