Jim & Rob’s Fresh Grill and Lisa’s Cantina
214 W Ojai Ave, #100|

Jim & Robb & Lisa’s sort of sounds like the 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (or Peter, Paul and Mary), but Jim & Rob’s Fresh Grill is a casual restaurant staple in Ojai with a recently added, groovy bar, (Lisa’s Cantina, next door) all under the same ownership with an expanded footprint.

The original Fresh Grill opened in 1995 at the other end of town; it’s been located in what Ojai might consider a “ministrip-style mall” (home to a business center) on the main drag, within walking distance of the arcade.

The restaurant side of the newly expanded venue, prepares and serves “good, fresh” Mexican and American food — and the paper menu states: “where we don’t serve fast food, but healthy food as fast as we can.” Fast it is; and healthy includes lard-free beans — pinto and black.

Hungry customers can order mostly Mexican and some American food items from the counter (tacos, more than 20 burrito variations and Mexican platters overrule hamburgers on the menu) on the restaurant side before it’s served in the family-friendly, bright and airy restaurant and patio with wooden tables and chairs and wooden booths. Or you can order on the cantina side from the bartender, who will place your order so you can eat and drink in that cleverly decorated room.

Open and serving food and drink throughout the afternoon (breakfast until noon, lunch and dinner) was great as that was the time of day I visited on two occasions for a late lunch/early dinner.

Chicken mole with rice and beans

My first visit was on the recommendation of a sales woman in one of Ojai’s chic boutiques that a friend dragged me to.

“Split the nachos, and Ojai Vineyard wine is just $8 a glass,” she told us.

So we rambled down and sat at one of the high communal tables in the cantina. Service was great — our bartender/waiter/actor was the former owner of a coffeehouse in this spot and took great care of us. He brought us a refreshing chilled glass of white wine, took our order, and a huge pile of nachos arrived soon after. The homemade tortilla chips were topped with pinto beans, melted jack and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream and flavorful-flame grilled chicken. Plenty filling for two and less than $8 bucks, that paired nicely with locally made Ojai Vineyard chard.

Lisa’s Cantina is billed as a sports bar, but there are a lot of cool historic memorabilia, maps, old ads and photos hanging on the walls in addition to the large-screen HDTVs. Older locals can riff on Ojai’s past in the super-friendly bar. Creative cocktails are on the list, many made with local citrus from the Ojai Valley. The cantina is also great for solo dining and imbibing with its mellow, safe and friendly atmosphere. This is Ojai, remember?

I paid my second visit on my own and ate on the restaurant side. I ordered the chicken mole plate (aforementioned bartender was there again to eat, not work, and recommended this, as well as the “Alota Tostada”) and a draft Modelo.

The chicken mole was an excellent, goopy, flavorful mess topped with a bit of crunchy lettuce and plenty of house-made pico de gallo, Spanish rice and pinto beans with generous shavings of cheddar and jack cheeses. Super-sized, super-hot flour tortillas were served on the side rolled up in aluminum foil. I could only eat about half, but I did sop up the sweet, flavorful mole sauce from the edges of my plate with a tortilla.

Other afternoon diners included a couple, a retired lady reading a paper and a pair of hungry teenagers with backpacks just out from school and plugged into their phones. There’s a nice kid’s menu as well.

The soundtrack ranges from rock n’ roll to heavy metal — and some nostalgic Eagles and Joni Mitchell.

I missed hot tortilla chips that are the usual prelude at Mexican restaurants, but when I asked for a “to-go” box and inquired, I was told that I had to ask and was sent home with a small bag of hot chips that made for a nice snack on the drive home.