116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Six years after he opened his first restaurant, El Bajio owner Javier Garcia didn’t set out to open a second location.
Garcia was offered tours of several other locations from developers looking to fill new spaces. But the one at 1140 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, where he opened his second Mexican restaurant on Sept. 16, just felt right.
“When I came to this building, I felt this was going to be a great spot,” he said. “You can just feel it.”
With significantly more space than El Bajio’s original location, the second location features a patio, bar and sports-friendly venue with TVs featuring a full NFL package for game days.
Not far from busy intersections with Cedar Rapid’s north Target location nearby, the buzzing new build-out completes the new development also occupied by Dunn Brothers Coffee.
What: El Bajio
Address: 1140 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids.
Hours: Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Drinks served until 1 or 2 a.m.
Phone: (319) 449-4131
Details: Available for dine-in and carryout. Delivery available from El Bajio’s first location, 555 Gateway Place SW A, Cedar Rapids.
With traditional Mexican offerings from Guanajuato, Garcia has used his mother’s recipes to stand out in a crowded city for Mexican food. After a tepid public reaction to his first location at 555 Gateway Place SW A, Cedar Rapids, which opened in the former spot of another closed Mexican restaurant, El Bajio has managed to earn its place in the local scene.
“When we opened, we decided we wanted to be different from everybody else. What we cook is different than anybody else’s dishes,” Garcia said. “We (make) stuff we eat at home. It’s not Tex-Mex, it’s more traditional.”
Rest assured the authenticity of the recipes remains intact. His mother, Luz, continues to help make the food in their restaurants today.
The food also ranks high among the growing Latino community in Cedar Rapids, Garcia claimed, bolstering its authenticity. He said Luz’s love comes through in the recipes, resonating with customers and making them feel at home.
“Everywhere in Mexico has different dishes, but if you make it how you make it at home, that’s key,” he said. “I always tell the kitchen staff (to) cook as if it’s for you and your family.”
Like his restaurant, he said the Latino population of Cedar Rapids is small, but growing, as anecdotally seen at El Bajio on Sundays.
In addition to all the food available at its first location, the second location offers a few new burgers on the menu for its sports fan audiences. It also highlights unique sports bar-adjacent appetizers like dippable chimichanga strips, queso fundido, a couple varieties of nachos and tacos — for which El Bajio uniquely offers 10 meat options.
Other than that, the original menu has proved its strength — it hasn’t needed to change since the restaurant started.
The scorpion challenge
A full menu of margaritas and fun cocktails join a robust selection of high-end tequila and its smokier agave liquor cousin, mezcal. Later, the location plans to offer tequila flights.
With the restaurant’s new logo sporting a scorpion, El Bajio has incorporated a popular challenge that started nearly six years ago, into signage at its new restaurant.
The scorpion challenge allows diners to have their name put on the wall if they can eat a scorpion from the bottom of a mezcal bottle. It started as a joke with one customer after the first location opened.
After one customer kept asking to have her name put on the wall, Garcia jokingly offered to on the condition she eat the scorpion, not expecting her to do it.
But she did, and many others have followed.
How it started
Javier Garcia has been working in restaurants since he came to the United States at age 15, alongside his brother. Starting as a dishwasher, he moved to the kitchen and worked his way up, spending his entire working American life in restaurants.
In August 2016, he decided to open a restaurant of his own to reap the equity of his labor, working for himself.
Now 35, the Guanajuato native doesn’t necessarily envision a series of restaurant openings. For now, two is enough “to keep me busy.”
Before opening at Blairs Ferry, he considered a ghost kitchen concept or restaurant that would have required fewer employees to operate, given the labor shortage restaurants navigate today.
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