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Yuma Mexican Restaurants

Ed Dibble Jun 11, 2007 03:07 PM

Yuma is full of Mexican restaurants, and even the poorest of them are probably pretty good by the standards of much of the United States. Since moving here seven years ago, I have probably eaten at close to 60 different Mexican establishments. Some of the oldest date back over 50 years, but those "old school" Yuma restaurants and their unique cuisine will be discussed later in a separate post. Similarly, the taco trucks here deserve a separate post as well. Right now, I just want to mention my favorite regular Mexican restaurants, the ones that are part of my regular rotation.

Los Manjares de Pepe’s is my all-around favorite. Located in an old house between Avenue A and Avenue B on 8th St, this place serves a wide range of tasty and reasonably priced dishes. I have explored much of the menu and have yet to taste something that wasn't good. The chicken al carbon is wonderfully tasty as it is cooked outside over charcoal. In addition to chicken plates, that same chicken makes the chicken burritos and chicken taco salad the best in town. Also especially noteworthy are the weekday specials. All are good values and the albondigas (on Monday), the pork in chipotle sauce (Wednesday), and the pozole (Friday) are the best I've ever eaten. The steak ranchero and puerco en tomatillo are good choices too. While there are combination plates, this is a wonderful place to get away from the beaten path. The homemade jamaica is the best in town. If I have any criticism, it would be that the wonderfully flavorful salsa is a bit runny.

Mi Rancho is the largest Mexican restaurant in town, located on 4th Ave near 27th. It has a full bar and makes decent margaritas. I also like that it is open until 9:30 in the evening, allowing the late diner to enjoy good food. On the other hand, I find this place a bit hit and miss. My favorite dishes here are the al pastor, the chile rellenos, the fish fillets in garlic butter sauce, the shrimp ranchero, and the chile verde (but avoid it when it is on special).

Borders Café is a small, family run restaurant on 4th Ave between 16th and 14th. Recently taken over by a new family with roots in Cabo, the place offers a distinctive take on Mexican cuisine. The albondigas de res is rich and flavorful, and the albondigas de pescado is an equally flavorful dish I have not seen elsewhere. The fish tacos are wonderfully crunchy and good choice as well. Currently the menu is still being tweaked, but the only thing I've had that has not been good is the guacamole - here it is a runny, industrial tasting sauce that shows few hints of avocado.

El Viejo Loco has perhaps the worst location of any Mexican restaurant in town, tucked in the rear of a building just east of the Mervyn's on 32nd St. In addition, it is not currently open in the evenings, so for me, it is primarily a lunch destination. The fiery salsa here is thick and full of chile flavor and matches well with the excellent chips. I'm also fond of the green sauce, which makes a fine topping for enchiladas or wet burritos. The green and red chilies are both cooked until the meat has shredded and are very tasty. Be sure to ask if spinach is available as the spinach enchiladas or the chicken and spinach burritos are unique and healthier than most Mexican menu choices. If there is any disadvantage to this place, it is that the prices seem a little higher than elsewhere.

Del Sol Market in the strip mall at the corner of 4th Ave and 16th St has a cafeteria that offers some very succulent dishes. For $5.99, one can have one's choice from various stewed meats with rice and beans. Many of the meat choices here are not available elsewhere. Sometimes, there will be pork in black chile sauce, chicken mole, barbacoa, and (usually on Fridays) mantaralla. The vegetable dishes, for example, calabacitos or nopales, are also tasty. Also noteworthy are the homemade agua frescas, like papaya or watermelon (the variety changes by day and season), that are not available anywhere else in town (at least to my knowledge).

El Jarocho is a tiny restaurant stuck in a bad location in the back of a strip mall between 12th and 14th on 4th Ave. Currently, it is not open (the sign says closed “temporarity”) I hope that is just a seasonal adjustment as the food I've had here has been uniformly outstanding and (as far as I can tell) authentic. The lengua in tomato sauce is rich and tender. The shrimp and fish soup is outstanding. In fact, everything I've ordered on their small menu has been good. Let's hope it reopens again in the fall.

Just because a restaurant does not make this list does not mean that it is no good. In addition to the "old school" places and taco trucks (about which I will post later), I have had many other tasty meals at other Mexican restaurants in town. For one reason or another, however, these places are not among my favorites. In addition, while I go to every new Mexican restaurant in town, I may try a place only once or twice, and if I am not delighted with what I have had, I may never return. One of the reasons why I post about the Mexican restaurants in Yuma is so that I can get feedback and perhaps learn about some gems I have overlooked. Please, if you have favorites or if you want to disagree with my choices, post your observations and favorites also.

ed

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  1. AlFerris Jun 17, 2007 02:16 PM

    Ed,
    Thanks for your very detailed post. I have a friend who is moving to Yuma soon and will really appreciate your food insight!

    I look forward to trying out your recommendations on my next trip in July.
    Alice

    1. c
      Cathy Jun 19, 2007 12:40 PM

      Del Sol Market! That is the first place we stop at every time we drive to Detroit for Thanksgiving (last year was first time we did not go due to my little physics incident and resultant wrist fracture requiring weekly cast changes and slight positional changes in the wrist, all of which they thought I would not notice) The aquas frescas are the best and the stews...oh my! So fresh and tasty.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Cathy
        Ed Dibble Jun 20, 2007 10:33 AM

        It's amazing that you know about this place. I had lived in town for a few years before I tried it.

        1. re: Ed Dibble
          c
          Cathy Jun 20, 2007 05:02 PM

          Truly, we are not afraid to walk in anywhere. We just drive and stop. If it looks like it has been there a while and others are eating or shopping there, we just walk in. Only one scary incident- and that was in NYC...at 3 a.m....many years ago. We lived.

          1. re: Cathy
            Ed Dibble Jun 21, 2007 10:15 AM

            It wasn't a fear factor. No place in Yuma is much scary - though I don't go out cruising late at night at my age. It is just that Del Sol is not one of my regular markets for groceries and doesn't advertise the cafeteria. No one recommended it to me for a long time, so it just wasn't showing up on my radar (chowdar?) screen.

      2. Ed Dibble Jul 13, 2007 09:43 AM

        For pictures and a fuller discusion of the food at Los Manjares, see:

        http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2007/07/los-manjares-de.html

        and for Borders:

        http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2...

        ed

        10 Replies
        1. re: Ed Dibble
          AlFerris Jul 17, 2007 11:21 PM

          Chowhound never fails me! Thanks to the enthusiastic recommendation from Ed, my dining companion and I tried Los Manjares. I was a little worried that they wouldn't be open, since we didn't get out there until 8 pm, but they are open until 9 pm, to my relief. The nice hostess/server/cashier motioned us to the dining room to the left as you walk in: "that room is cooler," she said. (By the way, it was 95 degrees at 8 pm.)

          We started with a refreshing margarita--the jumbo size for my companion and regular for me (or "petite" as my companion likes to say). The jumbo size is pretty big, so be ready. Our server brought us chips and the salsa that Ed describes so well above. She was kind enough to answer questions about the menu and honest enough to subtly shake her head when we asked about the chicken. Apparently it was another bad night for chicken (like Ed's last experience as noted on mmm-yoso) and we took her advice.

          We ended up with the Pepe's Special Pork in Tomatillo Sauce, the Chiles Relleno and one tamal because we just had to try one.

          The tamal was a good balance of masa and pork filling, although I think it was a little overcooked. However, compared to other tamales I've had, I would rank these in the top 20%. My companion liked it more than I did, and we both agreed that it was better than most restaurant tamales.

          The Chiles Relleno were delicious. The batter was light and almost souffle-like. It had just the right amount of cheesy filling, and the chile itself was al dente, unlike the mushy, flaccid chile you often get at other restaurants. It was not at all greasy and the flavors were well balanced. I often order chiles relleno in restaurants and am, nine times out of ten, highly disappointed. These are the one in ten.

          The star of the evening, however, was the pork in tomatillo sauce. It was astounding--velvety texture without being greasy, firm enough cubes to pick up with a fork, but then fall apart tender in your mouth. It had a subtle smokiness that makes me think it was also barbecued, but it didn't have a strong grilled flavor. I practically licked the plate, it was so good.

          I'll be in Yuma another couple days, so hopefully I'll be able to try more of Ed's recommendations. Thanks!

          Alice

          1. re: AlFerris
            Ed Dibble Jul 18, 2007 03:14 PM

            Thanks Alice. You chose well. Both dishes that you two picked are among my favorites, but I have so many favorites there I can't write about them all. Thanks for the good descriptions of the peurco and the rellenos. Oddly enough, though, I have never tried the tamales.

            1. re: Ed Dibble
              AlFerris Jul 23, 2007 11:32 PM

              Another report--we also tried Mi Rancho for lunch, but unfortunately the "hit or miss" thing that Ed describes was in full "miss" mode.

              The service was about as slow as I have ever received at a Mexican restaurant. When we finally flagged down a server, she took forever to come back and tell us that they had run out of the "blue" margarita mix. We ended up with two overly sweet strawberry margaritas.

              The chips and salsa were really good, however, and maybe we should have stopped with that and the cheese crisp. Both of us were happy with the cheese crisp, but we ordered it with chiles and it arrived without. We asked the server about it and she said, "Oh, I didn't write that down. Sorry."

              We both had combo plates to try a variety--I didn't have your recommendations with me, Ed, and I wish I had! The beef taco was great, but the rest of the meal was pretty average. My dining companion said that the chicharrones were "the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth." The green chile stew was good, but not exceptional.

              Guess we'll go back to Los Manjares next time!

              Thanks again for the review Ed!
              Alice

              1. re: AlFerris
                Ed Dibble Jul 24, 2007 09:31 AM

                Usually the service isn't that bad, but lunchtime is slam time for places like Mi Rancho.

                You are right about the chips and salsa - usually the best in town (though recently I have been served chips that still had oil on them).

                Chicharrones are definitely an acquired taste ; - )

                If you want drinks with good food, you have been to probably the two best options in town. the other places on my list don't serve alcohol.

                If you are more interested in cocktails than food, El Papagallo, out on Ave B, might be a good choice. I think the food is usually bland and/or worse, but the atmosphere is nice and it has a full bar. One interesting dish they do is steak ranchero - a real grilled steak that is sliced and covered in ranchero sauce. Not Mexican, but my steak loving friends say it is good.

                You also should try Chretin's, Yuma's oldest Mexican restaurant, now relocated to a big new space at Arizona and 16th. Their take on Mexican food reflects the restaurant's 1940s and 1950s origins (very different from the style at Los Manjares), but the place has really come alive since it relocated. The green chile there is nothing like anywhere else, and isn't even green. A green chile burrito served enchilada style (also called wet or saddle style) is a true Yuma experience. Their cheese crisp (called something else on the menu) is excellent. There is a full bar and good atmosphere. My plans are to write up the old school places in Yuma, but I have not had enough visits to Chretin's new location to do a post yet.

                Enjoy your visit,

                ed

                1. re: Ed Dibble
                  c
                  clamb Nov 14, 2007 11:52 AM

                  I will never recommend Chretin's to anyone. It has been bad since before they moved to Arizona and 16th st. It is worse now. I never did recieve my meal and our bill was over $100 for four people and I didnt get my meal and they wouldnt take my meal off the check. Cold food, Bad service, High prices........Never again.

                  1. re: clamb
                    Ed Dibble Nov 15, 2007 05:31 AM

                    I felt like the place had been in a long decline for years, but my first visits after the relocation were very positive - considering the antique style of Mexican cuisine it features. Of course, I stay away from the lousy buffet.

                    However, I have heard a couple of other bad reports on Chretin's recently. Maybe I have just been lucky there. I actually thought the service had improved since the relocation - certainly the ambiance has. But to screw up a meal and not take an unserved item off the bill is inexcusable.

                    Thanks for letting me know and posting about your experience. It's nice to have other voices talking about Yuma food.

                    ed

                    1. re: Ed Dibble
                      c
                      clamb Nov 15, 2007 07:48 AM

                      On the meal in question at Chretin's, My dinner companions finally got their meals and I still hadn't gotten mine. I asked the server about my meal several times and eventually she came to me with a plate of machaca and eggs and said "here". I told her no thanks as I had ordered the Chimichanga and she took the machaca away. about 10 minutes later she brought me the same plate of machaca back and by this time we had been there for 2 hours and we asked for the check. When we got the check, the chimi was on the bill and I asked to speak to the owner and the waitress brought him over and she proceeded to tell him that I had refused the food and I threw a fit and they still didn't take the chimi off the bill. My hubby said to just pay and get out of there and thats what we did......on the way out of the restaurant, here comes the waitress finally with my chimi on the plate, not in a to go box. We just walked away and will NEVER go back. I was so disappointed as Chretin's is close to my work and would have been a nice lunch expidition.

                      Oh well.............

                      I do plan on trying Borders for the mantaray soup this next week.

                      Nan

                      1. re: clamb
                        c
                        clamb Dec 10, 2007 08:43 AM

                        I ate at Los Manjares de Pepe on 12/7/07. Very nice. I had a shrimp coctail that was ok, (I prefer the ones at Juanita's) My son had the fajitas with beef, chicken and shrimp. His fajitas were very tasty. They came on a sizzling platter that kept them blazing hot throughout the meal. The meats had been marinated to perfection. The salsa served along with the chips was truely outstanding. I could have eaten it with a spoon........oh yeah, I did eat it with a spoon. The service was prompt and friendly and the prices were moderate. 2 large shrimp cocktails, 1 fajita combo dinner and 3 ice teas came to $38.00. Next time I go I am having the siete mares soup.

                        nan

                        1. re: clamb
                          Ed Dibble Dec 11, 2007 08:09 AM

                          Glad you liked los Manjares. Almost everything at Pepe's is pretty good, but the coceteles are not one of the strengths. Don't know about siete mares - I don't think I've tried it there, but most versions of the soup this side of the border have been disappointing. Well, most on the other side aren't great either, but I have memories from years ago of one with claws and feelers and legs sticking out all over the place that was so good that I have never been delighted with another version.

                          1. re: Ed Dibble
                            c
                            clamb Jan 9, 2008 10:35 AM

                            I guess chretin's is like a bad car wreck...I can't look away. I really wanted to try it again even tho it was so bad. I guess I just want it to be good so badly that we went again. We were seated and had our food within 4 minutes of being seated. I had a machaca chimi. my hubby got a chile rellano dinner and our daughter got a bean and cheese burrito off the kid menu. All the food was cold in the middle. I think that it had been frozen and nuked in a microwave. My daughter said she loved her bean and cheese.... she said that it tasted just like the kind that her gramma makes...(10 for a dollar frozen from fry's). I think it was the kind that gramma makes.

                            It is so close to my office that I want it to be good......but, I think I am finally cured once and for all of wanting to go to Chretin's.

        2. Ed Dibble Jan 10, 2008 06:19 AM

          Since this posting has come up again, I should add that El Jarocho is completely gone, the sign removed and the spot empty. Too bad.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ed Dibble
            d
            Doug in Mesa Jan 12, 2008 07:03 AM

            Ed, Are there any Michoacan Mex restaurants in town?

            1. re: Doug in Mesa
              Ed Dibble Jan 12, 2008 11:14 AM

              No.

              The main Mexican regions that influence the cuisine (if you can call it that) are Sonora, Baja California, Sinaloa, Nayarit, and of course, Jalisco. Our recent immigrants come from a large area, and Yuma is, after all, a pretty small city, so outside of one place called Mariscos Nayarita and another called Taqueria Jalisco (currently owned by someone from SL Potosi), none of the restaurants in town specify a particular region.

          2. Ed Dibble Jan 22, 2008 05:49 AM

            Just an update. Stopped into Borders Cafe yesterday and found a new family operating it. They no longer do most of my favorites (fish ball soup, sting ray soup). Service was clumsy (done by children of the family who seem to be the only English speakers). However, the jamaica was homemade, flavorful, and not overly sugared. The albondigas de res was outstanding. Meaty balls, lots of carrots, and other veggies in a dark, rich, savory broth. Probably still worth checking out, but it's not the same as the place that made my favorites list.

            ed

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