Meals on wheels

Jose ‘Pepe’ Ortiz

Photo By Dane Stivers

Cooking up an al pastor burrito in a matter of minutes, Jose “Pepe” Ortiz’s sweat-covered brow furrows as his wife, Maria, accepts $4 from the customer at the window. Ortiz’s high-school-aged son, Edgar, takes a plate and napkin from the counter, ready to place his father’s creation on top of it before offering a to-go bag to the stomach-grumbling customer. Though the price of this burrito is cheap, and the waiting time short, know this: the meal is for real. Ortiz moved to Chico in 1992 from Los Angeles and he worked for his cousins serving food for a couple of years. Once in Chico, he met and eventually married Maria. He decided to continue his family business of providing reasonable Mexican food to the Chico community at low costs, buying a taco truck and setting up shop at the corner of Second Street and Nord Avenue.

What has El Paisa brought to Chico?

A lot of kids come here and eat during the day, but there are lots of students who don’t have a lot of money. But they’re students and you can work with them! So, there are great deals for them, and for everybody. I have kids sometimes, you know, they’re hungry and ask to eat and pay later. I say, “Sure, just pay me back next time.” There are also very good food deals for other types of people who order here. We have great deals for kids, for adults, for older people. Our food is not so pricey, and it’s prepared quickly for you, you know? It’s also got very good taste. We see a lot of the same customers every day

How has the Chico community given back to you?

Chico is good for my family. I’ve got a 16-year-old, an 11-year-old, and an 8-year-old, and they enjoy it here. My oldest son works with me sometimes, too. L.A. wasn’t as good for my family in a lot of ways. Most of our family lives in Chico, and that helps us to be nearby each other for family strength. L.A. didn’t offer the same feelings of being connected with each other, so it was a little harder. Chico has accepted us, and we call it home.

What does the future hold for El Paisa?

Sometimes the economy is bad, like right now. But that’s fine for us, we just continue. A lot of people ask me, you know, why I don’t open a restaurant. I say, “this is fine, it pays the bills. I enjoy this.” Restaurants, I don’t need that. They’re too fancy and all that. We’re a family-owned business and we have history of doing it like this. I’ve been doing it this way all my life, I know how to serve from my truck.