By Michelle Sathe
Signal Staff Writer
Jose Lucatero has come a long way since bussing tables at La Golondrina on Olvera Street.
It was 1972 and he was just 15 years old, newly arrived from Colimo, Mexico. During his two-year tenure, Lucatero worked hard, learned English and served chips and salsa to celebrities like Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Elton John and Sonny and Cher.
Lucatero went on to become a waiter and bartender at Mexican restaurants across Los Angeles before working up to a management and training position at El Torito in Santa Clarita. Still, Lucatero and his wife, Maria, wanted their own restaurant. She was a fabulous cook, having learned from her mother in Mexico, and he knew the business end.
“All my experiences were the best school I could have learned from,” Lucatero said.
Their dream first came true in 1998, when a neighbor helped them get financing and they took over the former Alamo in Canyon Country and reopened it as the Express Alamo. In 2003, they found a larger space in Valencia and Margarita’s Mexican Grill was born.
Their staff grew from 10-25, while the space expanded with a patio and banquet room. The walls were painted festive shades of yellow and orange, accented with colorful art and murals, pairing well with the tile floors and large, leather booths and dark wood tables and chairs.
Margarita’s menu was a family effort, with recipes from the Lucatero’s Guadalajara heritage and innovative new touches like seven homemade salsas, three house dressings, and nine desserts (including a seasonal pumpkin flan that’s available now through January).
Of course, there were also unique variations on its namesake cocktail. Margaritas ($6.29 to $8.29) made with top quality tequila or mezcal, agave and fresh fruits.
“Fresh, organic and simple is always better,” Lucatero said. “Everything I buy is quality. From the alcohol to the food, I only buy No. 1, never second best.”
Customers followed the Lucateros to their new venture and 15 years later, Margarita’s remains one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in town.
Those same patrons were there for Lucatero when Maria passed away in October 2016. “The people in Santa Clarita are just so nice,” Lucatero said with tears in his eyes. “They’ve supported us since the beginning and even more so now.”
That sense of community is part of the vibe at Margarita’s, from the friendly greeting you get when you walk in the door, to the casual camaraderie at the bar, where Dodger and other sports are playing on a flat screen TV, to the attentive service.
It’s a place where dishwashers can work their way up to chef status, as Alex Cuatepoxso has. Like his boss, experience has been a valuable school for Cuatepoxso, who executes stellar dishes from Margarita’s wide-ranging menu.
There are nine salads to choose from and the chicken avocado version ($13.99) doesn’t disappoint. Huge chunks of succulent grilled chicken are served alongside a generous amount of creamy avocado, juicy tomatoes and crumbly queso fresco atop a bed of crisp, cool lettuce. The cilantro Caesar dressing adds just the right amount of spice. This is a salad that eats like a meal with each delicious bite.
The chile verde burrito ($15.79) is a huge roll of comfort food happiness, stuffed with large cubes of fork tender pork, creamy beans and fluffy rice, smothered with piquant salsa verde and melted cheese. Top it off with a bit of the guacamole and sour cream served on the side, then add a dash of the scarlet roasted salsa and dig in.
For seafood lovers, the Baja Mar Fajitas ($23.99) is a real delight. Plump shrimp and scallops are served alongside a moist, flaky fillet of white fish, all grilled and seasoned to perfection. Underneath all that seafood is a wealth of treasures: roasted broccoli, onions, and peppers melding with the orange-hued Spanish rice. And if that weren’t enough, there are hot, homemade tortillas and a plate filled with tangy nopales (cactus), more of those yummy beans, guacamole and a little sweet corn cake.
A great way to sample Margarita’s offerings is at the lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday for $12.49 or the happy hour, with reduced prized appetizers and drinks, served Monday through Friday from 3 to 6:30 pm. The $21.99 Sunday brunch includes free-flowing champagne and Mimosas.
Margarita’s also offers catering for small to large events, as well as parties in its banquet room and patio area. “We do it all,” Lucatero said.
And you do it well, Margarita’s.
Margarita’s Mexican Grill is located at 23320 Valencia Boulevard, Valencia. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Delivery available via Grubhub. For more information, (661) 255-1136 or visit www.margaritasmexgrill.com.