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El Sombrero spicing it up for new year with an authentic experience

El Sombrero's secret ingredient is chef Alex Lopez

Chef Alex Lopez brings an order to the serving window. Lopez has become the secret ingredient for El Sombrero in the kitchen and behind the bar.
Chef Alex Lopez brings an order to the serving window. Lopez has become the secret ingredient for El Sombrero in the kitchen and behind the bar.

El Sombrero is spicing things up for the coming year. The restaurant is in the midst of freshening up the restaurant, with one more adjustment to be made after the first of the year.

“The dartboard is heading out the door,” manager/part-owner LaRae Romo said.

The restaurant has introduced a new pool table and foosball table to the back of the restaurant. They have gotten rid of the buffet so they can have more room to host parties.

“We have also upped our service and made adjustments where our food is just hands-down better,” LaRae said.

LaRae and her husband, Mario, have owned the restaurant for just over a year. LaRae spent most of her time at home with the kids for the past five years. For the past month, she has been in the restaurant on a regular basis, which has brought new life to her.

“I’m realizing what a great group of regulars we have spreading the word around about their experience,” LaRae said. “It’s how small businesses and families like mine are making ends meet is by one happy customer telling a friend or a neighbor, and then they tell somebody else.”

LaRae and Mario have created a family atmosphere for the staff. LaRae feels their treatment of employees is what separates them from other restaurants.

“I have never looked at our employees like employees. It’s my family,” LaRae said.

In September, Alex Lopez started working as a waiter at El Sombrero. He moved up to help in the kitchen recently, and since then Lopez has become the best-kept secret of the restaurant. LaRae says the combination of freshly prepared food and the new chef truly spiced up El Sombrero.

“We get fresh food from our producers we go to, and Alex is in the kitchen preparing everything with his own recipes and spices,” LaRae said. “He is an amazing chef.”

Lopez’s family inspired his culinary skills. With each order, he wants to give the customer a new experience of the culture of Mexican food and beverages.

“I love to do the kitchen and mix drinks behind the bar — all drinks but especially the Mexican drinks,” Lopez said. “My family inspired me to cook. My brothers and I have been cooking since we were kids.”

Lopez is as talented behind the bar as he is in the kitchen mixing authentic Mexican cocktails.

“Alex is just a jack of all trades. I wish there were three of him,” LaRae said. “I will at points pull him from the kitchen to have him mix drinks.”

The chef’s current recommended signature dish is a Chicken Chipotle.

“It’s a big chicken breast served with rice and beans and with a chipotle sauce. It’s a bit creamier sauce. It’s not just spicy but has a flavor topped with lettuce and sliced avocado served on the grill,” Lopez said. “The smoke from the grill and the chipotle gives its distinct flavor.”

Lopez’s current recommended signature drink is a Mexican Cantaritas. The glass the beverage is served in is handmade from Mexico.

“It’s made with a top-shelf tequila mixed with lime juice, lemon juice and orange juice with a splash of grapefruit soda served on ice,” Lopez said. “It’s garnished with lemon, lime and orange wedges and rimmed with salt, which is optional.”

“If Alex sees a customer or group of customers enjoyed their food, he will come out and shake hands with them,” LaRae said. “It’s the experience, food and service that separates us from all the other restaurants in town.”

Staff writer Zach Johnson may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at

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