The new Los Charros Restaurant and Cantina, which opened this spring, is well lit, clean and roomy, with cheery, hand-painted and carved chairs and tables from Mexico that sport the restaurant's horseshoe logo.
While it may not offer the bargain plates found at its sister taqueria, Los Charros offers a tasty lunch of such proportions it's worth the price, especially when you include the complimentary warm chips and two kinds of salsa — a chunky fresca-style and a pureed number.
The variety of dishes lets you wander off the beaten quesadilla-enchilada-taco path if you desire (cactus, anyone?). Or you can stay firmly on the beaten path — on either side of the border — with those aforementioned Mexican classics and American staples like BLTs for lunch or pancakes for breakfast.
A popular lunch choice here is the camarones al ajillo ($12.75), the prawns in a buttery garlic sauce. And I do mean buttery. The prawns were good-sized, firm and juicy, and arched around a dome of rice on the plate to look something like a crab. Your choice of wheat or corn tortillas accompanies.
Plato al queso lets you select a meat ($10.75) and is served with wheat or corn tortillas. It reminds me of fajitas, since the meat is cooked with peppers and onions. But the mellow sauce and layer of cheese differentiated it from that other grilled-meat-in-a-tortilla dish. Though the beef I had was not terribly tender, the flavor was good. And true to the name Los Charros, the portions were big enough to feed a cowboy, so I had a midnight snack to take home. Rice and beans came on the side; not bad, but not much flavor.
What I enjoyed most about my lunch, however, was the chicken tortilla soup ($3.75) and the cantaloupe agua fresca ($2), a delicious water and fruit drink. The soup had chunks of avocado and cheese, crunchy strips of tortillas, and a hearty, complex flavor that tasted like a chicken tamale — the old-fashioned kind in the corn husk wrapper. As for the fresca drinks, I'd like to go back and try each one, because the watermelon and cantaloupe versions were terrific — very refreshing.
I did go back for breakfast, which is served until 11 a.m., and got the impression they were more prepared for the lunch crowd than the breakfast crowd. Did I say "crowd"? Actually, the restaurant was not crowded during a recent weekday lunch hour, nor during a recent weekend brunch. Despite the small number of guests for the number of servers and cooks, the food still took a while to come out at breakfast, and orders were served piecemeal — one person's entree, then a side. Drinks came out at different times.
Also, the effort spent in the presentation of lunch was missing from breakfast. The enormous breakfast burrito ($5.95), while carefully wrapped, sat squarely in the middle of the plate with no beautification — no cilantro sprig, no decorative sauce. It was stuffed with eggs, cheese, salsa, hash browns and a meat of your choice, so we chose chorizo, which was a bit greasy. But if you like a big breakfast, the breakfast burrito will hold you for a few hours.
Rajas a la Mexicana ($7) sounded promising: pasilla chilies, potatoes, eggs and onions scrambled together and served with hot tortillas. But it turned out rather bland until I added the salsa condiment that came with the breakfast burrito.
Los Charros' turn at the American breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast ($5.50) was less successful: The scrambled eggs were closer to fried, and the hash browns were very pale, not brown. The toast arrived well after the rest of the food.
Given the haphazard assembly of breakfast, and the fact that chips and salsa are not a part of it, I'd go back for lunch before going back for breakfast.
The other reason I preferred lunch at Los Charros was the noise level. There was some background music, but it was very noisy even without guests or music. The open kitchen runs along half the dining room, and the faux tile floors and peach-colored plaster walls reflect noise around the restaurant. It's a little too much to take first thing in the morning.
But I bet the mariachi shows on Friday nights are a rowdy good time in the Cantina (7-9 p.m.). That's when you want a place to be good and noisy.
There didn't seem to be a particular "type" who dines at Los Charros — we saw all walks there, including families. The restaurant accommodates children easily and certainly has room for large parties.
Like Palo Alto Sol, Los Charros has a sizable bar, open from 11 a.m. to midnight, daily. Unlike a Palo Alto Sol or La Morenita, it doesn't seem to have a regional focus or many very spicy dishes. But for lunch or dinner in a cheery room, Los Charros is a filling addition to Mountain View's slice of El Camino Real.
Los Charros Restaurant and Cantina
89 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View
Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Breakfast is served until 11 a.m.