Comedian/actor George Lopez has often reminisced about fond memories of his grandmother whipping up delicious yet simple dishes when he was a kid.
He has taken that love of food and opened George Lopez’s Chingon Kitchen inside San Manuel Casino in Highland.
“I talk about food a lot in my act,” Lopez said during a recent a phone interview before boarding a plane to Houston for a performance. “I’ve wanted to open a restaurant for some time. Danny Trejo has one in L.A. and some guys have tequila brands — which I love, by the way.”
Lopez was approached to take over a frozen Mexican food line about 15 years ago but it never panned out, so when he was asked about opening a restaurant he was all in.
He said his team worked with the same people that helped launch Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s Rock ‘N Brews which has several locations, including one at San Manuel Casino.
“My restaurant is kind of like if my grandma had a restaurant,” he said. “My grandma didn’t have a real wide menu, but everything she made was so fresh and good.”
The 6,000-square-foot eatery features an open kitchen a la Chipotle where diners can custom order dishes such as tacos, burritos, bowls and even a potato, plus choose from herb-crusted rotisserie chicken, spit-fired al pastor, wood-fired carne asada or vegetarian style fillings.
He said he’s especially proud of the massive red rotisserie machine from France that has eight spits and utilizes bricks to retain heat ensuring perfectly cooked chicken.
There are plenty of toppings to choose from such as habanero, avocado or tomatillo salsas, cheeses, veggies or fresh creme to make your dish simple or over the top.
“It’s like swimming. You can go in the children’s pool or you can surf some bad ass waves and kick it up. You are deciding what you want on your food,” Lopez said, adding that he used to love to go to the Olympic Cafe in West Los Angeles where there was a woman making tortillas by hand. This inspired him to do the same at Chingon Kitchen.
Diners also can satiate their sweet tooth with made-to-order churros dusted with cinnamon and sugar and topped with caramel or chocolate sauce.
For those who have a hankering for tequila, head to the lounge area of the restaurant, have a seat on a comfy couch — perhaps near the fireplace — and take your pick from more than 200 options.
Several margarita and mojito specialties are offered along with beer, wine and micheladas.
Lopez is confident the restaurant will be a success and is already in talks to open other locations including one at LAX.
A diehard Los Angeles Dodger’s fan, Lopez is hopeful he will open one at the team’s home field.
“Ultimately, if I could get into Dodger Stadium that would be incredible,” he said.