By Vickie Lewis
This month’s featured restaurant isn’t new to the community. In fact, many of you have undoubtedly enjoyed authentic Mexican food from Los Cerros as far back as 1989 from one or both of their previous El Sobrante locations—the former Lucky shopping center on Valley View Road or their more recent location on Appian Way across from the Post Office. However, in August 2015, “Los Cerros Mexican Grill moved into a new, larger location in the Sunset Center on Valley View Road across from Adachi’s Florist. Whereas their previous locations were more conducive to take-out dining due to their smaller size, the new restaurant offers ample restaurant seating for approximately 60 guests in the dining room, and an additional 40 guests in an adjacent banquet room.
The owners of Los Cerros, Eduardo and Gaby Guzman, spent nearly a year remodeling their new location, formerly occupied by The Lion’s Den and later, Tina’s Place (before it relocated to Pinole.) During the remodel, they remained open for business at their Appian Way location. The owners completed much of the remodeling themselves, and have transformed the location into an inviting, brightly colored and decorated dining location. The interior walls are painted various bright colors, highlighted by a beautiful hand-painted mural of Veracruz on the right wall as you enter the restaurant. Recessed and track lighting, and natural light from the arched windows, light the interior, accented by brightly colored string lights. Various decorative accents such as ceramic and metal sun sculptures accent both the interior and exterior walls. The dining area includes booths as well as beautiful wooden tables with high-backed chairs. Clear, decorative beveled glass partitions separate the booths. The kitchen is visible behind the front counter, making the overall look and feel open and spacious.
My family and I visited Los Cerros Mexican Grill for dinner a couple of weeks prior to my meeting with the owners for the Restaurant Review. Upon arrival, we were promptly greeted by our server, Mary, and were offered drinks and chips and salsa to enjoy while we reviewed the menu. The offerings include standard Mexican fare, including various platters served with rice and beans, and other Mexican favorites served “a la carte”—burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, chile rellenos, and taco salad. Meat choices include grilled or shredded chicken, carnitas, ground beef, al Pastor, and chile verde. Beef is available for an upcharge of fifty cents. Extras available include house-made guacamole or bean dip, sour cream, avocado, and shrimp.
We ordered a side of house made guacamole to enjoy with our chips, and three different combo platters, including the Chile Relleno and Chicken Enchilada; the two Enchilada plate; and the Beef Enchilada and Tamale. The food was delivered to our table quickly, with the main courses arranged artfully in the center of the oval platters, accompanied by refried beans on one side and rice on the other side. The portions were generous, filling the entire space on the platters. When our orders were taken, we were not given a choice of beans but later learned that Los Cerros offers black beans and pinto beans in addition to refried beans. The refried beans were not as thick as I’m used to, but were but were tasty and had plenty of cheese on top. The rice was plentiful and very moist and had a good flavor, especially when topped with salsa. The chicken enchiladas were made with large chunks of seasoned shredded chicken, and the beef enchilada was made with ground beef. The tamale was filled with flavorful shredded pork encased in a moist cornmeal wrap. The guacamole had a wonderful, mildly spicy flavor, with chunks of fresh avocado. Sides of guacamole are available in three sizes—2, 4 or 8 ounces. We ordered the smallest portion, and the generous serving was more than ample for the three of us. The chile relleno did not seem to have any breading on the outside of the chile, which was a first for me. The flavor was good, but it was unusual to have the relleno served this way.
Los Cerros offers a variety of soft drinks, as well as three types of Aguas Frescas-Horchata, Jamaica, and Tamarind. They also offer Mexican bottled drinks, and three flavors of smoothies, including Strawberry, Pina Colada, and Mango. They recently procured their liquor license, and now also offer an assortment of bottled beers as well as traditional, strawberry and mango margaritas. When my family visited, we ordered Horchata and Jamaica, which were served over ice in generously sized goblets. On my subsequent visit, Eduardo made a blended margarita for me and one on the rocks for my guest. Again, the drinks were generously sized, and the quality and flavor was excellent. Eduardo informed us that they make their own fresh sweet and sour to use in the margaritas which enhances the flavor.
Los Cerros, which means “the hills”, was originally opened by Eduardo’s brother in 1989. After only a couple of years, Eduardo and Gaby assumed ownership and have run the business for 25 years. Many of their employees have also been with them for years, which allows them to deliver consistent quality to their customers. Eduardo and Gaby are residents of Hercules and have three children—Eduardo, Jr. (25), Rebecca (21), and Julianna (13).
The food served at Los Cerros Mexican Grill is made from only the freshest and highest quality ingredients. All of their sauces and salsas, as well as the flour tortillas and guacamole are made fresh in-house daily. The corn chips are also made fresh throughout the day using 100% cholesterol free oil. In addition to pico de gallo, Los Cerros offers mild salsa (salsa roja), medium spicy salsa (tomatillo sauce), and hot habanero salsa. The menu offerings have remained relatively static over the years, and there are no plans to expand the menu or to offer daily specials at this time. The owners prefer to continue with their standard menu to enable them to maintain the quality their customers have come to expect.
During our interview, Eduardo treated me and my guest to a grilled Chicken Quesadilla, made using a fresh flour tortilla, large chunks of grilled chicken, and cheese. It was cut into portions and served with sides of sour cream and guacamole. We had the opportunity to try all of the different salsas with our meal, and all were excellent. Even the habanero sauce was tolerable, and not so hot as to obliterate the taste of the food. Eduardo also made me a chile relleno a la carte, and this time it was thinly breaded, unlike the one I’d been served on my previous visit. My guest and I shared the relleno, which was spicier than the first one I’d eaten, and very yummy!
To top off our visit, my guest and I were each served a freshly baked Caramel Apple Empanada, one of four desserts offered at Los Cerros. Eduardo is the resident baker for Los Cerros, a skill he learned by taking classes 10 years ago. He makes the apple empanadas from scratch, as well as Flan and Tres Leches cake. Churros are also offered for dessert, but are not made at the restaurant. Eduardo also bakes Mexican Wedding Cookies, which are sold separately at the counter. The apple empanada was served with a small scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, with caramel syrup over the top of both the ice cream and the pastry. The pastry was melt-in-your-mouth flaky and very completely filled with sweet yet slightly tart fresh apple mixture. It was truly scrumptious, and I highly recommend saving room for dessert when you visit Los Cerros so that you, too, can enjoy the empanada or one of the other desserts offered.
The prices at Los Cerros make it a very affordable place for family dining, with most food selections ranging from $7 to $10. For larger parties, a private banquet room and separate banquet menu is available; and for slightly smaller parties, Los Cerros accepts dining reservations. If you’re a “regular” who still orders takeout from Los Cerros Mexican Grill, consider “dining in” so that you can enjoy the beautiful new restaurant and perhaps partake of a margarita or two. If you’ve never tried this venue, check it out soon, and then add it to your list of favorites for local dining options. Eduardo and Gaby are planning a special Cinco de Mayo celebration, so be sure to stop by to enjoy the festivities.