On any given winter day, you’ll find a line outside of Edgar Ortiz’s restaurant, Chavolo’s; skiers and outdoor enthusiasts waiting to grab up as many breakfast burritos as they can fit into their pockets and packs.
“It’s crazy,” Edgar says, “I’ll come in to open up in the morning, it’s still dark, and they’re lined up at the door, waiting in line for our breakfast burritos. Then, at night, a lot of them will be back for dinner.”
At 2 p.m., when most restaurants are counting checks and loose change, Chavolos is packed, diners lingering over plates still stacked with leftovers.
The secret, Edgar claims, is a dedication to authentic Mexican food, cooked the way he learned it while he spent the bulk of his childhood, much of it working in restaurants in Mexico.
“That’s where I learned about Mexican food,” he says.
He understates the massive amount heaped on your plate, underscoring how his philosophy is as much about home cooking as it is with making it irresistible.
Born in Wenatchee, Wash., Edgar’s family moved back to Mexico when he was 5 years old, where he lived for the next 10 years, watching and learning in his family’s restaurants. At 15, his family moved to California, where Edgar continued his education in the kitchen. According to Edgar, one his primary lessons was the difference of the cuisine he was raised on from what was being passed off as Mexican food in the United States.
“I learned there were Mexican restaurants but not truly Mexican restaurants,” he says. “I decided I wanted to do something different, something closer to Mexican food and that’s why I decided to open my restaurant.”
Determined to present real Mexican food, Edgar bided his time, moving to Pagosa Springs in 2000 to cook in a restaurant, then finally opening his own place in 2005. The venture was successful enough that, within the next year, he’d opened a second restaurant in Bayfield (45 minutes west of Pagosa on U.S. 160).
True to his word, Edgar chose authenticity over ambience: tucked away in a North Pagosa Boulevard strip mall, there is nothing to suggest five stars. Sans linen table cloths, tuxedoed waiters and a leather-bound wine list, with décor composed of faux wood paneling and plastic beer signs, the emphasis is on the food, heaping plates of authentic Mexican goodness — exactly the way it is south of the border, where the savvy tourist knows to avoid the hotelier’s recommendation and instead, follow the locals.
“Look,” Edgar says, “Mexican food is pretty much the same; no matter where you go, it’s the same dishes. The only difference is the way you cook it.”
Acknowledging the influence of his family and his time in Mexico, Edgar added, “I wanted to make it more authentic, something that feels more at home.”
Looking to expand not just his vision for cooking but, for food itself, Edgar stretched his arms in Pagosa.
Buying the space next door, he expanded into groceries. With fresh and marinated meats (“You can just throw it on the grill and you got my recipe!”), produce and ingredients available nowhere else but through at least an overnight trip, it’s a chance to taste where Old Northern New Mexico and Northern Old Mexico blend.
According to Edgar, success on a large scale is the only thing that would take him away. “It’s just a beautiful town, the lakes, the mountains, the rivers … I don’t want to go back to the city unless I have to and even then, this is where I’ll stay.”
Asked about the future, Edgar barely skipped a beat.
“Maybe I’ll expand to another town, but I’ll stay here.”