Baltazar Chavez has always understood good seafood and good cooking.
The son of a fisherman from Mazatlan, Mexico, Chavez achieved culinary success in Central Oregon first at his now-closed Sunriver restaurant, El Pescador (“The Fisherman”), and more recently at his west-side Bend seafood restaurant, Baltazar's.
So when he entered a partnership with Roberto Anaya of El Caporal to take over — and make over — El Jimador in downtown Bend, it was reasonable to expect a similar high quality of cuisine.
More than three months later (the restaurant reopened in mid-April after a six-week closure), I am not disappointed.
In three recent visits to El Jimador, every dish that I have sampled has met or surpassed my expectations. Prices, for the generous portions served, are moderate.
The location is a big plus: Its wrap-around picture windows look out upon the busy corner of Wall Street and Franklin Avenue, luring patrons who may be as interested in people-watching as in good, solid Mexican food.
If the new El Jimador has a weakness, it is in the service. When the affable Chavez is in the house, things run smoothly, with orders quickly prepared and delivered. On one dinner visit, however, the staff appeared frightfully unhappy; one server continually scowled as another chewed, picked at, and examined her fingernails. It was not a pleasant experience.
But if focus is placed on the food, as it must be, El Jimador scores top marks, especially for its seafood.
On my first visit, I was delighted with a seared ahi tuna entree. The fish was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, sliced and served upon a bed of white rice pilaf (mixed with bits of carrots and peas) and lightly sauteed spinach.
A generous garnish of veggie salsa — corn, onions, celery, jicama and avocado — separated the tuna from a pool of mildly spicy, dark chipotle-mole sauce, a surprising but ideal complement to the fish itself.
My dining companion thoroughly enjoyed the carne asada, a dish that is her benchmark for Mexican cuisine. Grilled skirt steak, marinated to retain a tender quality, was garnished with guacamole and pico de gallo, and served with a chicken mole enchilada.
On a subsequent solo lunch visit, I had a combination plate with two styles of grilled chicken enchiladas, rice and black beans. The enchilada Julia, named (Chavez explained) for a former El Pescador patron who requested this preparation, was served with sour cream and shaved Parmesan cheese, garnished with a salad of romaine lettuce and tomatoes.
The other enchilada featured the same mole sauce presented with other dishes. This is clearly a specialty of El Jimador, as it offers a strong dark-chocolate flavor complemented by ground peanuts and pumpkin seeds. I find it delicious. The chicken-mole enchilada was topped with melted queso fresco (white Mexican cheese) and accompanied by sour cream and guacamole.
Back for lunch
My companion joined me for another El Jimador lunch.
I ordered a bowl of tortilla soup, which had always been my favorite dish in the restaurant's previous incarnation.
The soup was much thicker this time around than I remembered it. In fact, it was more of a stew than a soup. Plentiful slices of sauteed chicken breast were served on a substantial bed of tortilla strips and topped with Monterey Jack cheese, avocado slices and chopped tomatoes.
The seasoned broth, by all indications, was ladled over the top rather than having been the primary ingredient. I appreciated the generous preparation, but as a comfort food I would prefer more broth and fewer chips.
My friend had arroz con camarones, or rice with shrimp. A particularly hearty dish, it featured large prawns, sauteed with halved white mushrooms, thickly sliced carrots and thinly sliced celery, then tossed with a savory enchilada sauce. Jack cheese was melted over the top.
There was so much food here that she took half of it home with her.
El Jimador, by the way, means “the agave harvester.” A large mural on a west wall of the intimate restaurant provides an illustration, as a Mexican farm worker is depicted in a field with the plants that provide the essential ingredient in tequila.
So it is fitting that 32 separate tequilas, silver and gold, anejo and reposado, priced between $8 and $20 a shot, are sold by the restaurant's bar. And several specialty margaritas are sold for $9 to $11.
Yoko's Restaurant , which opened in 1989 as the first Japanese restaurant in Central Oregon, closed July 23. Known for its conveyor-belt delivery of fresh sushi, Yoko's originally was sited in downtown Bend, but its lone location since 2000 had been in The Forum Shopping Center in northeast Bend. Owner Steve DePatie cited difficult economic conditions as his reason for closing; 2670 N.E. U.S. Highway 20, Suite 720, Bend.
Justin Brown, formerly of the Maragas “M Bar,” now operates a fresh-fish food cart in two locations. So Wild Fish and Chips may be found from Wednesday to Saturday at lunchtime (10:15 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at 344 N.E. Third St. (at DeKalb Avenue), Bend; for dinner (3 to 10 p.m.) at 1110 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend (behind Chow Restaurant); www.sowildfishandchips.com or 541-639-1372.
Riverside Market & Pub (B+): An Old Bend neighborhood hangout, the Riverside offers good, casual, deli-style breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. A hip young staff takes orders at the counter and provides table service. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 285 N.W. Riverside Blvd., Bend; www.riversidemarketbend.com or 541-389-0646.
Chan's (B): A major renovation after a disastrous fire has given this 25-year-old restaurant a new look, with more space for dining and exhibiting art. But the menu remains the same as before, with Westernized variations of Chinese regional dishes. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 1005 S.E. Third St., Bend; www.chanschinese.com or 541-389-1725.
Baldy's BBQ (A): The popular barbecue joint's new Redmond cafe delivers fresh pork, beef, chicken and seafood straight from the smoker to the plate. A well-trained staff provides attentive service amid ranch-style decor. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. 950 S.W. Veterans Way, Redmond (541-923-2271), 235 S.W. Century Drive, Bend (541-385-7427), 2699 N.E. U.S. Highway 20, Bend (541-388-4227); www.baldysbbq.com.
Broken Top Club (B+): A skilled and creative menu of Northwest cuisine is served in a relaxing atmosphere, enhanced by a lovely lake-and-mountain view. Service can be spotty, however — attentive in the evening but lackadaisical at midday. Open 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 62000 Broken Top Drive, Bend; www.brokentop.com/dining.htm or 541-389-8200.