“I used to work in construction, but it’s tough finding work these days, so I decided to try something new,” Lobatos said. “I’ve never been involved in the restaurant business, but my wife’s father ran restaurants in Mexico for more than 35 years, so he’s helping us get settled. We’re all learning as we go. I didn’t realize so much was involved with opening a restaurant, but after putting in a lot of 14-hour days, we were ready to open last month. It’s all been happening really fast, but we’re learning a lot and having fun.”
Lobatos, who has lived in Brentwood for 15 years, enlisted the help of family and friends to get the Brentwood Boulevard location ready for the December opening. While his father-in-law manages the kitchen, Julian’s wife Mayara decided on the menu items, and his brothers and cousins helped with painting and installing the furniture. Friend and local bull rider Victor Peña provided some photos from his riding competitions to serve as artwork in the Western-themed dining area.
The family team effort took the restaurant from idea to reality in record time. Lobatos said that business was good during the holiday rush, and as he’s received a lot of positive customer feedback in the last three weeks, he’s optimistic about the future.
Lobatos said El Vaquero’s diverse menu of Mexican and American dishes sets his restaurant apart from the local competition. The menu offers everything from burgers and buffalo wings to enchiladas and burritos. All the sauces, salsas and guacamole are made first thing every morning to guarantee only the freshest food for El Vaquero customers.
“Freshness is really important to me,” Lobatos said. “Every morning, we come in and get the kitchen ready with just enough sauces and salsa to get us through the morning and then we make new batches as the day goes on. We make only what we need. I don’t want to have to put anything in the fridge at the end of the day. You go to some places and you can tell that the food’s been in the fridge for a few days, but not here. It’s all made fresh daily.”
Since the restaurant is still new, no one menu item has become a standout favorite, but the El Vaquero signature dish is the huaraches, a delicacy of central Mexico featuring an oblong corn tortilla topped with mixture of beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, hot sauce and a choice of chicken or beef. Lobatos said he’s also received praise for the machaca con heuvos – scrambled eggs with spicy beef or chicken, served with rice, beans and a side of tortillas.
If the menu doesn’t set El Vaquero apart from the competition, the entertainment sure does. On opening night, Lobatos rented a mechanical bull for guests to try out, and it was such a hit that he placed an order for a permanent device to be set up in the back, which he expects to install by early February.
“I thought it’d be a fun idea for opening night, but people really got into it,” said Lobatos, who used to ride bulls when he lived in Mexico. “The kids seemed to have a lot of fun – and they last longer than the adults. We’ve got the space in the back, so I thought: why not? I wanted the restaurant to be different, and this will definitely make us different.”
The mechanical bull comes with a protective bounce wall so that riders who get thrown aren’t injured. “This is a family restaurant, and we want people to have a good time, so there will be plenty of safety measures so that no one gets hurt,” Lobatos said.
El Vaquero, located at 8065 Brentwood Blvd., is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 925-513-9294.