A family-owned business for over 40 years staffed almost entirely by long-term employees, El Chino has been owned by Maria Gallardo since 2017. Her parents were the founders, and to them it was a dream come true. Maria worked in restaurants since she was a teenager. Her mom ran the kitchen, and taught her recipes and techniques to the head chef, Refugio (or “Cuco,” his sobre nombre), who has worked there for over 30 years. El Chino’s classic and traditional Mexican food is served amidst a homey, hacienda-vibed ambiance with big booths and many furtive indoor plants. The Mexican breakfasts are served all day, highlighted by the menudo, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. The Nachos con Todo appetizer is a crowd favorite, and entrée stand-outs include the fajitas, carne asada and red mole, as well as the chili verde with beef and the Chili Colorado with pork. Their menu also has fish and shrimp options, American breakfasts, town-renowned hamburgers and a classic housemade flan for dessert. Hours are every day from 11am-8pm (close 7:30pm Sun/Mon/Tues) and Sat/Sun from 9am.
How do you honor parent’s legacy?
MARIA GALLARDO: By keeping the quality of food very high and still using my mother’s recipes like we have for 40 years. We also stay committed to a high quality of service and hospitality, knowing customer’s names and what is going on in their lives. Our servers, most of whom have been here for 15 years or more, have a close bond and friendship with our customers. Not many businesses last this long, so staying open is a big accomplishment and one day I hope to pass it on to my daughter to keep the family legacy going for another generation. I think my parents would be proud of where we are today.
Tell me about El Chino’s 40th anniversary?
MG: We started in 1983 as a taqueria storefront with only seven small tables and two small griddles. From there, we grew and expanded and we have come a long way as a restaurant. For our anniversary, we are planning an outside event in the spring with food and live music, and we are still figuring out a way to honor our many long-time regulars.
2525 Soquel Drive Suite A, Santa Cruz, 831-476-7175