Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Spicy Food, Tasty Drinks, Warm Hearts Give El Mariachi Mexican Soul

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El Mariachi has great food for all tastes, spicy or mild.

Restaurants specializing in Mexican cuisine are not hard to find in Oxford, but El Mariachi stands out like a jalapeno in your Margarita.  Opening just three years ago in 2010, the establishment has become a popular destination for Mexican loving Oxford diners. It wasn’t always like that. When El Mariachi opened its doors on Sept. 9, 2010, on Jackson Ave., now partner Rogelio Vasquez said that it was a close call if the restaurant was going to close soon after its debut.

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Manager of El Mariachi, Rogelio Vazquez

“We had too many issues the first time we opened because the owners didn’t know Oxford,” said Vasquez. “One major problem was the lack of alcohol being sold.” Previous El Mariachi owners came from other areas in Mississippi where alcohol couldn’t be sold and they lacked sophistication about that aspect of the restaurant business, according to Vasquez. During the fall, as Rebel fans gathered in Oxford for Ole Miss football they found it disappointing that El Mariachi was an alcohol-free cantina. “The owners were ready to close the restaurant,” said Vasquez. That’s when Vasquez, head chef Jose Perez, and a third party moved in to save their passion for fine Mexican food and drink. “We were already here, so we decided to do something to change the dynamic. We knew we would have to work hard.” Their hard work has paid off. Vasquez and Perez got busy improving the entire operation and have turned the failing restaurant into the authentic Mexican go-to spot Oxford knows today. Vasquez says his entire El Mariachi staff takes pride on catering to their customers of all nationalities and cultures with great attention to detail.

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Chicken, cheese and rice is a favorite dish.

Their traditional Mexican cuisine consists of many different peppers, infusing the popular dishes with spice, heat and flavor. Realizing that some Americans aren’t huge fans of spicy food, El Mariachi has created a variety of items on their menu that deliver traditional Mexican cuisine minus the heat. For those who like their food  with an extra kick, dishes are available with as much spice as they can handle. Do you dare to step into the hot side?

El Mariachi serves the traditional Mexican-American food like chimichangas and queso cheese. For those daring  Mexican food fans who want to try the authentic variety of everyday native food, El Mariachi serves dishes like Molcajete Mexicano and Siete Mares.

Both of these spicy choices are popular for healing hangovers in Mexico. What else makes El Mariachi so special? Vasquez and the employees stress the importance of customer service. “We want our customers to feel like they’re at home,” said Vasquez. “We like to play a lot with the kids and make sure everyone is enjoying their time.”

Ole Miss junior transfer student Lakyn Birks backs up that commitment to friendly service. “I come here with my friends all the time,” Birks said. “The waiters here make you feel so comfortable and they’re always so sweet and nice.”

Birks smiles as she listens to the classic Latino music playing throughout the restaurant.

“I’m always creating my own dishes when I come in here,” said Ole Miss senior Freddy Woods, laughing.” “And they allow me to! Sometimes if I have a taste for something but it’s not on the menu, I tell them what I want and they create it for me.” He adds that his favorite meal to create is a shrimp and chicken burrito with extra cheese, lettuce, and sour cream.

Despite the accessibility of customer creations, Vasquez said the most popular menu item at El Mariachi is the chicken, cheese, and rice. “Chick cheese and rice — that’s the rage among college kids,” As for Vasquez’ own favorite, nothing is better then the classic steak taco.

El Mariachi’s menu comprises more than 200 items — most not exceeding $10, which is a bargain in the Oxford restaurant scene.

For Vasquez, it’s important that he brings his own small Mexican hometown Jalisco, Mexico, back to his new hometown of Oxford. Jalisco is located in the southeastern region of the country. “We kept our prices the same for two years because we want to give the same quality food for less,” said Vasquez.

As for the restaurant’s name, Vasquez said the idea of El Mariachi comes from mariachi music, a traditional Mexican musical style. “Mariachi music is authentic, original and cannot be duplicated — just like us,” said Vasquez. Now operating with a full bar, the next three weekend’s Rebel fans will be in for a tasty Mexican treat when they enter this establishment. It runs on great pride, fine food and a determination to succeed.

By Amanda Wilson. Amanda is a journalism student at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media

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