MUSCATINE — When Cesar “Chicharo” Garrido came to town from Denver at the behest of his brother, it would seem, about the last thing Muscatine really needed was another Mexican restaurant.
It didn’t stop Garrido and his wife, Monica, though.
Chicharo’s brother, a lifelong resident of Muscatine, found a taco truck and urged Chicharo to buy it, and sell tacos from it. That’s how the couple started, taking their taco truck to various fairs and celebrations.
People kept asking them to open up a restaurant so they could bring their entire family to enjoy the food.
So, a few years ago, they did just that, and opened up a 29-seat restaurant at 600 Park Avenue.
It quickly became too small.
And so, a little over a year ago, they opened up Chicharo’s Mexican Grill at 201 West Second Steet, just up from the Merrill Hotel.
It features a popular taco bar, where one gets to apply a multitude of fixins from cilantro to lettuce and tomato, to cheese, hot or mild salsa, sour cream, all added to your choice of meat — steak, chicken, a tasty ground beef and pork.
Plus, for your added enjoyment, chips and salsa can be added. And yes, it also has rice and beans. Of course, you can come back as often as you want. It’s all for the price of $9.99.
It’s one of their top sellers, as are fajitas and a smothered burrito, made with green chili.
“Nobody here makes the green chili,” Chacharo said. “It’s a dish from Chihuahua, Mexico.”
Chicharo, 53, has been a chef since he was 28. But he worked with French and American foods in a seafood restaurant in Denver.
His wife, Monica, had to teach him her Mexican recipes.
Despite all the competition, she believes Chicharo’s Mexican Grill distinguishes itself. “I think we are a little bit different and more authentic Mexican food,” Monica Garrido said. “We really cook everything fresh. Everything is fresh. Everything.”
The couple enjoys working in their restaurant.
“It is fun, and we love to meet people as well,” she said with her husband readily agreeing.
The couple said the winter had its challenges but summer does, too, with people cooking outside. People often come in after 8 p.m., so they stretch their normal 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours Monday through Saturday to 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m.
Generally, they like their downtown location.
“Yeah, it takes time,” Chicharo said. “I know Park Avenue is an important avenue in Muscatine, but I think the city is starting to push the business in downtown and invite people into downtown. It has helped us a lot.”
Having the Merrill Hotel about a block away has not hurt either.
“The new hotel, we have a really good relationship with the manager over there and they always send us people,” Chicharo said. “Sales have started to increase day by day.”
The restaurant, which has a decent-sized menu, also serves alcohol, and is known for its margaritas.
“We use fresh lime juice so people can taste the lime juice,”Chicharo said. “And we have all kinds of alcohol here.”
They plan to push the bar a little more in the near future, even changing the name of the restaurant to Chicharo’s Tequila Bar and Grill.
“Because we are getting a lot of different kinds of tequila from my country,” explained Chicharo. “So we are going to try to push something different here.”
Why not? Everything they've tried seems to have worked so far.