A favored restaurant’s next move

A portion of the South Sacramento plaza that has housed Alonzo’s, will be demolished

Janet Lara dishes stacked club sandwiches and fresh taco plates for lunchtime at Alonzo’s in South Sacramento.

Janet Lara dishes stacked club sandwiches and fresh taco plates for lunchtime at Alonzo’s in South Sacramento.

Photo by nicole fowler

Alonzo’s is still open at 5649 Stockton Boulevard until it moves to its larger location. Visit facebook.com/Alonzos1969 for updates.

A constant stream of people flow in and out of the restaurant’s door. Most turn around to wait outside underneath the cement breezeway because as usual, Alonzo’s, a Mexican-American diner in the Fruitridge Shopping Center, is packed. And a quick glance at the large chrome and neon clock on the corner of Fruitridge Road and Stockton Boulevard signals that Sam Alonzo is running late.

It’s 15 minutes past our scheduled meeting inside his family’s restaurant. And for the first time, I ask myself, “Who is Alonzo?”

Jesus and Wanda Alonzo opened the beloved South Sacramento restaurant in 1969. Wanda came from Minnesota, and Jesus moved to the United States from Mexico when he was 16 years old. He passed away 17 years ago. But the restaurant—and its homestyle dishes—remain.

Jesus Alonzo was from a community called El Rucio, the municipality of Villa de Cos in Zacatecas, Mexico, says Nora Santana, who was a waitress at Alonzo’s in 1989. Her brothers introduced her to Jesus.

Behind the restaurant’s bar are photos of a young, muscular man in boxing trunks.

Is that Alonzo?

“That’s Jesus’ grandson, Hildo Silva,” says Daniel Savala, a South Sacramento native and longtime regular at Alonzo’s. “He and I fought on the same card a few times.”

Savala says he used to train at the old Capitol Boxing Center as a young man. He also worked for Alonzo’s until his senior year of high school.

“He was such a good man. Humble and took care of his people,” Savala recalls. “I was in the restaurant having breakfast with my mom and sisters. Jessie walked over to talk to us … my mom jokingly asked him in Spanish, ’When you gonna put this boy to work?’ Jessie looked down at his watch and said, ’As soon as he’s done eating. I need a dishwasher.’”

Sam finally shows up. He extends his hand and immediately invites me to take a seat at the counter, “You want to eat something? I’m having the huevos rancheros.”

He is one of Jesus and Wanda’s sons, and also the second generation to run the restaurant. He balances his time between huevos rancheros and his full-time job in Galt. He says his mom doesn’t come in to the diner as much anymore, a sort of retirement. But customers will still see her from time to time taking orders and running the register.

The Mexican and American dishes served at Alonzo’s nourish the neighborhood Sam was raised in as he grew up across the street near the McDonald’s.

“I remember eating at the front table when I was a kid. That was the late ’60s,” he recalls.

Alonzo’s is not a “hidden gem.” Many of the restaurant’s customers have patronized the business since the family opened its doors. However, Alonzo’s is a local favorite. People who grew up in South Sac and have moved on to other cities still return for their favorite dishes when they’re in town.

They show up for pork chile verde, caldo de res (a clear beef soup with zucchini, carrots and onions), pork chicana and lots and lots of pozole and menudo. Pozole contains only chunks of pork, while menudo includes bits of pork and tripe in a rich and murky-red broth. A bit of cabbage, a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of raw white onion are the proper accompaniments to enjoy the full experience of both homemade soups. Coincidentally, all these dishes are perfect for when you have the cruda (hangover).

As someone who was also born and raised in South Sac, I ask Sam about the news that a portion of the plaza which includes the small, standalone drive-thru coffee hut, Java Express, will be demolished and replaced with a CVS and a Starbucks soon. It’s a blow to the neighborhood’s small business culture. This also happened to the Mexican supermarket Mercado Loco on Franklin Boulevard, which was demolished and replaced with another CVS. For many living in the area, that market was the nearest grocery store.

What does the Fruitridge Shopping Center’s pending makeover mean for Alonzo’s?

“We’re moving into a larger space. Just down the way near Happy Garden,” Sam Alonzo says excitedly. “We’re looking forward to a larger space.”

A fresh black-and-red sign now hangs at Alonzo’s new location at 5709 Stockton Boulevard, a sign that will mark the restaurant’s legacy for the next generation. A look inside reveals that it’s getting closer to opening; newly painted walls are adorned with photos of customers who’ve been coming to Alonzo’s for decades, some for nearly 50 years.

The new restaurant will open this spring, but its loyal customers can still savor their ritual of Sunday breakfast at its current location, which is still open until the transition. The Alonzo family says they look forward filling the new restaurant with the same warmth and comfort as its old space.