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Dec 15, 2005 11:13 PM

Gonzalez Mexican Restaurant ... other East Bay Lunch eats under $5?

  • r

So far I’ve tried three places that offer a full lunch for $4.99. Are there any others?

Link to the best $4.99 lunch so far is below.

An Asian couple bought Gonzalez four months ago. They plan to keep it exactly as is.

For $4.99, lunch includes a basket of their house made corn chips (more about this), choice of mild or hot salsa, choice of beverage, Spanish rice, refried beans with a house made flour chip, salad and a choice of one of the menu items – taco, burrito, enchilada or tostada. For fifty cents more the tamale or chile relleno may be selected.

They make their own thin corn chips, delicate flour tortilla chips, corn tortillas, flour tortillas, taco shells, tostado shells and Guadalajado shells. Shells and tortillas can be purchased by the dozen. I’m not sure what a wet corn tortilla is, but they cost fifty cents a dozen more than the regular corn tortillas. Chips can be bought by the pound.

There’s nothing amazing here, just standard Tex-Mex food but it is decent enough and a filling lunch. The thin chips are nice and the hot red salsa was good. It is not too thin or watery and spicy enough to be interesting … interesting, not complex.

I upgraded to the tamale plate which had a scoop of Spanish rice, standard refried beans, and large tamale filled with shredded beef. The whole thing was covered with lots of ranchero (enchilada) sauce. On the same saucy plate was the chopped green iceberg salad with some purple cabbage and a black olive.

The tamale wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t interesting and needed the ranchero sauce. There was no spice to it. I’d list it second from the bottom on list from a recent tamale crawl. It is just above Hacienda and below Pup Hut which is better due to a spicy filling.

Wine and beer is sold. The Sangria is bottled and the margarita is made with wine (white port). Actually it was wasn’t bad, a salt rimmed glass with the white frozen margarita, a green lime wedge and a red straw, the colors of the Mexican flag.

The rice pudding ($1.25) is along the lines of Kozy Shak with aerosol whipped cream on top. The Mexican hot chocolate comes in a little stainless steel tea pot and a cup filled with the whipped cream. Pour the mild chocolate over the whipped cream.

Although the menu is very 50’s Tex-Mex, surprisingly Frank Gonzales owned a few Mexican markets and two restaurants

The menu says Frank T., SR. opened his first grocery, Maravilla, on 2nd & Barrett in 1946 after the Richmond Shipyards closed at the end of WWII. There were a series of moves as the grocery expanded into a Mexicatessan. The final move (1954) was to 13th and Visalia Ave. Two years later in May 1956, the San Pablo Avenue restaurant was opened.

The décor is very classic 1950’s coffee shop with vinyl booths. The color scheme is that of Spanish restaurants of that era – amber and black. There are a few still lifes … fruit and pottery … photos of the Gonzales Family and a picture of Jesus praying, decorating the walls. The plants are a mixture of live and artificial. There’s a sun room which I suspect isn’t used and another banquet room.

The Asian woman at the cash register seemed to have an air of authority and was always busy … setting tables, clearing dishes, supervising the kitchen, wiping down the vinyl booths. Then an Asian chef emerged from the kitchen. So I decided to ask if the Gonzales still owned the place.

The owner said she bought the place about four months ago. She seems to have a good handle on the restaurant. Her cousin worked there many years. She said that Mexican food is inexpensive, they had a customer following and they planned to keep things exactly as is. She said all the staff, most of which has worked there for over a decade was remaining in tact. Her face lit up when I told here how much I liked the chips.

Rice, beans, sauces, guacamole, chilis, meat, bean dip, soup and rice pudding can also be ordered individually by the 1 / 2 pint, pint and quart.

Taco/burritos, tostada and enchilada fillings are chorizo, beef, shredded beef, chicken, pork, bean, cheese and guacamole.

There are a few egg dishes like huevos rancheros and nopales with eggs. Other items include flautas, chimichangas, taquitos, a few salads, some sandwiches, burgers, menudo, shrimp, chile (Colorado & Verde) fajitas, steaks and fried chicken.

Sandwiches with French fries run from $3.75 - $5.25. Plates run from $6 - $12 (steak).

This is just average old-fashioned Tex-Mex food that has been filling Richmond customers for decades. It is not a food find but it is a good value for the dollar. And sometimes, to borrow from Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid” to an ordinary working place.

Gonzalez Mexican Restaurant

12955 San Pablo Ave
Richmond, CA 94805-1352

Phone: 510-234-2285


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  1. Interesting about the new owners - a while back I went in to check out the vibe and was a bit surprised to see that most of the staff was Asian. Never did have a meal there - (chickened out) - thanks for investigating.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gordon Wing

      Well, Gonzalez now has a full Thai menu in addition to the unchanged Mexican menu. When I asked the really nice owner why ... he said ... well, the cooks were Thai.

      What I find hilarious is that you still get chips and salsa with your meal no matter which side of the menu you order from. I'm no Thai expert, but I liked my praram rong song. I'll write more when I have time. Nice lemonade too ... it has this sort of background Thai spice flavor.

      There are 63 items on the Thai menu, not including dessert/beverages

      The Mexican lunch special is now $5.25. The 10 Thai lunch specials are $6.95

      Gonzalez Mexican Restaurant
      12955 San Pablo Ave, Richmond, CA 94805

      1. re: rworange

        Let me just say that while I consider chips and salsa to be a major food group (hey, don't knock it, it has vegetables), I'm having trouble wrapping my head around chips and salsa with Thai food.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Yah know, I've been starng at that Thai menu trying to figure out one thing that would pair with chips and salsa.

          I actually passed on the chips because I knew I was ordering Thai and I've already tried them and didn't need the extra calories. However, while I was waiting for my food and sipping lemonade, it occurred to me that they would have been a nice pre-snack while waiting for the main course.

          They don't ask though. The server just comes to the table, chips and salsa on a tray and two menus ... one Mexican, one Thai ... I wonder if a Thai dipping sauce and chips ... nah.