By Vickie Lewis
At a time when economic conditions are not often favorable to small businesses, El Sol Restaurant and Catering has successfully thrived for nearly four decades serving delicious authentic Mexican food to West County residents. Family owned and operated since 1982, El Sol Restaurant was originally established in Rodeo, and was a partnership between Reynaldo Sr. and Beatrice Orozco and three of their children—Reynaldo, Jr., Yolanda, and Armando. Years later, the business has opened a second location in the quaint community of Point Richmond and has also established a thriving catering business. Today, Armando Orozco owns El Sol in partnership with his wife, Josephine.
El Sol operated exclusively in Rodeo until June 2010, when the Orozco’s were fortunate to secure a prime Point Richmond storefront to expand their restaurant business. Josephine, who grew up in Point Richmond, had long desired to open a business in the community of her youth. Located on Park Place almost directly across the street from the popular Hotel Mac and next door to the historic Masquer’s Playhouse, the Point Richmond El Sol restaurant is well-situated and centrally located to local residents, as well as employees of nearby businesses such as Chevron, Kaiser hospital and many others.
Josephine and her staff operate the Point Richmond El Sol restaurant, while Armando primarily runs the Rodeo location, assisted by their son, Ramon, who has been the restaurant manager there for the past 15 years. Both locations generally offer the same lunch and dinner menu items, which represent authentic Orozco family recipes. Lunch and dinner are served at both restaurants Mondays through Saturdays from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Because breakfast is her favorite meal of the day, Josephine decided to add breakfast service at the Point Richmond location. She created a Mexican breakfast menu that includes popular selections such as the Carne Asada Breakfast, Chilaquiles, and Breakfast Burritos, just to name a few. Breakfast is served in Point Richmond Mondays through Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 11:00 AM.
Armando and Josephine personally prepare most of the food at their respective locations, assisted by dependable, long-term cooks. All of El Sol’s food is homemade from scratch using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including their salsa and their signature red and green mole sauces that are used in many of their menu items. Food is prepared fresh daily, with cooking starting as early as 4:00 AM most days. Armando, Josephine, and Ramon typically work very long days to run both locations and their catering business, so the restaurants are closed on Sundays for rest and coveted family time.
Josephine and Armando were high school sweethearts since ninth grade, so she has been around this long time family business since the Rodeo location opened in 1982. However, Josephine did not begin working at El Sol until many years later. After college, she worked as a landscape architect for many years. Her last position before she transitioned to work at El Sol was with the East Bay Regional Park District. Although she thoroughly enjoyed her landscape architect career, Josephine had long harbored a passion to develop El Sol’s catering business. For many years, the Rodeo restaurant had prepared large take-out platters, upon special request from their customers, for events such as birthdays, baby showers, baptisms, quinceaneras, and holiday celebrations. Josephine wanted to expand that aspect of the business by enhancing the catering menu and marketing their services to a broader network. When Armando’s parents eventually stepped away from the business, Josephine partnered with Armando to begin her focus on the El Sol’s catering business. Although she now operates the Point Richmond restaurant, she continues to focus on further expanding El Sol’s catering opportunities. Her efforts have been successful thus far, as El Sol now provides regular catering services for many large business and corporate customers, including Bio Rad, Chevron, Mechanics Bank, Kaiser, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the West Contra Costa County School District (WCCSD), just to name a few. They continue to provide catering for personal and special occasions, from small to large events, including weddings, anniversary and retirement parties. All catering orders are prepared on site in the kitchens of the two El Sol restaurants by Armando, Josephine and their experienced staffs.
I used to eat occasionally at the Rodeo El Sol during the years that my daughter took dance lessons nearby. I hadn’t eaten there for many years, and was pleasantly surprised to learn about there being a second restaurant in Point Richmond. For this review, my guest and I visited El Sol on a Friday evening, arriving between 5:30 and 6:00. Parking in Point Richmond was quite challenging, as there are no parking garages and there was no street parking available. After several trips around downtown, we found a spot, and then strolled down Park Place to find El Sol. We initially were uncertain as to which storefront was El Sol as there was no visible signage. (We later learned that the exterior sign had blown off during a recent storm.) We entered and sat at a table near the front of the dining area, and began to look over the menu. A waitress brought us water and complimentary chips and salsa as we pondered our selections.
El Sol’s menu has a plentiful variety of items from which to select, many of which are standard fare at most Mexican restaurants--tacos, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, flautas, nachos--with meat choices including chicken, carne asada, carnitas, fish and shrimp. Vegetarian selections and entrée salads are also available. Most items can be ordered a la carte or as full plates, and there is a separate section of the menu that lists combination plates, which include one or two entrée items with choice of two sides—rice, beans, or Mexican potatoes made with chorizo.
Not many Mexican restaurants offer potatoes on their menus, so I was immediately interested in trying these. The potato theme was carried through to other menu items—there is a steak and potato burrito, and “Mondo’s Special”, a mix of grilled steak, Mexican potatoes, fresh salsa and hot sauce. Specialty menu items include tamales and chile rellenos, and selections made with tiger prawns. My guest decided to order the chile relleno combination plate with rice and beans. After much deliberation, I also chose a combination plate that included a chile relleno and a chicken enchilada, with beans and potatoes. Separately, we ordered bean dip and two glasses of horchata, a sweet Mexican drink made with rice and cinnamon that looks a bit like milk. Other beverages available at El Sol include sodas, a variety of imported and domestic beers, and wine, including several wine-based cocktails.
While our order was being prepared, we hungrily munched on the chips, salsa and bean dip. My guest found the salsa to be a bit too spicy for her taste, but she really enjoyed the bean dip, a generous bowl of refried beans topped with plentiful white cheese. We observed a steady parade of customers who placed “to go” orders at the front counter, referencing the large chalk board menu hanging overhead. Behind the counter is an open kitchen where the cooks can be observed hard at work, and servers bustle in and out to place and pick up orders for delivery to seated customers. The entire right side of the restaurant is a festively decorated dining room with ten wooden tables covered with colorful plastic tablecloths. Pictures and artwork created by local artisans are displayed on the yellow walls, which are available for purchase. A colorful banner is strung across the ceiling, and the back wall is adorned with small white lights.
Mexican themed decorations, including large metal suns representative of the restaurant name, are also interspersed throughout the dining room. The overall atmosphere of the restaurant is casual, clean, and comfortable and unhurried—a place where customers can linger and converse long after their meals are finished.
Our meals arrived promptly, and both plates were full almost to the point of overflowing, and appeared very appetizing! I immediately took a bite of the Mexican potatoes, which were soft, tender, and flavorful, but only mildly spicy from the chorizo that had been cooked with it. I prefer a bit more spiciness, so I added some of the salsa to the potatoes which made them even more delicious. As we ate, my guest and I compared notes on our chile rellenos, agreeing that while they were very good, we couldn’t distinctly taste the green chiles; however, we enjoyed the generous amount of cheese filling and the red mole sauce poured over the top. My chicken enchilada was excellent, chock full of tender shredded chicken, and topped with the delicious red mole sauce and cheddar cheese. The meals were very filling, and neither of us had to request boxes for leftovers! The glasses of horchata were served after we’d finished eating, so we enjoyed them as an after dinner “dessert”. El Sol does not offer dessert selections, which is likely because the meals are so filling that most patrons don’t often have an appetite for dessert! Drinking the horchata was indeed like partaking of dessert because it was very rich, sweet and creamy—the best horchata that I have personally ever tasted!
After we finished eating, we finally got the opportunity to speak with Josephine, who had been working in the kitchen most of the night. We conversed well past the 8:00 PM closing time, and by the end of our conversation, we had learned all about El Sol, as well as about the many extracurricular activities Josephine does to give back to the communities where their businesses are located. She is a member of the Point Richmond Business Association, a board member of the Masquer’s Playhouse, and also serves on the Bay Front Chamber of Commerce. She is the chairperson for the annual September Rodeo Chili Cook-off and Car Show, and is also the chairperson for the Point Richmond Community Octoberfest. Her ambitiousness also inspired Josephine to serve as the women’s softball coach at Richmond’s Salesian High School for 17 years! My guest and I marveled at how she finds time to be so active in her community and still run a successful restaurant and catering business!
I returned to Point Richmond the following weekend with my daughter to attend the Octoberfest that Josephine coordinated. Vendor booths lined Park Place in the downtown area, and a live band played during most of the event. There were organized children’s activities and adorable puppies pleading for adoption. We had lunch at El Sol, affording me the opportunity to try other menu items for this review. I ordered the Quesadilla Erica, a flour tortilla stuffed with grilled steak, topped with melted jack cheese, fresh tomatoes, sour cream and cheddar cheese. My daughter ordered a super burrito made with shredded chicken, lettuce, rice beans, cheese, and sour cream. My quesadilla was served in a tortilla folded in a rectangular shape instead of being round and cut in pie-shaped pieces. The tortilla was filled with tender pieces of delicious steak; however, I would have preferred that the ingredients on top were folded inside of the quesadilla so the flavors could have been enjoyed together. My daughter’s burrito was very large, and was served wrapped in aluminum foil although we were dining in. It was so large that she barely ate one third of the burrito before requesting a box. We are both eager to return to try Josephine’s Mexican breakfast, and some of the other items on the lunch/dinner menu.
Since the El Sol first opened in Rodeo in 1982, the Orozco’s estimate that they have served eight generations of those families who were their first customers. Although many have moved away over the years, loyal customers often return for a meal whenever they’re in town. Josephine shared a story about a relocated family whose mother insists that her daughter bring home ten quarts of El Sol’s red mole sauce every time she visits the area!
If you’re seeking a new place to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, or would like to inquire about catering services, call or visit Josephine Orozco at El Sol in Point Richmond. For catering services, you may also e-mail El Sol at email@example.com. Josephine will provide the current catering menu and set an appointment to discuss your event. Josephine and staff will help to customize your event and take pride in providing a personal touch to every event they cater. They will attempt to accommodate special requests for items not on the menu, and will also make accommodations for special dietary considerations. El Sol has catered events for up to 400 guests all over the bay area, including Marin County, the Tri-Valley area, and as far north Sacramento. Informationally, the Rodeo restaurant has a large banquet room available for reservation, which can accommodate holiday parties and a multitude of other types of events. For more information about the banquet room or El Sol’s catering options, check out their website at www.elsoleastbay.com.
Josephine is already thinking about El Sol’s 40th Anniversary celebration and welcomes stories and memories from customers who would like to share their experiences with El Sol over the years. If you have a special story about El Sol, please send it via e-mail to Josephine Orozco at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you haven’t yet tried El Sol, maybe it’s time to visit the Point Richmond (or Rodeo) locations to begin experiencing El Sol’s authentic Mexican comfort food!
101 Park Place | Point Richmond | 510-260-0163 | elsoleastbay.com | Ask for Josephine
Hours: Mon – Sat 8:30 AM – 8:00 PM
224 Pacific Ave | Rodeo | 510-799-7070 | Ask for Armando
Mon – Sat: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM