Rosarito Restaurant Scene

Charley's Place
BY: CHUCK WAGON

Driving on the free road just south of Rosarito you can’t help but notice a humongous statue of Jesus perched on the hilltop. His  arms are perpetually outstretched, never seeming to tire, in a welcoming gesture to our travelers. Directly across the road on the ocean side, if you look quickly and don’t blink, is Charley’s enclosed eatery, welcoming all locals and travelers alike to the joys of champagne dining at beer prices. But with only symbolic outstretched arms.  Charley’s is one of those places where everybody knows your name. 

Thanksgiving Charleys 2013 001.JPGJaime and his family operate this gem, serving the freshest fish in the Baja because it’s caught by his brother each morning and delivered to Charley’s each afternoon. The fish is put to use in tacos, burritos, tortas and various fish dinner concoctions.

The chicken is equally delicious, as is the shrimp on skewers covered with Charley’s famous creamy sauce.

Although it’s also a bar, breakfast is served as well,  along with chips and sour cream dip, a must have for breakfast, don’t you know? I can’t ever get enough of chips and sour cream dip, so why not take it down for breakfast too?

Charley is long gone but Jaime’s sweet smile and easy conversation goes well with his fabulous food. And he’s really good at remembering everyone who walks in the door, greeting many of them by name.

Jaime and his sister Magda opened what once was a small taco stand some years ago. Jaime was just back in Mexico after living most of this life in Los Angeles working in restaurants until he was picked up in an immigration sweep and tossed out of the country.

 He arrived back in Mexico with little money but lots of ideas, an American education, and the Yankee work ethic. How could he miss?

 Jaime took over the cooking chores and Magda would handle the customers until everyone started asking for Jaime because he was so good with the people. The roles were reversed and Jaime took the orders while Magda took over in the kitchen.

If someone wanted anything that wasn’t on the small menu Jaime would send Magda to her pantry out back or the nearest store and the next day it was added to the menu. And so it went for many years until the menu grew into what it is today.

Soon the sibbling duo needed more room for the burgeoning business, adding another large room, more television sets, and more sisters to take the orders and cook.

Last year his friends helped Jaime build a roof top dining room and when the customers whined about needing a rest room, that was added as well. All this work was chipped in by his pals and regulars, with love and the promise of food on the job.

Charley’s menu now has fish, chicken, and meat in various forms with his fish tacos at only $1 on Monday and Tuesdays.

Magda created the recipe for their enchiladas that is often the top order of the day and his Thursday night buffets are eagerly awaited. His signature dish is molcajete, a mouthwatering combination of shrimp, cheese and sauce at 250 pesos that easily feeds five people out of one pot. (Called the molcajete). It’s served bubbling hot in a  large black cauldron.

The Farkle fanatics {a dice game of luck and lots of screaming by a gaggle of wild women} play on Thursdays and the more sedate Rummikub folks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Holidays buffets are always jam packed and music is supplied in all its forms on most nights. Karaoke takes over on the weekend. Poker night is played upstairs with a waiting list for seats.

If you ask Jaime for a charity donation it’s coming right up with a ready grin and a kiss on the cheek that his female customers love.

Jaime is an American success story played out in Mexico. The U.S. loss became Mexico’s gain and once again I see what can be achieved by hard work, a dream, and a loving family.