According to her great, great nephew, Monica Flinn likely spent the first summer at her new El Charro Café making pots of stew and tortillas to feed local construction workers. That was 99 years ago, and summer survival continues to be the hallmark of the season at each of El Charro’s Tucson locations.
“Tia Monica was a fierce and feisty frontier woman, someone who could probably chew tobacco, spit in a spittoon, and come back and make your meal,” said Ray Flores, Flinn’s great, great nephew and president of Flores Concepts which owns and operates El Charro Café. “But at the end of the day she was all about service, to her family, extended family, and community.”
It’s in that spirit that El Charro reveals its summer menu that Flores says is a symbol of survival.
“Our summer menu is kind of like a summer survival guide, providing extra value at the time of year when we’re all hurting the most and giving our guests a reason to come out to dinner on the hottest of days and nights,” said Flores.
Taking center stage on this year’s summer menu is shrimp, sourced from sustainable farms and served in three dishes that showcase the restaurant’s creativity with camarones.
The Shrimp Poblano Enchilada Elegante features grilled shrimp, peppers, and bacon in twice-rolled corn tortillas, baked in a poblano crema with queso Oaxaca, avocado salsa, and marinated pink onion. Flores notes that this is “meatier and thicker” than the restaurant’s standard enchilada.
Those grilled shrimp and peppers also anchor the Fajita Lettuce Cups, with queso cotija, chipotle crema, avocado salsa, and a margarita lime vinaigrette. This dish has reportedly been popular with guests who’ve adopted low-carb and keto nutritional lifestyles.
Third in the summer menu lineup is the Mojo de Ajo Shrimp Tamal, a handmade corn tamal topped with grilled garlic chimichurri shrimp, tomatillo sauce, and queso Oaxaca. Flores prefers his tamales with toppers, and he suggests the shrimp and sauce on this dish is an epicurean expression of awesome.
With each of these dishes priced under $10, this menu, which runs through August 15, makes surviving the summer a little easier.
Flores has also introduced four signature summer margaritas, for less than $6 each, which include mango and jalapeno, coconut and pineapple, watermelon and mint, and tamarind and citrus varieties.
When asked which of these cocktails would appeal most to Tia Monica, Flores replied honestly. “Probably none of them,” he said. “She was a woman who preferred to drink martinis out of teacups.”
Summer is also being celebrated at Flores’ other local restaurants, Charro Steak & Del Rey and Charro Vida, with upgraded happy hours. “Coming out of the pandemic and moving into the summer, we really wanted to have a strong happy hour, so all of our stores have focused on greater and bigger offerings.”
I’ll drink to that.
“The fact that we’ve made it through 99 summers, or even one summer at all, is a testament to a restaurant’s grit,” said Flores. “Tucson has its own challenges every summer that we as businesses endure, and we know that being all in it together is what helps us get through.”
Togetherness. Family. Service. Guiding principles forged nearly a century ago by a woman who stood out among her contemporaries. Flores’ team appears to feed their community with the same affection that Flinn fed hers – minus the spittoon, of course – and in the brutal months of summer, that’s something from which we can all benefit.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show on KVOI 1030 AM.