One Shared Menu – By Land and Sea
By Valerie Vinyard
The El Charro restaurants boast a significant footprint in Downtown Tucson.
There’s the original El Charro Café at 311 N. Court Ave., which is celebrating its 99th year in operation and offers Mexican dishes including its famous carne seca – a dried, flavorful shredded beef. Then there’s Charro Steak and Charro del Rey, conveniently located next to each other on Broadway Boulevard.
Charro Steak opened about five years ago and featured grass-fed beef and cage-free poultry in a comfortable, classy dining room. The restaurant specialized in mesquite wood-grilled steaks.
A couple of years later, Charro del Rey debuted and focused on offering sustainable seafood with a Mexican flair.
The side-by-side restaurants are separated by a hallway, which made it tempting for some guests who were dining at one restaurant wanting to order a dish from the sister restaurant.
“You know how there’s a secret menu at some restaurants?” said Carlotta Flores, executive chef-owner Flores Concepts and Si Charro Restaurants, during a recent interview. “People would be at Charro Steak and they would want a fresh oyster from del Rey, or if they were at del Rey would want to order mini chimis from Charro Steak.
“It became very problematic running back and forth. It became really hard for inventory.”
That resulted in a logistical nightmare. So, in 2019, even before the pandemic started, Flores and her family had a conversation about merging the two concepts.
“We thought, ‘Why can’t we?’ ” she said. “All of the pieces fell into place.”
Now known as Charro Steak & del Rey, the restaurants went back on May 4 to serving dinner seven days a week. The décor and signage of each restaurant remains the same, but both now share a menu.
“It just made sense,” Flores said.
They kept the Charro Steak phone number, streamlined the menu by removing a couple of salads but still will offer intermittent specials. The guts of both menus have merged, including the seafood towers, steaks and seasonally changing sides.
“There was an opportunity to expand and create another vibe,” Flores said. “It rose to the occasion.”
She said that the company has continued its commitment to sustainability, which includes buying local when possible, as well as continuing a partnership with the University of Arizona’s Community School Garden program.
Because of the Flores family’s veteran status of opening and operating restaurants, they were able to pivot when all restaurants became takeout-only last year because of the pandemic.
Now that many restaurants are open for dining again, Flores hopes to introduce diners to the wonderful ambiances of her places.
“Charro Steak is really cool and hip kind of upper-scale Mexican Western style steakhouse,” said Flores, noting it is Downtown Tucson’s only steakhouse. “When you go into Del Rey, it is like being in another place. It is so San Francisco, so New York, it’s cute. They both have a Mexican component to them.”
With two bars, larger dining room and private dining spaces, Charro Steak is twice the size of El Rey’s long room and one bar. Diners can make reservations and be seated at either restaurant. Both restaurants offer small patios for outdoor dining.
This menu merger will come in handy when a carnivore and a pescatarian meet up for dinner.
Roberto Valenzuela used to visit Charro Del Rey occasionally with his girlfriend, Elena Marquez. But deep down, he preferred red meat over seafood.
“My girlfriend doesn’t eat beef, so we always would eat at the seafood restaurant,” Valenzuela said. “I got a little tired of it. I’ll be happy to try the new menu that has stuff from both restaurants.”
Flores talked about how the restaurant spaces have personal significance to her.
“I have a lot of memories of what Downtown was in the 1950s,” said Flores, 75, noting that the steakhouse’s location used to be a Western Union, then a Studebaker car dealership.
Back then, Flores said the steakhouse located Downtown “didn’t have that New York vibe; there wasn’t really anything sexy. Dressing up in Tucson could be Levi’s and a dress shirt.”
Flores is happy how things have evolved for her restaurants.
“Now you can have the best of both worlds,” she said.