As guests walk into Los Vaqueros Cantina & Grill in Hemet, it’s hard not to notice the brightly colored walls, exposed brick, antler lamps descending from the ceiling and other elements of Western decor.
The place looks and feels like an old hacienda, but it’s not just the ambiance that will transport guests away from the hustle and bustle and the nearby strip malls of West Florida Avenue. The food is made with great care, which is seen from the moment that bowl of fresh, still slightly warm tortilla chips arrive at the table with its accompanying bowl of salsa.
At a station not far from the restaurant’s entrance, two ladies make all the fresh corn and flour tortillas that will be used in the restaurant’s various dishes.
The restaurant’s dishes are unique as well.
Many Mexican restaurants offer a variation of Chile relleno, the deep-fried Anaheim Chile, dipped in egg and stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese, but Garcia said Los Vaqueros’ take on the dish is more rustic, similar to what might be found in some small Mexican towns.
The mashed potatoes and cheeses melt together into a hearty filling that pairs well with the smoky and earthy flavor of the surrounding pepper.
Another hearty meal that’s sure to please is Los Vaqueros’ rib-eye steak. The tender-broiled steak is marinated with fresh orange juice and spices to make a delicious carne asada marinade.
The steak arrives tender and slices like butter. The citrus component from the marinade isn’t hidden, but rather it accentuates the meat without overpowering it. The steak comes with rice, beans, guacamole and salsa ranchera
The restaurant serves the hard-to-come-by dish, pechugas de pollo, which are cuts of chicken breast doused in a creamy sauce with green chiles, onions and cheese.
Garcia said she has customers who drive to Hemet from more than an hour away just to eat the pechugas de pollo. She said they came to town to visit relatives, tried it, but couldn’t find it elsewhere, so they come back again and again.
Los Vaqueros has a full list of traditional Mexican soups, or caldos, to try such as abondigas, which is meatball soup, caldo de pollo, which is chicken soup, and tortilla soup. On weekends, guests can taste the pozole and the menudo soups.
Of course, the restaurant serves plenty of more typical Mexican fare, such as tacos, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas. The restaurant offers traditional takes on enchiladas as well as a menu item called “sizzling enchiladas.”
“Those come in a skillet, the same way the fajitas come out,” Garcia said. “And they are two corn tortillas, and they’re stuffed with your choice of steak or grilled chicken and then they’re covered in a creamy chipotle sauce. On top you get lettuce, pico de gallo and queso fresco.”
It’s hard not to get stuffed with Los Vaqueros’ generously hearty portions of food, but those who fancy a dessert will have a lot from which to choose.
Dessert menu items include sopapillas, flan, fried ice cream and churros with dipping sauce, but there’s more than just those staples offered.
Los Vaqueros offers the creatively named “Greengo,” or considering that its green, perhaps not too creatively named, dessert. Whatever it’s called, they roll mint chocolate chip ice cream in Oreo cookie crumbles, apply plenty of hot fudge and whipped cream and topped it with bunuelos, or cookie dough balls.
Los Vaqueros is located at 3909 West Florida Avenue. For more information about the restaurant and its menu, visit www.losvaquerosrestaurant.com.