Oct. 28, 2010

Comfort Food at Chez Jose Café in Burlingame


Thank your lucky stars that Chez Jose Mexican Café is easy to get to from anywhere in town. It’s right off the I5 Terwilliger exit, located at 8502 SW Terwilliger Blvd, in the small Portland neighborhood of Burlingame. Wherever you live or are staying, you need to know that you can quickly get yourself to the yummiest Mexican food in town at family friendly Chez Jose!!

Chez Jose had its humble beginnings in 1987 (23 years ago!!), created by owners Howie Schechter and Tom Midrano, who live in the Burlingame neighborhood. Their mission was to raise the quality level of comfort food in Portland. Howie feels that for East Coast folks it’s Italian food that warms the soul, while in our area of the country it’s Mexican fare.

I was introduced to Chez Jose by my mother who loves to lunch out, experiencing her noon getaways as mini vacations.  She’s been frequenting Chez Jose since practically the start up of the popular restaurant, first going there for its convenient location midway between Lake Oswego, where she lived, and Portland where she went several times a week.  She was comfortable sitting at the bar by herself, reading over lunch and listening to the chatter of the wait staff, or sharing a table with one of her many friends.   Over the years she’s gotten to know the people who work there very well.  She says they’re the main reason she keeps going back.  I thanked Sean, one of her favorite waiters, for taking such good care of my mother and he said that she’s the one taking care of them!

I also know that the black bean soup (black beans, rice, pico de gallo and lime crema) is a heavy draw for my mom.  I asked her what’s so good about it?  She replied that you can’t get it anywhere else; that everything about it is good.  She says it changes with every chef, but is always still the best.   When I had lunch with her at Chez Jose the other day, though, she ordered a tostado.  Our waiter, Matt, had already written down black bean soup.  He was astonished at her change of plans.  Later, Sean came by and asked her what she was eating!  Then Howie stopped by our table and let her know that if she was going to change her order, she needed to call first!

The most popular item on the menu is the lime chicken enchilada, my standard order since I first sampled it years ago.  Made with fresh lime-garlic marinated chicken, jack cheese and smothered in a lime sour cream sauce, it is deliciously addicting.  You can find the recipe online at here.  I got really adventuresome my last visit to the restaurant and ordered another favorite, the unique butternut squash enchilada, featuring mushrooms, carrots, jicama, onions and cheese, topped with a scrumptious peanut sauce.  It was incredibly tasty, much to my surprise, and an item I will certainly order again.  I’ve heard they make a mean margarita.  I need to try one of those soon!

When I asked Howie where he got the recipes, he explained they’ve been compiled from different ideas from the different chefs that have worked there over the years and so they keep getting tweaked, although the menu items have remained much the same from the beginning.  There was one time that my mother didn’t like her bean soup and called in to ask about it a few days later.  It turned out the chef had left a week earlier.  The next time she had lunch there, it was back to being perfect, although a bit changed from before. They figure things out in that kitchen!!

You’ll find that the prices are good, the service fast and friendly and the atmosphere comfortably bustling, with the exposed kitchen and open seating.  Smells of delicious food greet you upon entering the restaurant. There’s a warm ambience created by the rich wall colors.  The restaurant had to start over after a fire burned it to the ground in 2001.  It came back with a more contemporary look.  You’ll find convenient parking in the lot out front, shared with Market of Choice next door.

I think my mother’s weekly visits can attest to the outstanding quality of the restaurant experience you’ll find at Chez Jose!  She even agreed to pose for a photo with Howie and myself, even though she dislikes being photographed.  “Anything for Chez Jose,” she says!!

Oh, and when you go there, look for the Elvis look-alike waiter!

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