Orozco’s de Ventura
839 E. Front St.

Front Street in Ventura has, for the last several years, been a regular part of my near-daily cycling routine, and the street has slowly evolved over that time into an eclectic mini-business district. While home for numerous years to The Wharf, Walden Surfboards, Petunia Pickle Bottom and Dee Dee’s Dog Spot, more recently Traveler Café as well as a full-service salon and barber shop have also opened their doors. But finally, after watching months of renovation construction, Orozco’s de Ventura finally opened its doors in the last month. 

Inside the kitchen

On a recent Friday, my companion and I strolled over to the new place, which had only one other seated table, and that happened to be my former neighbor who I know has a sincere appreciation for good Mexican food. The inside is reminiscent of a particularly well-kept and clean roadside cantina, with light-colored wood tables accented with a brick-wall motif and a polished stone (maybe cement) bar.

When we first looked over the menu, which included soups, ceviches, tostadas, shrimp dishes and more, I started to feel a little dismayed as the prices seemed to be a bit high for this hole-in-the-wall location on Front Street. Plus, with so many other Mexican restaurants, paying $16.99 for a chile relleno at lunch seemed a bit much. But perhaps I was wrong about that.

To start, our server(s) brought us complimentary chips and spicy, citrusy pico de gallo. The chips didn’t taste particularly fresh, such as right out of the fryer and super crunchy, but they were just fine. The pico was a welcome change from the more soupy salsas though I am game for just about any acidic, spicy concoction.

The nopalitos entree was a simply preparation of sauteed diced cactus, tomatoes and onion with a kick.

As I was searching for burrito options (which were only found among the breakfast items and I am still unsure if they were also applicable to lunch) I chose a familiar favorite: nopalitos (cactus). My companion, on the hunt for the perfect chile relleno, chose the obvious. We didn’t have to wait long for our meals to arrive but we did find out in the meantime that the owner of Orozco’s is a part of the El Pescador and Limon Y Sal family and has a particular affinity for authentic Mexican preparation.

Both the chile relleno and napolitos were served with smashed refried beans and cheese, rather ordinary Mexican rice, sliced avocado and chunks of queso blanco. The nopalitos, which also came with a side of skillet potatoes, were simply prepared, sautéed with diced tomatoes and onion, and had a bit of a spicy kick, but the texture of the diced cactus was tender no goo problems. I found out about this issue while cooking cactus and creating my own nopalitos salsa. I am sure the salsa judges at the Oxnard Salsa Festival years ago were not amused.

As my friend began his relleno journey, he brought up a couple of things: 1. Recalling the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico with Johnny Depp, Depp’s character had one rule, at any restaurant with what he considered to be the best food — the chef must be terminated. 2. As a self-proclaimed chile relleno connoisseur, my companion used two expletives to explain how delicious the smoky, tangy white-cheese-stuffed green (poblano, presumably) chile was, fried in a light batter and covered in a mild tomato sauce. And with that, the chef’s future had been determined. Well, only if we were in that movie and my friend was Depp.

As for this latest addition to Front Street, I suppose I need to get a little more curious about the menu locations of certain preferred dishes or just take the plunge and opt for one of the pricier dishes. Judging by our meals, I foresee only a positive culinary experience.