The name and décor may have changed, but Chile Fresco is providing the same high-quality Mexican food as its predecessor Jalepeno's with some new twists, said owner Francisco Izawa.
After Izawa bought the Jalapeno's storefront, Chile Fresco had its grand opening on Feb. 28. Seeking to reinvigorate the older interior, he and store manager Terry Ubl together created a new concept for the space, said the two partners.
“I want to make sure the food is really good,” said Izawa with a smile, his hands clasped. “That’s the top priority.”
Transitioning from a more casual, fast-dining experience, the two have created an area that they feel is the perfect middle ground between fast-food and fine dining, Ubl said.
“I wanted to make it look fresh and interesting,” said Ubl, the principal designer of the space and the new logo.
Neither of these two, in fact, are strangers to being restauranteurs. Ubl became the general manager of Jalapeno's three years ago, and has remained at the 23624 El Toro Rd. site through three different ownership changes.
Izawa, who moved to California from Japan two years ago, also owns two Vietnamese restaurants— in Foothill Ranch and Pho the Bowl in Laguna Niguel.
- [RELATED: ]
Before Chile Fresco, Mexican food was something of an outlier to Izawa, he said.
“Before, I was never really a Mexican food person,” he said. “Then I had an enchilada,” he added with a laugh.
The menu has been adapted by the new owners, incorporating more handmade and healthier options, all as part of an effort in tandem with the employees who worked with the previous owner.
In addition to the authentic recipes of the previous owners—which remain in use with minor refinements—Izawa and Ubl put handmade flour tortillas on the menu. Through a window on the side of the service counter, visitors can watch the tortillas being formed.
They are also in the testing phase for spinach tortillas, a healthier alternative to the typical flour ones. While the veggie tortillas won't be officially on the menu for at least a couple weeks, they are already becoming a favorite among lunchgoers, Izawa said.
“A lot of people don’t know about us yet,” he added. “We thought that we could have different tortilla combinations in order to differentiate us.”
The duo also plan on looking into variations based on other vegetables, such as tomatoes and carrots, said Izawa.
Ubl and Izawa have also added other healthier alternatives, such as salads and burrito bowls, to the menu.
With the change of the décor in the restaurant, Ubl and Izawa have also noticed a difference in the demographics of the visitors.
Before, Jalapeno’s was often a place in which people, mostly men, would eat a quick lunch, Ubl said. Nowadays, they are seeing more families and women come in. People are also staying longer than a 30-minute lunch
break, too, they said.
“I think it feels good to sit down here and relax,” said Izawa, gesturing to the booths and tables in the Mexican eatery.
With the debut of the new eatery, the restaurateurs have already set their sights on expanding Chile Fresco out of its Lake Forest origins to a variety of Orange County cities, including Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.
“Once people figure out that we’re here, we’ll get bigger and bigger and better,” Ubl said.