Many restaurants have come and gone in Chandler over the last few decades, but one has consistently been attracting diners who crave its authentic, homemade tortillas and other Mexican food.
El Sol Mexican Café & Bakery is a family-owned eatery that opened in 1988 across the street from its current location on North Arizona Avenue just south of Ray Road.
Customers rave about the homemade salsa and tortillas, along with the many different burritos. Mexican wedding cookies with cinnamon, sugar and ground walnuts and pig-shaped gingerbread-like cochitos also tempt diners.
El Sol’s operation is a family affair for longtime restaurateur Obed de la Cruz and his wife, Panfila, who own a number of other Mexican restaurants in the Valley, including El Zocolo Mexican Grille in downtown Chandler.
Obed’s father, Daniel, bakes desserts for El Sol. Obed and Panfila’s daughters, Alessia and Beatriz, 19 and 16, and their son, Daniel, 17, also work there.
Obed’s late mother, Beatriz, had worked as a chef at the restaurant after she and Daniel moved to the Valley from Utah.
Obed and his father started El Sol after Daniel had been getting rave reviews for the homemade tortillas and empanadas he sold door-to-door in barrios, Obed said.
“It’s just the staple Mexican food,” Obed said. “Ours is just quality, the homemade tortilla makes a difference, just the love we put into it. We take pride in what we do. Everything’s made in-house. The recipes that my mom handed down, we just kept running with them. This is where my heart’s at.”
Customers can buy salsa, made fresh daily, by the pint to take home. On Saturdays, El Sol sells breakfast menudo with honeycomb tripe.
Joel Davidson of Gilbert, a mortgage banker who works down the street from El Sol, is a regular there, and his wife, Eris, also loves it.
“It’s just good, authentic,” Davidson said. “Their tortillas are fantastic. Their chorizo’s amazing.” As he sat at the counter in the restaurant filled with paintings created by Obed and other family members at El Sol recently, Davidson said the owners and their relatives are “just a real friendly family.”
Many people also praised the menu at El Sol on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
“My sister and I are always looking for great Mexican food and El Sol gave us just that,” Brenda Oliver Mook posted. “Food was great, salsa so good we bought some to take home. We will definitely be going back. And service was awesome.”
The frijoles, rice and desserts stole the heart of Jay Arrgh.
“There’s a reason this place gets almost nothing but 5 star reviews,” Arrgh said. “You can taste the quality in the rice and the near-Manteca-nirvana smoothness in the creamy frijoles. The tacos are nothing short of a Mexican Milagro. Do not skip out on the desserts.”
Lucee K. Bravo-buchanan also shared her love. “I have been going to El Sol for 14 years and not once have I ever had a bad experience!” Bravo-buchanan said. “I love their chips, their salsa, their tortillas and my favorite is the shredded beef tacos, but my grandchildren love the bean burritos! Also their menudo is the best, Don’t get me started on the pastries!”
In addition to the popular breakfast burritos, El Sol also has huevos rancheros for $7.89. The popular Mexican dish is a corn tostada with an egg, smothered with tomatillo sauce, which comes with a flour tortilla, potatoes and refried beans.
The chorizo plate, also for $7.89, has spicy, flavorful chorizo and eggs, together with a side of beans, potatoes and a flour tortilla.
Customers have many choices in burritos, to choose from at El Sol including red and green ones for $6.65 each.
Another fan favorite, the carne asada burrito, is $7.65 each.
El Sol also has pollo asado (with chicken), carnitas (fried pork cooked in oil with salt) and shredded beef burritos, as well as bean and cheese and veggie burritos, all ranging from $4 to $7.65.
The killer burrito, for $8.25, comes with pico de gallo, green tomatillo sauce, rice and beans and diners can add whichever fillings from the other burritos they like.
El Sol also offers quesadillas, with just cheese or stuffed with pollo asado, shredded beef or carne asada.
The menu gives customers numerous choices in tortas, including shrimp, carnitas and carne asada.
People can order several combinations that come with rice and beans. One combination includes a taco and enchilada for $8.99.
Obed moved from Midvale, Utah, to the Phoenix area in the late 1980s, after his parents relocated to the Valley. He came at first just to visit but liked it and decided to stay.
“I love being in Chandler,” Obed said. “We get firemen, policemen, sheriffs, suits, skirts, shorts, tank tops” at El Sol, he added.
Obed said he was a high school dropout and the creativity he’s been able to express as a restaurant owner appeals to him.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s all I know. I grew up in the business.”
Obed said El Sol focuses mostly on the lunch and breakfast items and has scaled back on the bakery side.
Competing with the many bakeries at local grocery stores that have popped up in recent years is difficult, he added.
His father, who bakes the desserts, is 90 years old and nearly ready to retire.
Besides owning El Sol and El Zocalo, which is on South San Marcos Place, Obed and Panfila also own Phoenix Burrito House along with Obed’s brother, Daniel Jr.
Obed and Panfila also own Mangos Mexican Café in downtown Mesa and Burritoholics and Calakmul in Cave Creek.
“Each location has its own character,” Obed said. “We’re very artistic. It’s in your blood. My dad and mom really laid the foundation; taught us the good work ethic.”
El Sol is located at 760 N. Arizona Ave. It is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Customers can download a menu and order through the El Sol app by texting ELSOL to 33733.