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Same Place, New Face: El Jimador gets a makeover courtesy of Baltazar Chavez 

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Remember El Jimador?

Wait a minute... remember it? Isn't it right where it's always been, Franklin and Wall?

Well, yes and no. Yes, the name is the same, but pretty much everything else is different... and improved. The service is fast, but not rushed, and friendly. The new menu highlights seafood and quality beef, and the bar's selection of more than 30 tequilas guarantees you won't leave thirsty. This is a mid-priced, family-friendly restaurant with food that now surpasses expectations. As nights warm up and the farmer's market begins to bustle, this is sure to be a prime people-watching spot and a must for outside dining in downtown Bend.

What else is different from the old El Jimador? Let's start with the atmosphere. Just walking into the place will brighten your day or evening. Check out the eye-poppingly bright blown-glass fish inside the door. The paper napkins have been replaced with cloth and the glassware is hand painted. Artwork from co-owner Batalzar Chavez's home in Mazatlan covers the walls and features fiberglass sea life, including a gigantic octopus. As for Baltazar, who continues to operate the westside restaurant in addition to El Jimador, you can usually find him helping in the kitchen, checking in with customers or dreaming up new dishes.

The dinner menu (entrees range from $12 to $20) is full of temptation. I finally decided on the fish tacos. The minute the enormous plate was placed in front of me, it became clear just how different things are at the new El Jimador. Refried beans? Gone, replaced with pre-soaked black beans delicately covered with queso fresco. I opted for the flour tortillas, and they were overflowing with succulent halibut sautéed in just the right mix of seasonings and butter. The side of guacamole was fresh and flavorful and I was glad that I hadn't overdone it with the delicious tri-colored chips and salsa before my meal. The carne asada was equally alive with flavor. The tender skirt steak was served with a pico de gallo that was jump started by just enough jalapeño fire.

The lunch menu here is equally delectable. Entrees ($7 to $14) include lobster enchiladas that are topped with a smooth but tangy homemade seafood sauce. The Enchiladas Julia get dolloped with sour cream sauce that enhances, not smothers, the grilled chicken. I would also recommend the spinach and mushroom enchiladas that are blanketed with a more traditional enchilada sauce and garnished with a substantial portion of ripe avocado. If a Caesar salad (after all, the salad's namesake was an Italian-born chef who dreamt up the salad in Tijuana) or a hamburger is more your style, they are also solid choices. Vegetarians get more than a passing nod. There's a wide variety of meat-free dishes to choose from, including a veggie burrito that's bursting with vegetables sautéed to perfection. The celery is crunchy, the mushrooms robust and the different flavors work together to make your taste buds say, "Oh, yes!"

Let's talk margaritas. After all, the name El Jimador refers to the person who pulls the nectar out of the agave plant. That sweet nectar becomes the tequila that creates the margarita that makes you happy. Even with the price of limes doubling within the past year, El Jimador has resisted the temptation to use a pre-packaged mix. Agave, lime juice, high-quality tequila and a splash of Grand Marnier if you want to go large, make this the perfect summer cocktail.

Co-owner Baltazar's sense of humor, his attention to detail and willingness to take a risk reopening a restaurant during these challenging financial times are matched by his hope that he can continue to carry on his family's legacy of hard work and faith. In doing so, he's providing Central Oregon with genuine Mexican fare that both satisfies and surprises.

In other words, it's time to add El Jimador back to your list of downtown dining destinations. You won't be disappointed.

El Jimador

801 NW Wall St. 541-318-1333

Open daily 11am - 9:30pm


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