Stop #8: El Novillero

4216 Franklin Boulevard (Corner of 18th Avenue)

  • Mon – Closed
  • Tues, Wed, & Thurs: 11:00am – 2:30pm – Lunch
  • Tues, Wed, & Thurs: 4:30pm – 9:00pm – Dinner
  • Friday: 11:00am – 2:30pm – Lunch
  • Friday: 4:30pm – 9:30pm – Dinner
  • Saturday: 11:00am – 9:30pm
  • Sunday: 11:00am – 7:00pm

Chelsea’s Take

There are two things that make an immediate impression when you walk into El Novillero. The first being its size. This restaurant is huge! Upon entering, you follow what feels like a long corridor into the lobby, then into a two story dining room packed with life size horse statues, an old fashioned carriage and other Disney like displays. There are adobe tiled roofs and second story balconies that hang over diners, an indoor fountain, and a grand staircase. Everywhere you look there’s something on the wall, or in a corner – very much like something you’d find in a Reno casino. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s fun.

The second thing you notice, both when you enter and when you start reading the menu, is the rules: how to order, what to wear, and numerous other limitations. No mid-drift T-shirts, No flip flops on men, limit of 3 refills per soft drink, limit of 3 alcoholic beverages, no changing combos on combo plates.  Some of them make sense but some of them are just funny.

Looking through the menu (which is really big and takes time to get through) you can get lost among all the combo options, house choices, and house specialties.  But, if you get confused you can always ask your waiter.  If they are anything like our waiter Eric, they will be super helpful, friendly, and savvy with the menu offerings.

I ordered a carnitas taco and a cheese enchilada. This came with a side of beans, small Mexican house salad, and rice. It didn’t take long for our food to be ready.  Literally less than ten minutes must have passed when our food was brought to us.  The rice and beans were both good – creamy, flavorful, and piled on high. The salad was a simple shredded iceberg lettuce pile that I ended up putting on my taco.

My taco was tasty – the meat was good and the fried shell wasn’t greasy. If I had any criticism for it, it would be the salsa.  While they are proud enough of their salsa to put the recipe on their website, it’s not the style of salsa I prefer.  Instead of being the chunky pico de gallo or salsa cruda which I like, theirs is a tomato sauce based salsa that is more like a slightly spicy Mexican ketchup.  Had it not been on the taco, I would have liked it even more.  Not bad, just not my cup of tea.

The cheese enchilada was pretty standard fare.  I am beginning to think that my issues with enchiladas at restaurants is more about my taste than the restaurant’s recipe. I think the enchilada here was exactly what people want when they order it.  I am beginning to think that I just don’t like how restaurants serve enchiladas in general (growing up on my dad’s killer enchiladas!) Still, I was a little disappointed, because nothing sounds better than a tortilla filled with cheese, lightly fried in lard, and smothered in a Mexican sauce.

Looking back, I think my not-so-spectacular experience could have been due to my ordering. They are known for their carnitas plate.  I think back now and realize I should have gotten that – I’m sure it’s delicious.  And I did have a few bites of my dad’s chili verde and it was fantastic. Spicy and flavorful, the pork had texture yet fell apart like butter. It was worth going back for it was so good!

El Novillero can hold parties of 20 – 40, so really their size is an obvious draw for larger parties, and its history in Sacramento makes it about as close to a landmark as anything on the boulevard.

A Word from The Old Man

Next month El Novillero is celebrating 42 Years in business.  If you have spent any time on the boulevard over the past several decades, you have seen how Jose Davalos, Sr. and his family built a small 28 seat diner into a behemoth that serves almost ten times that amount now. 

This is a family run business that many people simply love.  So much so, that I have dreaded this review out of fear that if per chance I did not like it, I might have to write a negative reviewand find a burro head in my bed one night.  After all, it has been voted best Mexican restaurant on the KCRA “best of” list for five of the past six years.

Happily, I do not have a negative review.  Well, maybe a little bit mixed.

On the evening we were there, we were quickly greeted by the very friendly and attentive wait staff.  If there is one thing that El Novillero is about, it is really first-rate service.  Drinks come quickly (a pet peeve of mine is a long wait for my beverage or an empty glass staring at me) and our waiter Eric could not have been better.  We started by ordering a round of margaritas for Mrs. Old Man and me – one on the rocks, one blended.  And within minutes, we were enjoying our cold adult beverages. 

After making my way through the voluminous menu, I opted to punt.  I set the menu aside and asked Eric what he suggested.  His answer:  “we are known for our carnitas, but I myself prefer the chile verde.” 

I have had the carnitas here on a previous visit, and must admit that I understand why they are so popular.  They are moist and tender with the pork flavor one can only obtain through the magic of lard.  They really do deserve their reputation.

So, opting for something new, I follow Eric’s advice and order the chile verde. 

After tasting the salsa, which is far too mild for my taste, I figured I had better be assertive with my direction for spice.  I told Eric I like heat.  To which he looked a little surprised but scribbled a note on his pad with a smile.

Mrs. Old Man ordered one of her favorites, a chile relleno, and a chicana de res (steak) enchilada. 

The chile relleno was light and not greasy, which is often the downfall of rellenos.  It had just the right amount of cheese and was actually quite good.  I am afraid the enchilada was not as successful.  While the meat was tender and flavorful, the enchilada itself was on the mushy side and smothered in a bland red sauce.  So Mrs. Old Man ended up picking the meat out of the enchilada with the precision of a surgeon.

When my plate came, the first thing I noticed was its immense size.  At El Novillero, they do not skimp on portions – come hungry or leave with a box.  The chile verde sauce was darker than expected, indicating a long simmer, covering large chunks of pork.  The pork was fork tender and the sauce had the kick I had asked for – thank you Eric.  It was a very successful dish and all agreed that it was the best at the table.  As for the portion size, I would love to complain that it was too big, but since I ate it all, I believe I am disqualified from doing so.

As I walk across the massive parking lot at El Novillero, I am reminded of how much this family has done for this community and the boulevard through hard work and significant investment.  Franklin Boulevard would not be the same without them.

Now, looking across the street, I think I better hit the gym.  Up next is Scott’s Burger Shack, and I love a good burger almost as much as a good taco!

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One Response to Stop #8: El Novillero

  1. Stephanie says:

    I had dinner here last week due to your review. I ordered a carnitas flauta and chili rellano combo plate. It was delicious! Thank you for all of your reviews so far.

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