With freezing temperatures forecast for the next week and a half, the shortest month on the calendar can sometimes seem like the longest month. It’s why trips south of the border often command high prices from resorts catering to a desperate, so-sick-of-the-snow crowd.
But if you’re short on cash, vacation time or energy, there’s a colorful, popular Mexican restaurant in Bonne Terre that opened just in time to give you a taste of the border close to home for a reasonable price, here in the dead of winter. Its extensive menu caters to carnivores and vegans alike, increasing the likelihood of pleasing everyone in a big group.
El Jarochito (pronounced El Haro-chee-to) offers dining room service and curbside pick-up at 1 SW Main St. Operated by the Ramirez family, it’s open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., except on Friday and Saturday when it stays open an hour later.
Opening a restaurant during a pandemic can be tricky business in an industry that’s already known for its riskiness, but Eli Ramirez said they had been talking about opening their own place for about 10 years, and it was just time to do it. Eli, who grew up in Ballwin, said he was working in De Soto when his brother-in-law, Humberto Hernandez, said he found the perfect location in Bonne Terre.
“It was so fast, the way it all came about,” Eli said. “We looked at this location, and about a week or two later we were signing papers. We just felt like it was now or never, so we just went for it.”
Bright-colored paint, distinctive signage and Mexican decorations complete the homey, tropical atmosphere Eli said customers seem to like.
In terms of COVID-19 precautions, the staff wear masks, get temperature checks and disinfect menus and surfaces between customers.
“We’re taking no chances,” Eli said.
It’s a family-run business, with patriarch Cheyo Ramirez as the lead chef, something he’s familiar with since he’s been cooking for 30 years. Cheyo hails from Michoacan, while his wife hails from Jalisco.
Cheyo’s son Eli is the overall manager, daughter Janeth oversees service and helps manage, and daughter Candi also pitches in from time to time. Cheyo’s son-in-law Humberto Hernandez, who hails from Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico east coast, worked with Eli to find their Bonne Terre location. Eli said Humberto is involved with two other restaurants in addition to El Jarochito, and helps out wherever needed.
The multi-page menu features plenty of seafood in addition to well-seasoned, expertly-cooked and prepped meats, thanks to Cheyo’s extensive experience in the food business, as well as Cheyo’s wife’s more than two decades of cooking for Red Lobster.
Humberto’s hometown bordered the ocean with plenty of seafood as part of the cuisine, and Eli has worked at Mexican restaurants in House Springs, St. Louis and De Soto. The family’s combined food experience has taught them to pay attention to what their clientele likes and wants.
“Most Tex-Mex restaurants have the same menu wherever you go, so we tried to add things that might be a little different,” Eli said. “We cook everything fresh and cut everything fresh, we order two to three times a week. Every morning we cut in the morning what we think we’ll sell, we prep every day and we have a great seasoning.
"I think that’s key to better tasting food, you can taste the quality and freshness of what we’re doing.”
You might want to start out with drinks and appetizers. In addition to its beer and wine, El Jarochito prides itself on its 88-ounce margarita tower and Cadillac margarita, and makes a mean bloody Mary, to boot.
In addition to the standard guacamole, cheese dip and bean dip, the Ramirezes offer a beef dip of cheese sauce and seasoned ground beef topped with pico de gallo, or a heartier five-flavored dip that features chopped grilled steak, cheese sauce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
Caldo de Camaron is a shrimp soup with broccoli, zucchini, squash, pico de gallo and rice. Chicken can be substituted for shrimp and both the soups are served with tortillas.
The Speedy Gonzalez menu, served from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, offers 10 combinations featuring taquitos, quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, tamales, tacos and chile rellenos served with sides like rice, beans and pico de gallo.
If you want Tex-Mex breakfast for dinner, order the scrambled eggs in the styles of huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo or huevos a la Mexicana, they all come with rice, beans and tortillas. If you’re in the mood for street tacos, you have your choice of nine meats and five special sauces, in addition to cilantro, shredded cabbage, onions, lime, rice and beans.
“Since we opened, people are trying a little bit of everything,” he said. “I know the Jalisco special and the Burrito California seem to be liked a lot. The California is one of our biggest burritos, and you have your choice of eight different meats and six sauces to create your own burrito.”
So far, Eli said, business has been pretty good, despite the brisk weather.
“We’re so happy we chose this place to open,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful town, we fell in love with it once we got here, and the people have been really nice and everything.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.