Thursday, November 01, 2007

Where the Food Craziness Began -- Lupe's Mexican Restaurant

Lupe's Mexican Restaurant
1710 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA
(805) 495-3573

Maps and Info at

This is the very first restaurant I ever went to. My memory of that first visit is as blurry as this dying-battery photo. Yet I do remember it, even though I could only have been 2 or 3 at the time. Lupe's used to be set back about 50 yards from Thousand Oaks Blvd., tucked into the oak trees against the hillside and painted a bright, fiesta green. I remember the screen door you went through to enter, and I remember formica and naugahyde. I think I had a hamburger. I remember a fly.

That photo is actually a painting of the restaurant during those days, that hangs on the wall at the current Lupe's.

By "current," understand that it hasn't changed significantly since that last remodel in 1966 or so. Even the black velvet paintings of toreadors lining the interior walls are the same.

I will receive comments about why Lupe's sucks, about the better Mex food even in Thousand Oaks, about how it isn't "authentic" Mexican food, blah blah. In this case, it doesn't matter. It was my first restaurant, my favorite restaurant, and it informs everything about my take on food since.

I used to go once a week. My mom would take me bowling on Thursdays. She didn't bowl, but she'd watch me, and keep score, and then we'd go to Lupe's. They had a good jukebox. I remember my favorites as "Yesterday," "Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head," "Sugar Sugar," and "ABC", which places me there a lot in '70-71.

The food hasn't changed since then. Not an iota. And I suspect it hasn't changed much since 1947, when it became the first established eatery in the Conejo Valley. As one post on says, "It's as old as the oaks in Thousand Oaks."

Lupe's still serves California Mexican cuisine of that era, which happens to be what I love. Scratch that, it doesn't "happen" to be what I love... I love it because it's what I grew up eating, right here.

Originally owned and operated by a sweet and tough lady named Martha and named after her eldest daughter, Lupe's has the distinction of now being operated by Lupe herself. That's cool.

The salsa and chips are perfect, the salsa served in little metal bowls. Ground beef tacos are quintessentially SoCal tacos of the era. The Chile Colorado is delicious, smoky and intense like it's been stewing in the pot since 1947. Combo plates are just like you want 'em, big and inexpensive and cheesy and tasty.

But what keeps me coming back are the taquitos. They're utterly addictive: fresh, crispy tortilla; stringy-yet-moist hand-shredded beef; a pile of fresh guacamole and shredded lettuce on the side; finely shredded mild cheddar on top, some Thousand Island dressing, and a couple of black olives to boot.

Did they always serve it with sour cream? I don't think so; I've never cared for sour cream on Mexican food. When I was ten, I remember winning a bet with my waitress that I couldn't eat two orders of 'em (that's six taquitos) plus a guacamole and ground beef taco. She lost. If she'd been paying attention she would never have made the bet because I ordered and devoured the same mountain of taquitos every week. These are, you heard it here, the best taquitos in the world. Because they were my first.

For someone who's lived and traveled and eaten over the world, it is supremely satisfying to be able to re-visit one's first foodie love and find it entirely unchanged.

If only "Yesterday" were still on the jukebox.