Wedged in among other Mexican restaurants on a busy Southwest Side street, El Solazo stands out because, as one patron says, the food is just like “grandmother’s food — really good.”
Owner Jose Barajas said his business has survived the recession because he knows what he has to do to be successful.
“If you have a good product at a good price, people are going to buy it,” said Barajas.
El Solazo, located at 5600 S. Pulaski Road, is a small, authentic restaurant with all the trappings of Mexico: A portrait of the Virgin Mary graces one wall and a sculpture of the Aztec calendar greets visitors as they walk in. Serving everything from tacos to Mexican seafood, prices range from $1.59 to $19 per dish.
Barajas, 29, said he already had the experience and knowledge of Mexican food when he opened his restaurant. He began working in the food industry at the age of 17. He comes from a family that owns a chain of successful Mexican restaurants; one of the restaurants is owned by his mother. He said his family members weren’t upset about his idea of launching a new restaurant on his own in 2007, but they didn’t expect him to have a booming business.
“I didn’t even think I was going to do as well. I just wanted to pay my bills,” Barajas said.
His mother supports him and helps out with his business. He said he is grateful for the experience he gained in his family business, and it was a “stepping stone” for him.
Barajas said he doesn’t know the formula behind his success, but he is sure of what he believes in and what he set out to do.
“The specialty here, I believe, is the fact that whatever we do, we do it fresh and people seem to like what we do,” he said.
Everything in the restaurant is homemade. Barajas has compiled recipes that date back to 1995. He said he is in his restaurant every day and often gets in the kitchen to cook.
“There is not a can of salsa, there is not a can of beans, there is not a can of anything in the back. Everything we do here is from scratch,” Barajas said.
Patrons described the food as authentic, fresh and well prepared.
Erica, 31, who declined to give her last name, said she came across El Solazo as she was driving and decided to stop and try the food. She said the food she finds at El Solazo is the closest she’s found to her grandmother’s style of cooking.
Other patrons offered similar praise.
“I’m very picky about my Mexican food, and this is the closest to authentic Mexican food,” said Maria Juarez.
Juarez, 37, works and lives in the area. She said her favorite plate is chilaquiles verde (tortillas with green hot sauce). The plate is served with rice, beans and a choice of eggs for $5.49 and steak for $6.99.
Other patrons said they like the prices.
“Food here is not greasy compared to other Mexican restaurants on Pulaski, and the prices are very reasonable within my budget,” said Jose Da La Torre.
Jackie Padilla, 20, started working for Barajas one month after he opened his restaurant. She said she sees returning customers all the time.
“They like the food a lot and the service. They say we treat them like friends and not customers,” said Padilla.