Efrain’s success in Boulder comes from consistent quality, good service and return customers. Lucas High / BizWest

Restaurants: Efrain’s II serves traditional Mexican food

Whereas the founder of Efrain’s shies away from the spotlight, the food his Boulder restaurant serves up does not.  Well-seasoned with high-altitude chilies, the meals highlight the taste of northern Mexico, specifically the state of Chihuahua. 

In response to the taste, Boulder County has shown its appreciation for Efrain’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina by consistently naming it the best Mexican restaurant since 2009 by voting it number one through the People’s Choice Awards.

With decades of cooking the recipes he grew up with combined with running successful restaurants, Efrain Gomez sums up his drive simply.  “I have loved to cook ever since I was a little kid. I like working in the kitchen, and it makes me happy to give people food they love.” 

“I learned to cook from my mom and my aunts,” he added. “I learned how to run a business from my uncles who also had their own. But a lot of what I’ve learned has been from jumping into the fire and starting a restaurant on my own.”

Gomez kicked off his professional culinary adventure by cooking in his uncle’s Boulder restaurant — Señor Miguel’s.  In 1989 he headed out to Lafayette with his sisters and brothers and opened his own restaurant — now referred to as Efrain’s I.

According to Gomez’s nephew Cristian Pinon, the mix of family, business and his introverted, independent spirit led Gomez to leave the Lafayette restaurant and take time off before founding Efrain’s of Boulder at 1630 N. 63rd St., in 1998.  The restaurant is referred to as Efrain’s II.

“It was small enough for him to run,” Pinon said.

Even though today both locations hold the name “Efrain’s,” they are separately owned and managed with different employees, menus and prices.  “We’re separate entities with no formal collaboration,” Pinon said.

“Efrain is the sole owner, and I’m the general manager,” he added, referring to the Boulder location.  “He helps a lot doing the cooking and playing the role of manager, overseeing everything and talking with all the customers he’s known for decades.”

Efrain’s recipes are prepared according to authentic northern Chihuahua style where the chilies are spicy and flavors are robust, according to Pinon.  The high altitude desert region is where Gomez grew up.

“I think the reason people love coming here so much is because our food is so amazing.  We’re adamant about being consistent and keeping the same recipes that go back over 50 years to Efrain’s aunts and uncles.” 

Pinon groups the service in with the food as top reasons why customers wait in line on any given day to be seated.  “They both create a warm feeling in your stomach.”

Many of the up to 50 employees have worked at Efrain’s of Boulder for more than 20 years.  “They’re dedicated to their jobs and love the food as well as the customers,” Pinon said.  “When people come in, they feel like they’re entering a home and like they’re family.”

In addition to Gomez and Pinon, there are other family members keeping Efrain’s successful — all adding to that family feel.

“This is our local hangout,” said Allyn Garella, sipping a trademark Efrain’s margarita with friends, waiting for a table to open up.  “We see the same people, and the food is affordable and good.”

Her friend, Cheri Phelps, added that they loved the family-owned feeling.

In 2005, Gomez and his life and business partner, Nancy VanLoon, ventured out to Longmont to open another Efrain’s.  “For Efrain it was his dream restaurant — it had a big kitchen with brand new equipment,” Pinon said.  “They wanted a more slow-paced place that wouldn’t be overwhelming and were only opened four or five days a week.”

The demands of running both Longmont and Boulder proved to be too much, however, so Efrain’s of Longmont, although successful, closed in 2017.  Gomez defines managing stress as one of the biggest challenges for a restaurant owner.  “Sometimes things can be very stressful in kitchen environments.”

Around that same time, Pinon told the couple that he was ready to be 100 percent onboard with the Boulder restaurant.  After growing up in the Lafayette restaurant and working side-by-side with his uncle in Boulder, Pinon, 22, is now in training to one day be owner.

“I came to Boulder at 15 to work with Efrain, and he told me I had it in me to be a leader.  He’s a mentor to me with hopes of me continuing the tradition and keeping the restaurant going.”

Having grown up working in the Lafayette Efrain’s, Pinon describes the restaurant life as in his DNA.  “It gave me an early sense of responsibility about money and time.”

Business is on an upward trend but the size of the space — about 2,000 square feet — limits growth.  “There’s nothing official but my long-term vision is to expand in one way or another with ideas like a new building, a new business, a catering service or a catering truck,”  Pinon said.  “I want to serve our demand, and our demand is larger than our supply.”

For the time being, though, Gomez continues to hop in on the line to cook and teach Pinon the ropes of running a successful business that keeps customers coming back for more.

Whereas the founder of Efrain’s shies away from the spotlight, the food his Boulder restaurant serves up does not.  Well-seasoned with high-altitude chilies, the meals highlight the taste of northern Mexico, specifically the state of Chihuahua. 

In response to the taste, Boulder County has shown its appreciation for Efrain’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina by consistently naming it the best Mexican restaurant since 2009 by voting it number one through the People’s Choice Awards.

With decades of cooking the recipes he grew up with combined with running successful restaurants, Efrain Gomez sums up his drive simply.  “I have loved to cook ever since I was a little kid. I like working in the kitchen, and it makes me happy to give people food they love.” 

“I learned to cook from my mom and my aunts,” he added. “I learned how to run a business from my uncles who also had their own. But a lot of what I’ve learned has been from jumping into the fire and starting a restaurant on my own.”

Gomez kicked off his professional culinary adventure by cooking in his uncle’s Boulder restaurant — Señor Miguel’s.  In 1989 he headed out to Lafayette with his sisters and brothers and opened his own restaurant — now referred to as Efrain’s I.

According to Gomez’s nephew Cristian Pinon, the mix of family, business and his introverted, independent spirit led Gomez to leave the Lafayette restaurant and take time off…