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Dear god and/or Chowhounds.....save me from Chevy's!

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A good friend is visiting from the Midwest in a couple weeks, and is planning a group dinner (8-12 people) for her birthday. Right now, she wants to have it at Chevy's.

Her reasoning is that it's inexpensive, good for a group, and has chips and salsa, and margaritas. I'm stumped as far as coming up with an alternative. I grew up in southern California, so I rarely eat Mexican food up here, since I can get such great stuff back home.

Any suggestions?

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  1. what area are you going to be in?

    1. It beats Chili's.

      -cb-

      1. I recommend Tortilla Heights. Has all of the above and I think their tacos are great. Only good Tex-Mex in SF.

        -----
        Tortilla Heights
        1750 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94115

        1. It's her birthday. The place is festive. The chips are fresh and pretty good. The salsa could be spicier but it is also fresh. Have something simple like grilled meat in a fresh made tortilla. Have a margarita, wish her a happy birthday and enjoy yourself, it's only one meal. Chowhounds will forgive you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: wolfe

            I would have agreed with you before our last office luncheon there, which was dreadful. However, there were some extenuating circumstances (it was during the holiday office lunch crunch) and I'd be willing to give it another try. It's not great, but it's (mostly) not inedible, either. If, as wolfe suggested, you stick to things that are fresh and simple, you can have a decent meal.

          2. Have you been to Juan's in Berkeley? It's old as the hills, and festive in a different way.

            http://www.berkeleydinner.com/

            Their website and the menu they have posted doesn't do the place justice. The food is pretty close to southern Cal. Great tamales, chili verde, chili relleno. It isn't as cheap as Chevy's but more authentic, although I have to admit I kinda liked Chevy's when we lived in the Bay area. If you don't go to Juan's for your friends b-day, I highly recommend you go sometime on your own. Picante is pretty good too. Boy do I miss having access to a good burrito!!

            1. Suggestions can be made, but again...location is key.

              If someone suggests somewhere in Mountain View (La Fiesta) and you're in SF, pointless.

              p.s. the SoCal thing...I understand that well having grown up there but there's many very good and conparable Mexcian places, just not in SF proper.

              9 Replies
              1. re: ML8000

                We'll be in San Francisco, so something within city limits would be best

                1. re: bex109

                  If they're expecting Chevy's, I'd go to Tres Agaves, 4-5 blocks from the Chevy's at 3rd and Howard. It will be an improvement and you can get a good drink.

                  There's also Mexico DF but that's way more upscale.

                  If Mexican isn't absolute - Thirsty Bear (Tapas and beer) is around the corner from Chevy's.

                  -----
                  Tres Agaves Restaurant
                  130 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                  Mexico DF
                  139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  Thirsty Bear Brewing Co
                  661 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Good recs. I went to a party at Tres Agaves - they have a *huge* table in front that can be reserved - food's not bad either, and cheaper than chevy's.

                    If you end up at chevy's, do the fajitas. Always edible.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Yes! Order the steak fajitas rare and the taste will likely surprise you. The guacamole prepared tableside is also a safe bet.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Tres Agaves isn't cheaper than Chevys imo.

                        1. re: xanadude

                          I'd add Mamacita's in the Marina to the list but it's probably a bit pricier than Chevy's. Although Chevy's at 3rd & Howard isn't that cheap - but it's always packed with tourists or conference goers from Moscone.

                        2. re: bbulkow

                          I think Tres Agaves might be your best choice. It's prices are akin to Chevy's, there's a range of margarita offerings, and I'm a big fan of their fish tacos. And parking should be easy in that neighborhood.

                          I'm surprised I can't think of any place in the Mission that would work. Porto Alegre would have trouble with that large a group, and the places with the best food don't have tequila.

                        3. re: ML8000

                          I second Thirsty Bear.
                          It's less than a block from Chevy's.
                          I've been to many group celebrations there.
                          Great food for sharing and plenty of beers to try.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            OP mentioned that her friend is looking for something "inexpensive", which would rule out Mexico DF.

                      2. For a Mexican restaurant, Chevy's is surprisingly pricey. The best thing I've had there are the chips and the chicken wings that came as part of an appetizer sampler. Not sure if they are available alone.

                        1. I've had pretty good group meals before at Velvet Cantina, in the Mission. They've got a few different fruit margarita flavors (served in pitchers), and things are priced similar to what you'd find at Chevy's.

                          http://www.velvetcantina.com/menu.pdf

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: nsheth

                            Velvet Cantina is a good recomendation. The food is somewhat more interesting than your average mexican restaurant and better prepared. The place is a bit divey, which may be a plus or a minus depending on what you are looking for.

                            Tres Agaves is more upscale and is also pretty good.

                          2. What about Nick's Crispy Tacos? They have a full bar too, from what I understand.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Atomica

                              I believe Nick is no longer there. He is now at The Taco Shop at Underdog's in the Sunset.

                              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                But . . . the restaurant is at 1500 Broadway. I don't understand.

                                1. re: Atomica

                                  I second Nick's. Love the food and miss their fish tacos! Minimally beer and margaritas, or that's what we'd get with the tacos. Yum.

                                  And it's kitsch, so if you're not in the Mission for real Mexican, this place is great.

                                  And the original Nick is no longer part of it, but had a hand in this place as well as Tortilla Heights. His current Place is The Taco Shop.
                                  http://sf.eater.com/archives/2008/09/...

                                  -----
                                  Nick's Crispy Tacos
                                  1500 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                  The Taco Shop at Underdog Sports Bar & Grill
                                  1824 Irving St, San Francisco, CA

                                  Tortilla Heights
                                  1750 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                                  1. re: Atomica

                                    I don't know what's going on at the old location, but Nick himself has moved on to another place. Maybe the owners are keeping the name "Nick's" on Broadway, not sure how else they are impacted other than losing the namesake. But the man himself is now making his famous tacos at Underdog's.

                                    -----
                                    The Taco Shop at Underdog Sports Bar & Grill
                                    1824 Irving St, San Francisco, CA

                                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                      Nick was "ousted" from his namesake.

                              2. Chevy's is really expensive now for what it is. Entrees are near the $20 mark and there's really nothing cheap on the menu to order if you want a snack without spending around $10. As far as chains go, the chips and tortillas taste good, and it's good for a group in that you all know what to expect.... but if you're after inexpensive, there are so many better options.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Chevys near the $20 mark? Maybe if you're getting some super 4 item combo involving steak and 2 types of seafood. Their prices aren't low but they're $10-$16 for a meal there. The fajitas are big enough for two and the combos can be shared, too, so it's not as expensive as it might appear.

                                  I like Chevys chips and salsa but their entrees aren't up to the same level. If you do end up eating there, your best options are the fajitas, chicken enchiladas (ask for ranchero sauce), chicken caesar salad, and tacos with a steak meat upgrade.

                                  1. re: katya

                                    Does the price depend on the location?

                                    Otherwise, steak fajitas $18.99, mix and match $18.49, Vegetarian fajitas $16.99, Ribs $22. Chicken fingers are $9.99. Crispy Fluatas are $11.99 Gaucamole is $9.99.

                                    These are not bargain prices anyone should mistake for "inexpensive", and sharing an entree doesn't change anything.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      I think it might.

                                      http://chevys.com/images/Che_MnuOL_CH...

                                      1. re: adrienne156

                                        I had exactly these prices in mind, adrienne156. I thought the fajitas were about $16 and the 2-item combo was $10 in the South Bay. I figured the prices would be the same around the Bay Area, but I guess San Francisco's prices (if that's where sugartoof is) are higher.

                                        1. re: katya

                                          Prices were based on menus from the San Francisco Stonestown location, and a visit to the Times Square, NYC location.

                                2. Chevy's is really not all that bad. Chevy's was once a respectable small Northern California Chain that expanded and was subsequently bought by Pepsi Co. The food has changed and of course deteriorated. The chips and salsa are still good and the fajitas (their signature item) are totally acceptable and really the only thing you should consider ordering. If you split a combination fajitas with someone you could do quite well in the financial department.

                                  That being said there are other options in SF that would be just as good or better but I don't really think it's the end of the world if you have to go to Chevy's if that's what the birthday girl wants.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: virtualguthrie

                                    Agreed - it's not that bad, and honestly - if she's from the Midwest (where there are really poor choices for Mexican food) this might satisfy her taste buds more than any "authentic" restaurant would do. When I lived in So Cal, I had a few co-workers from Chicago come out and we went to one of the many Mexican joints down there.....they talked about how much better chains like Chi Chi's and Don Pablos was. If she's suggesting Chevy's, her preferences may be similar.

                                    Like Wolfe said, if that's where the birthday girl wants to go, just go and enjoy yourself! I always end up with the steak fajitas. I do admit I sometimes have a hankering for their tortillas.

                                    1. re: alina555

                                      nothing you say is inaccurate, but just because "there are really poor choices for mexican food" in the midwest does not mean that there are not also really excellent ones. whether or not your former out of town coworkers knew about them or not does not speak to their existence.

                                      in my previously life as a californian to the bone i would have thought the same thing - until i moved to the midwest and realize that the influx of mexican labor in farming, manufacturing and meat packing meant that in most mid-sized midwestern towns there are at least a couple of fairly authentic offerings to be found, and some really good ones, at that.

                                    2. re: virtualguthrie

                                      I agree that Chevy's is not that bad if you just stick to the fajitas, chips, salsa and flour tortillas. It's the only restaurant in SF (that I know of) that makes fresh flour tortillas and I typically cannot control myself from eating at least 3 tortillas. The trick is that some Chey's are a little better than others.

                                    3. You should try balompie. Their original location is in the mission district, but I know they opened another location over by SOMA. They are technically El Salvadorian food, but it is amazing. Try their pupusa, their fantastic! Downside: they don't serve hard liquor, only beer and wine. But the amazing food will make up for the lack of margaritas. Call for reservation for large party.

                                      1. La Pinata. It's a family-run operation and of their 6? 7? locations, I've been to 3 (Concord - consistently mediocre food, Fremont - good, Alameda - better than good and rather festive... MILES better than Chevy's). I really like their smokey salsa, an extensive drink menu, and according to their website, over 300 different tequilas. Standard menu items in large portions.

                                        -----
                                        La Pinata Restaurant III (now La Penca Azul)
                                        1440 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

                                        La Pinata
                                        39136 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94538

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: adrienne156

                                          La Pinata in Alameda is -precisely- the place you're looking for. Unfortunately, it's not in SF. Fortunately, if you're not heading over here during rush hour, it's only 20 minutes away.

                                          Also consider Tommy's out in the Richmond district. So-so food but after the third margarita you will no longer notice. Depending on where in the city you are, it can take a lot longer to get here than to get to Alameda.

                                          I think it might be possible to squeeze a group of 12 into Puerto Alegre. Isn''t there a big table on one side? Again, after the third round or so of margaritas it's not going to matter. it's packed to the gills on Friday and Saturday but other nights are ok.

                                          Stay away from Chevy's. All this Chevy luv here is disappointing. It's a Pepsico outlet for industrial formed meat product; about as opposite from "chow" as you can get.

                                          -----
                                          Tommy's Mexican Restaurant
                                          5929 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                                          Puerto Alegre Restaurant
                                          546 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                            The Chevy's love has surprised me, too. I've been to far too many birthdays at Chevy's. (Emeryville -- at least it has a view) I always try to convince myself that I'll be able to find *something* on the menu -- but no. Really, really no. Thanks for the tip about La Pinata.

                                            1. re: Glencora

                                              I live three blocks from La Pinata, and I drive across town to go to Otaez, so that should tell you something. If the original poster were willing to go to Alameda, I'd recommend Otaez, which has everything she wants, is nicer than La Pinata, is easier to park, and I think is cheaper. Plus it's not as insanely crowded as La Pinata, where there's always a wait during peak times.

                                              I'm always amazed at the positive reports on La Pinata. Perhaps I've always ordered wrong, but I've never found anything on the menu I like. It's quite "gringoized" IMHO. The draw of the place is the margaritas, which are good. And it's walking distance from my house, so I don't have to worry about over-indulging and driving!

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                The OP asked for a Chevy's alternative with an emphasis on chips, salsa, and margaritas. I've never been to Otaez, so I'm a little curious as to what sets it apart as not "gringoized" as most of the places that fall into this subset of restaurants have the standard menu items - moles, tacos, enchiladas, diablas, rancheros, sopes, etc. - that Otaez seems to have as well. It does look much nicer though. How do their prices compare to La Pinata?

                                                And, as far as food at La Pinata, I've ordered the camerones a la diabla and a few other things that were completely unmemorable in Concord (the diabla was horrid - tasted like raw ketchup), steak ranchera and green mole at Fremont (steak ranchera was good, the green mole was interesting.. not a taste I'd ever experienced before), and the carne asada, steak ranchera, and chicken with mole negro in Fremont. For Mexican food, I much prefer the food at El Taco Zamorano Restaurant on Foothill, but I didn't recommend it because they don't serve margaritas.

                                                1. re: adrienne156

                                                  "Gringoized" is not so much what's on the menu as how it's prepared. The food at La Pinata always seem watered down -- literally watery. Lots of shedded iceberg lettuce and gloppy melted cheese, flavorless rice and blah beans; IIRC they don't make their own tortillas. Poor quality meat, too.

                                                  The people who own Otaez are much closer to their Mexican roots and still own a restaurant on International that caters to an entirely Mexican clientele. They make their own tortillas, use Mexican-style cheeses, the salsa has a bit of a kick, and the beans are pretty good. The caveat is they they're inconsistent -- it seems like whoever is behind the stove makes the food his way, and not all the cooks are equally talented! The daily specials are usually good, though.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    I haven't experienced most of those things except for the flavorless rice at the Fremont location for sure and don't remember having that reaction to the food at the Alameda location, but then again, maybe I had just imbibed more there. Regardless, I still think it is a good alternative to Chevy's given the atmosphere, the prices, the size of the place, and their drink menu.

                                                    Will have to try Otaez... It's just so hard when I could make a left at that exit and be at Zamorano.

                                                    (Oh, and, one correction to my post above: I actually meant to say that the steak ranchera and the green mole in Fremont and the last 3 things in Alameda.)

                                        2. Is Don Ramon's still around?

                                          1. I would also choose Tres Agaves over Chevy's. I went to a big birthday party at Tres Agaves (20+ people) and we had a big table in the private room in the back. Doesn't sound like you'll need this. I think my friend who organized this pre-planned a menu w/ a fixed price...so this is something they may consider there.

                                            I have only been to the Chevy's on VanNess, and I thought it was horrible. Everything was pretty bland. I didn't think Tres Agaves was that super either, but I definitely felt it was a step up.

                                            1. I second the suggestion of Juan's in Berkeley, if that's not too far away and margaritas are needed. Otherwise, I'd go to a first-rate taqueria like El Tonayense on 24th Street, and take over the entire place (it's almost always 3/4 empty), with beers instead of margaritas.

                                              1. *shudder* Well actually there's a lot worse, my one recommendation fo Chevvy's is to get them to bring you fresh tortillas and tableside guacamole which is at least fun and tends to be a bit fresher than the rest. Apart from that get very very drunk and you hopefully wont remember a thing... on second thoughts maybe don't, you'll need to know what to tell the doctor you ate.