Spice of the strip-mall

El Patron feeds hungry shoppers with some of the best Mexican food in town

Photo By jason cassidy

El Patron II 2454 Notre Dame Blvd., Ste. 100 at Lowe’s Shopping Center, behind McDonald’s), 891-8888. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sundays.

I have long been a fan of El Patron Taqueria. I go just for their fish tacos—the best in town, in my opinion. They remind me of the tacos I used to get at a streetside taco stand when I was hanging out on vacation some years back in the southern Baja town of Mulegé—warm, folded corn tortillas loaded with crispy fried fish, shredded cabbage and lettuce, fresh salsa and a tangy white sauce.

I started with the fish tacos at the original El Patron in the Safeway Shopping Center on East Avenue, but since 2006, when El Patron II opened in the Lowe’s Shopping Center, I have been able to satisfy my jones closer to my southside Chico home.

My favorite thing to do is get a fish-tacos platillo ($8.89, with rice and beans), with one of the tacos soft-shelled and the other crispy for extra gustatory excitement. (Ah, the little thrills in life!) Add a few drops of El Yucateco green habañero hot sauce from one of several bottles at the front counter and it’s pure cielo on a plate.

The other day, I decided to try something a little different.

I went to El Patron II for lunch at about 12:15 and ordered the No. 5—a platillo consisting of a chile relleno, an enchilada, and rice and refried beans ($8.49).

After ordering from the young woman at the counter, I got my Arizona tea drink ($2.25) out of the glass-front refrigerator near the cash register and sat down at a table situated beneath a giant metal gecko wall-hanging, which faced a framed print of Diego Rivera’s Girl With Lilies painting on an adjacent wall.

As I waited for my lunch, the restaurant (smaller, cozier and more subtly lit than the East Avenue location) got busier and busier, but my food was delivered fairly quickly by a male employee who appeared at just the right time to help make sure lunch diners wouldn’t have a long wait.

My fluffily battered chile relleno—covered in a nice red sauce speckled with tomato seeds—was excellent. A note: When cut, the green chile did not ooze melted cheese, as is the case with many chiles rellenos. The cream-colored cheese inside the chile was fairly firm, even though it was warm. Delicious, though. I liked the integrity of it.

The enchilada I ordered was pork (other options include chicken, ground beef, cheese, carnitas and chili verde). Again, excellent. The chunks of meat rolled up inside the fresh corn tortilla covered with red enchilada sauce were irresistibly tender.

I always look forward to the beans and rice at both El Patrons—they are always exceedingly fresh and flavorful. But on this visit, my refried beans were a little more liquid than usual and lacked a touch of salt. That is my only (small) complaint.

Now that I’ve broken out of my fish-tacos-every-time-I-go-there pattern, I have a whole world of possibilities to look forward to at El Patron II: Flautas, tamales, sopitos, tortas, nachos and burritos (available with refried, whole pinto or black beans; they even have a grilled veggie burrito that includes sautéed mushrooms and zucchini). There is also a breakfast menu, and menudo on Saturdays.

Overall, the food is great and the service quick and friendly. You can’t go wrong, unless you just don’t care for really good Mexican food.