'El Mariachi' brings Mexican food to downtown Framingham
FRAMINGHAM - With bright yellow walls, pennant banners and mariachi music, Jose Varela's new downtown eatery promises to give patrons a different experience than its predecessors.
Varela recently revamped the restaurant at 358 Waverly St., which was formerly The Chicken Bone. After being closed for months, it reopened late last year as Louie's, a venture Varela headed up with family members.
While Louie's offered a broad menu, serving everything from seafood to pub fare, Varela decided to return to the cuisine he knows best for the restaurant's newest iteration, El Mariachi Mexican restaurant. Varela imported the menu from The Aztec, his other popular Framingham eatery, when he relaunched the business about a month and a half ago.
With Varela back at work in the kitchen, customers can expect Mexican staples such as tacos, grilled chicken fajitas and chile relleno, as well as mini pizzas and wings for diners at the bar.
"We don't try to cater to everybody," Varela said Thursday, "but the main menu is Mexican, and we add a few sandwiches, buffalo chicken salads, stuff like that."
El Mariachi is the latest in a long line of Varela's culinary endeavors. After emigrating from Mexico in 1986, he honed his cooking skills in kitchens in California, eventually opening a breakfast and lunch restaurant outside of Los Angeles.
Seeing the opportunity to make more money on the East Coast, Varela relocated to East Boston in 1995. For several months, he commuted by train to work at the Cheesecake Factory in Chestnut Hill, and also worked mornings at the cafeteria at Raytheon in Sudbury.
He moved the following year to Framingham, taking positions at John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House and the former Tom Foolery's in Westborough before opening The Aztec at the corner of Waverly and Second streets.
Reflecting on his career, Varela said cooking evolved from being a vocation to a passion when he became his own boss.
"There's nothing better than working for yourself," he said. "I know that cooking's a passion. It's an art, and I respect it a lot now."
With 106 seats, El Mariachi is about twice the size of Varela's other restaurant. Varela said he hopes to keep it filled by offering customers a consistent experience, complete with good meals, good service and a good atmosphere.
"We've been in a business a long time," he said. "We know what we're doing. Now it's just a matter of getting the word out there."