Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Real Deal, Mexican-style

You won't find El Vaquero West on the Internet. But you will find the newest Mexican restaurant, owned by brothers Manuel & Hector, on Washington Street (Route 55) in The Town of Haymarket across from BB&T.

I can't recall exactly when I met Manuel, probably well over a year ago. He owned and operated a successful restaurant in Orange, Virginia, and wanted to open up another one in the Northern Virginia area. Originally from Mexico, he and his brothers had grown up in the business, starting out in his uncle's restaurant in California. His cooking, he told me, was based on traditional family recipes; in other words, authentic Mexican.

Manuel liked Haymarket, but the available spaces at the time did not suit his needs. We broadened our search into Centreville & Chantilly, where I remember spending a very cold, very rainy morning driving Manuel around to orient him to where businesses were, where houses were and where competing restaurants were located since he knew nothing about Northern Virginia. We also looked at a few possible locations, but again, Manuel did not find them acceptable.

Over the next few months, I kept Manuel updated when new properties came on the market. His preference was for an existing restaurant. Last June I heard through the grapevine that the restaurant in the Washington Street location was going out of business, so I contacted the owner about its availability for lease.

Manuel liked the location of the building and the ambiance the restaurant offered, but he focused his attention on the kitchen. Most of the equipment was either old or not appropriate for his cooking needs. Although the kitchen would need to be redone, he wanted to be sure the existing ventilation system would pass inspection and he also wanted to find out what else would be required for an occupancy permit. I arranged for a meeting on site with the town's building inspector who walked him through all the code requirements, and requested and received the past year's health department reports. In late August, all terms agreed upon, the lease was signed.

All of our interactions and extensive lease negotiations were via phone and fax. Manuel does not have e-mail and he does not use the Internet. He conducts his business dealings like he cooks, in a traditional manner.

El Vaquero West #2 is now open for business under his brother Hector's expert management. My husband and I visited for lunch today and were given a warm welcome upon walking in. Although it was after 2:00 p.m., there were people seated as well as coming and going the whole time we were there. Tables can be pushed together to accommodate large groups and the food choices span 7 menu pages of Mexican offerings. A bowl of warm corn chips and homemade salsa kept us busy munching while we decided what to order. This is no easy task!

The service was friendly and attentive, the food piping hot and delicious, and the prices cannot be beat. Lunch specials start at an affordable $4.55. I tend to judge a Mexican restaurant by their guacamole, and here it is excellent. Also available are imported bottled beers, wine by the glass, and mixed drinks. Their specialty is margaritas! Hector told us they will soon offer beer on tap and the frozen margarita machine should up and running any day now.

El Vaquero West 2 is open 7 days a week, starting at 11:00 a.m. Most days they serve until 10:00 p.m. (exceptions are Saturdays until 11:00 p.m. and Sundays until 9:00 p.m.). You can find this new restaurant at 14910 Washington Street in Haymarket.Google Map

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