Juan’s hits the mark with tasty food and happy crowds

“I didn’t want to get back into the restaurant business. Absolutely no way.” So says Juan Moresco, part owner of Juan’s Mexican Food & Cantina at 128 E. Fourth St. in downtown Loveland.

Moresco retired from the business in early 1990 after owning a restaurant in Berthoud and putting in his time with various other eateries in various other locales.

“It just plumb wore me out,” he said. Then he went and got married to an ambitious woman, AnnaMary, formerly of Annie’s Cajun Alley, and she convinced him otherwise. He claims he just gave her the money and told her to do it herself, but after talking with him, it’s pretty obvious that he’s up to his knees in the restaurant business again.

Juan is a colorful character and a pleasure to talk to. He was holding court at the bar when I popped in on a cool January afternoon, and we talked about the restaurant business and his interesting life.

Juan has lived and worked in Northern and Southern California, New Orleans and here in Colorado. He did a stint on beautiful Coronado Island in San Diego and has experience in the Cajun culinary arts as well. In fact, the back room at Juan’s has some of the original signage from Annie’s Cajun Alley, and they’ve received so many requests for Cajun food that they’ve begun cooking it again. As I probed Juan for clues to his past, he got a little elusive.

Him: “These are all my recipes.”

Me: “Where did you come up with all these recipes?”

Him: Oh, I’ve been in this business a hundred years.”

He gave the same answer to about 10 of my questions, and I was left wondering if it was some sort of Zen riddle or if he just didn’t like nosy people. I didn’t press the issue, but it made my curiosity perk up.

After he made one particularly brazen comment, he asked that it be “off the record.” I joked that maybe it wouldn’t be. He told me the last reporter who misquoted him still hasn’t been found. I remembered him telling me about living in New Orleans and decided not to test his resolve.

Juan’s opened August of 1995, and Juan told me they’ve done great business ever since.

After viewing the small kitchen, I was astonished to hear the numbers he started throwing at me with regard to his lunch and dinner business. The restaurant has 135 seats, and it’s deceptively big. Two back rooms, one complete with its own bar, add to the space. On a good night, they’ll do 450 dinners and pump out a plate of fresh food every 20 seconds. Those are Jetsons-like numbers.

Juan relies on this volume to make the books balance because his prices are extremely reasonable. There simply isn’t any room in price-conscious Loveland for extravagant tariffs on the menu, he said. He jokes with his customers: “I need one dollar from everyone who walks in here.”

The restaurant features live music nearly every night, and when I found out that the music ranges from blues to jazz to folk, I asked if patrons came in expecting mariachi. He replied flatly, “No, everyone who comes in here has already been here and knows what to expect.”

Regulars are the lifeblood of every restaurant, but they seem to take on even more significance at Juan’s. He jokes and clowns around, but he’s dead serious that Juan’s keep its fun and “clubby” atmosphere.

It did seem that everyone knew everyone else. That conviviality abounds would be an understatement. And for the record, there is mariachi music on Sunday nights. Other regular performers are Walt Jenkins, Claudia Bunker, Mark Sloniker and Little Fish.

Waiter Randy Culling will even sing a song or two once in a while for interested customers. Juan is toying with the idea of opening a jazz club and oyster bar nearby but was noncommittal about his plans (big surprise).

Juan’s does a lot for local schools and the homeless and features decorations from local artisans.

And his food is good stuff. Homemade tamales are a standout, as are the high-quality and naturally low-priced steaks. Juan says his fajitas recipe comes from a Mayan preparation for meat and his carne asada recipe comes from the Yucatan. Juan’s is open seven days a week and doesn’t take reservations. You may have to stand in line, but you’ll enjoy giving him that dollar.