Until recently, if a Chandler resident or a snowbird thought of AJ’s Restaurant inside the San Marcos Golf Resort at all, it was for the occasional splurge on the lavish Sunday brunch.

Not anymore.

Word is quickly getting around that AJ’s is open for lunch and dinner again—and how good the food is.

Hungry downtown workers and visitors have new outlets manager Nicole Coughlin and new executive chef Wilson Ferrufino to thank for that.

“We get a great breakfast crowd because we’re a hotel,” she said. “We love to see the locals come out for lunch and dinner.”

Bolivia-born Ferrufino has created a bright, contemporary American menu with a hint of Latino spice and Southwest heat.

The all-day menu (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) has a long list of appetizers that are meant to be shared. Try the smoked pork sliders, which are topped with a roasted corn slaw and a dollop of Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce.

Ferrufino turns the quesadilla upside down, or perhaps inside out, by rolling it and then slicing it. It’s stuffed with a delicious medley of roasted poblanos, pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, lime crema and your choice of grilled chicken breast or carnitas.

Another must-have is the crispy potatoes. Ferrufino roasts red potatoes on a bed of kosher salt and lets them cool down before smashing them slightly. The potatoes then get flash-fried and presented with a garlicky tequila-lime aioli for dipping.

The street tacos are a lunch and dinner favorite. Choose fried or grilled fish, carnitas or grilled chicken. If only a burger will do, go for the half-pound Arizona burger, topped with applewood-smoked bacon and crispy onion straws. In a nod to the hotel’s Mediterranean architecture and ambiance, Ferrufino offers a chicken breast Milanessa and a roasted vegetable penne pasta.

There’s much to like for salad lovers. You can opt for a tried-and true chopped or Caesar, or go off the beaten path with the jicama-citrus and brussels-kale-quinoa salads. The chopped salad includes grilled chicken breast; you can add grilled chicken or seared salmon to the others.

Ferrufino has a thing for ice cream. Who doesn’t, really? It figures prominently in the San Marcos pie, the old-school banana split and the soothing Ghirardelli warm brownie sundae.

For the few hours AJ’s is closed between lunch and dinner, diners can order food from the cozy 1912 Bar & Lounge in the lobby. Guests are also welcome to sit out on the patio, which overlooks a lush courtyard.

Built in 1912 by Dr. AJ Chandler, the San Marcos just started offering a $12.95 daily twilight menu from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Start with a house salad or soup of the day. Entree choices are steak chimichurri, mahi mahi with pineapple salsa, grilled pork chop and roasted vegetable chicken tortellini. A dessert and coffee or tea are included.

Coughlin’s and Ferrufino’s updating impulses extended to breakfast, too. There’s a buffet but no brunch, except for Easter, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving. If the buffet doesn’t appeal, try the Southwest-inspired omelet verde, California breakfast burrito or the San Marcos benedict—English muffin, poached eggs, carnitas, roasted peppers and chipotle hollandaise.

Before coming to Chandler, Ferrufino worked in San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel, Hilton and other properties managed by Evolution Hospitality, which also operates the Crowne Plaza Chandler. He got a kick out of catering the San Diego Chargers’ annual training camp for six years.

“The first time I came to this hotel was five years ago,” he said. “I was on vacation. I told my wife I would love to work here. I’m excited.”

– Reach Mike Butler at 480-898-5630 or atmbutler@timespublications.com.

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