“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien
Los Pinos Restaurant and Bar — Fine Mexican Cuisine
The first time I talked with Shannon Stoneman, the manager at the new Mexican restaurant in Cameron Park, Los Pinos, she had just been hired and they still didn’t have a lunch menu. So, we decided to delay our meeting a few weeks.
Los Pinos Restaurant and Bar is located at 3420 Palmer Drive, the former location of Hemalayas Indian Restaurant and before that, Blackwell’s.
Two weeks ago I called and she wasn’t there, but I did have a chance to talk with Bruce Taitague who has worked on and off for 10 years for Jose Rodriguez, the owner of this restaurant, Cascada, Bricks and several other local restaurants. Rodriguez, by the way, has secret recipes for his salsa, bean dip and all the marinades. He guards them well.
“We actually have three menus,” he said. “Dishes on our regular menu are available from opening to closing; our lunch menu dishes are available from opening until 4 p.m. and the four or five $5.95 specials on the bar menu are available from opening until 4 p.m., but on weekdays only.
“The lunch menu was created because people asked for smaller portions at a better price, so that is what we did. We also added wraps, tostadas and sandwiches.
“The dishes most often ordered are the basa tacos, chile verde and shrimp dishes. There are times when the prep cook can’t keep up with the shrimp dishes.”
When I met with Shannon Stoneman, a few days later, I told her I would like a sample of a basa taco, the chile verde, the salsa and bean dip. She decided I should also try the camarones infierno, shrimp sautéed in spicy garlic Cajun butter sauce and served with French bread.
While I was waiting for my samples, which turned out to be full, beautifully presented plates instead, I asked her about herself.
“My mom was in the restaurant business and I had an aunt and uncle who did catering. I started at 15 and love the business. When Jose sought me out I had been managing a Mexican restaurant in Paradise (near Oroville) for 11 years. I was honored that he wanted me for his new restaurant.
“My husband had just graduated from college, so it was a perfect move for us and the children. I even have a relative close by who helps with the kids.
“I am bilingual. I took six years of Spanish, in high school and college, but it wasn’t until I worked in a Mexican restaurant that I wanted to really learn the language,” she said.
Back to the food, I loved the bean dip (vegetarian) and especially the fire roasted salsa (the smokiness was perfect). They came with warm, house-made chips that were thinner and crisper than many I have eaten.
The shrimp was very nice, but the flavor was so delicate that the “heat” of the sauce rapidly overpowered it.
The excellent basa taco had nicely seasoned grilled, not deep fried, fish that was moist and tender and perfect with the cabbage, cilantro, onions and avocado that were in the shell with it. There was also a spicy chili sauce on the side, so I used it and a bit of the salsa for more flavor.
Chile verde and a chile relleno are my benchmarks for a Mexican restaurant. The chile verde contained large chunks of tender, easy to cut pork in a delicious, but not too runny sauce. It had been slow cooked and held together until I cut it with a fork. Often it is cooked too much and loses it “chunkiness.” This was perfect and I ate all of it. It also came with cilantro rice and the best black beans I have ever eaten. Next time I plan on having the chile relleno, or maybe more chile verde. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
The menus are quite large and contain dishes for every taste and desired spiciness. They point out that the food is healthier than a lot of Mexican restaurants because of the freshness of the ingredients and way it is prepared.
The restaurant is beautifully decorated and you have to check out the pictures of former presidents of Mexico that they have assembled.
The permanent sign is still in the works, but in the meantime the old sign is up.
Los Pinos is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until closing. They have a full bar and very friendly servers and bartenders.
The dress is casual, and they have cloth napkins and paper over cloth on the tables.
For more information call 530-672-1403.