BLOOMINGTON - Restaurants are tough business, as anyone in the industry will attest, but they have this to their advantage with an incoming customer: With the exception of the chronic nags, we enter eager to enjoy the experience.
From there, we are yours to win over - or lose.
I entered Chevys Fresh Mex wanting to be won over.
Getting there can be a slight pain. Eldorado Road at Oakland Avenue is awful. Remind me to access Eldorado via Lincoln Street next time. As it was, I caught the Intersection from Hades at a good moment, so I got into Chevys without delay.
A young lady was greeter. As a solo diner that night, I fully appreciated that she explained seating options instead of sticking me by the kitchen door. (Lonely Guy diners are well acquainted with the worst tables in many restaurants, and we don't think it's a coincidence that we end up at them.)
I got to choose - and I chose a half-booth in the cantina with a great view of the Yankees-Red Sox game. Two positives: My waiter was an engaging young man who also worked the bar, and the Yankees were losing. Here's a third: I was serenaded by festive Latin music over the sound system.
I like the feel of Chevys. It's casual but shows some class. It's a chain but it brags that nothing here comes out of a can.
The guacamole was fresh and sprinkled with a skimmed milk cheese called cotija (co-TEE-ha). Problem: The chips were too wimpy to hold up to the dip. They broke in the dipping process. An aggressive chip-dipper will be annoyed and a chronic nag might get irate.
However, the chips were tasty and the guacamole obviously was made by a person who started with a good avocado, so I was unruffled by the wimpy chips.
The menu at Chevys offers a host of appetizers, entrees and sides. The items come with good descriptions. Arrows and what appear to be marker-written notes point to pictures of dishes to tell you what's what. It's funny - plus, you don't feel like a moron if you don't already know. "Oh, sure, enchiladas."
I opted for an enchilada sampling: One chicken salsa, one pulled pork with chipotle cream sauce and one with picadillo beef with a chili sauce.
The pork is my hands-down favorite. The barkeep said it's his, too, and he added that the carnitas are outstanding.
Carnitas. I nod, knowingly. While I knew the enchiladas, I was hoping for a picture of the carnitas.
Chevys Fresh Mex
704 S. Eldorado Road, Bloomington
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Chevys was started by a guy named Scooter. Warren Simmons and his son, Scooter, started the business in San Francisco in 1986. They sold their 37-restaurant chain in 1993 to PepsiCo. In turn, an investment group bought Chevys four years later. It now is owned by Real Mex Restaurants, which has 150 locations under 10 names.
The Bloomington, Peoria and Champaign restaurants are franchises owned by Cheryl and Mohammed Hussain. Mr. Hussain said credits in Bloomington belong to general manager Mauricio Salinas.
More about food
Chevys Fresh Mex makes all sauces on site. It serves a range of fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and the like. Fajitas are especially popular here, I'm told.
The margarita menu contains 10 varieties, counting a no-alcohol version, and includes such variants as the watermelon margarita. Ten brands of Mexican beer accompany the domestic lines.
Wine selection leans to sweet varieties. Riesling, zinfandels mix well with Mexican food and dry wines don't, according to Hussain.
The restaurant tries to accommodate a variety of budgets. Lunch entrees start at $6, dinners at $7 and children's dinners at $4. Generally, people spend about $8.50 at lunch and $12 at dinner, plus tip.
Options: Cash, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover.
Call-ahead will get you on the waiting list. The building is wheelchair accessible, and sections can be reserved for private parties and business meetings.
Off-site catering done on occasion. Carryout always available.