When La Loma moved from its longtime home on West 26th Avenue to new digs downtown, the Jefferson Park neighborhood lost a favorite Mexican restaurant, watering hole and community gathering spot. But former La Loma chef Efren Velasquez is ready to bring his magic back to the neighborhood; he's opening El Cazo Cocina y Cantina at 2901 West 25th Avenue on Saturday, September 8.
Velasquez originally announced he'd be returning to Jefferson Park back in January, when he shared his vision for a Mexican restaurant based on his family's cooking traditions. "All the recipes are either mine or my mother's," he said at the time. "I've always been known for my enchilada sauce."
And while El Cazo is modern inside and out, with a well-appointed dining room and accordion windows that open out onto the sidewalk surrounding a brand-new apartment building, much of the restaurant's menu looks comforting and familiar. Velasquez was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his mother ran a restaurant, so professional cooking is in his genes.
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El Cazo takes its name from the large copper pots used for cooking carnitas, chicharrones and other Mexican specialties that require time and even heat. Fans of traditional Mexican dishes can expect Velasquez's enchiladas as well as chiles rellenos, burritos, posole verde and stuffed sopaipillas. And yes, there will be carnitas, "cooked in the restaurant's namesake copper pot to achieve optimal flavor," according to El Cazo's menu.
Surprises include Mexican deviled eggs, ceviche made with a changing variety of market-fresh fish, and "El Vaquero," a twenty-ounce Prime tomahawk ribeye that rings in at $45 (by far the most expensive menu item). That ribeye, as well as all the meats for fajitas and other dishes, will be cooked over an open flame using a mesquite and applewood blend.
El Cazo joins Sarto's, Sexy Pizza, 2914 Coffee and the Jefferson Park Pub on a block that's slowly becoming a draw for this quiet neighborhood. The restaurant will be open from 4 p.m. daily, with closing hours that will soon be set based on neighborhood traffic.