Reyes Estrada is banking on diners remembering El Charro.
That’s why he kept the name when he reopened the Mexican restaurant late last year at 221 S. Ninth St., next to Walker Tire on the west side of the street in downtown Lincoln.
Plus, he didn’t have to fork over any money for new signs, which were still there.
Estrada moved from Omaha to Lincoln to reopen the restaurant, which has sat vacant since El Salvador — which didn’t change the signage — closed a couple of years ago.
The original El Charro opened at 13th and F streets and moved to the downtown location in 1998. The restaurant went through a series of owners before El Salvador moved in September 2008.
The new El Charro offers ample portions at affordable prices. The burritos, for instance, are just $3.99 each.
Those same burritos can be ordered one of two ways — a choice of meat (chicken, pork, steak, tongue, tripe, beef cheek, sausage) with lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream or with rice, beans, sour cream and cheese.
Estrada takes pride in offering several entrees not found at very many other Mexican restaurants. They include his Seafood Mixed Grill Parrillada de Mariscos ($32) — an entree with crab legs, octopus, shrimp, clams, calamari and more that can feed four.
El Charro also serves Molcajete, another multi-ingredient entree (chorizo, asada, grilled chicken, shrimp and more) that can feed two to three for $19.99.
I’m OK with Tex-Mex, but prefer authentic Mexican restaurants like El Charro, which offer a variety of atypical meats (tongue, tripe, etc.) and entrees.
I ordered a steak entree, which was a tad too chewy, but was accompanied with a tangy-tasting grilled cactus ($6.99) that I would order again.
My wife tried guaraches — a fried masa (dough) base topped with a choice of meat, cheese and sour cream. A guarache is $2.99 and one, believe it or not, is big enough for a meal. That’s a heck of a deal.
Our friends who joined us went the more traditional route, ordering cheese enchiladas ($5.99) and flautas ($5.99).
The menu also includes such staples as tacos ($1.50 each), tortas ($3.50), sopes ($1.99), gorditas ($3.50) and tostadas ($1.99).
El Charro makes its own sauces, which it serves as an appetizer with chips (Yes, they are free). The mild and hot sauces also can be used to top dishes. And the hot sauce, is, well, extremely hot. I stuck with the mild. Grade: B
On our Sunday night visit we were just one of two tables, so our service, of course, was good. We didn’t know what a few of the menu items were — my wife asked about the guaraches — and our server patiently answered our questions. I urge diners to ask questions as well as request suggestions. You often will find something new to enjoy — like my wife did — that you may not have had the nerve to order. Grade: A
With its brightly painted walls (blue, yellow, orange and more), the new El Charro has the look and feel of, well, the old El Charro or El Salvador. Not much has changed here except for the furniture, which Estrada landed from a Mexican restaurant that once operated on West O Street. Those leather-carved chairs help give El Charro a bit of character as do the many hand-written signs boasting entrees not found on the menu. Those signs give the eatery a small-town, mom-and-pop diner type of atmosphere. Grade: B
My friend, who joined us with his wife, is a self-proclaimed cheese enchilada expert. He endorsed El Charro’s, saying they were indeed cheesy and not “too spicy.” But they were just one of a handful of vegetarian offerings available. Others include four egg dishes as well as such side items as bean, rice, guacamole and grilled cactus. Hominy soup is available on the weekends. Grade: C+