From the day Isel Lopez arrived in Venice from his home country of Mexico 11 years ago, he has been working in restaurants. For 10 years, he worked in someone else’s kitchen — until he and his wife opened a restaurant last year. Now he has a kitchen of his own. ‘To have a restaurant has always been my dream,’ he said. ‘I love this country. Thank you, America.’
Isel and his wife Dana own and operate Chicano’s Mexican Restaurant. Dana’s family owns two other Venice restaurants, Bada Bing and Cafe Bagel, so she also has put in quite a bit of time in the kitchen. When the couple decided to go into business for themselves, the type of business was never in question.
‘We both love to cook and have such a passion for food,’ Dana said. ‘This was just the right fit.’
The next step was to find a location for their new restaurant. On a drive down the S. Tamiami Trail in Venice, they found just what they wanted.
‘We were just driving by and looking and we saw this spot,’ Dana said. ‘We loved the building and the stone floors.’
Though both their families thought they were crazy for starting a restaurant in the middle of a recession, they pressed ahead with their plans. As soon as they took over the restaurant space, which was quite a bit bigger than they had been looking for, they began transforming it into what they now have — a brightly colored, friendly Mexican eatery.
‘Right now we have about 80 seats,’ Dana said, ‘and we plan on expanding even more.’
The plans include expanding the bar area, capitalizing on their newly acquired liquor license. They already have a daily happy hour from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., in which all drinks were priced two for one.
The true star of the show, though, is the authentic Mexican food, and many of the recipes came directly from Isel’s mother.
‘Our fajitas are especially good — people love them,’ Dana said. ‘Our chili rellenos are also great and people go crazy for our chimichangas. They like the way they come out sizzling and full of flavor.’
The restaurant is currently running specials every day of the week they are open. Tuesday is taco Tuesday, with two dollar tacos. Wednesday is margarita night and they’re also priced at $2. If you’re a young-at-heart, Thursday is senior night, and you can receive 10 percent off your dinner. For sangria lovers, there is sangria Friday. That night, the Lopezes offer their homemade sangria for $4.99.
Chichano’s is a family operation from top to bottom — even the couple’s 4-year-old son Angelo gets in on the action, sometimes serving chips and salsa to the customers.
For Isel, he knows that he found his professional calling a long time ago and he’s thankful for it every day.
‘I just really like to cook,’ he said. ‘I don’t even care so much for the money — I just love when people compliment my food and tell me how much they liked it.’