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Guimo’s Mexican carries on after Sun Prairie blast

September 7, 2018

A trip to Guimo’s Mexican Restaurant in Sun Prairie is heartbreaking these days because it’s next to a section of the city that was leveled after a natural gas explosion in July.

The fenced-off area is more devastating to see in person than in pictures. Five buildings were destroyed and then razed, including two restaurants and a bar.

Guimo’s, which opened in May 2017 in what was Porktropolis, had some of its windows blown out and closed for a month. It didn’t have electricity or gas, said Gustavo Martinez, 35, who owns the business with his brother, Guillermo “Guimo” Martinez, 37, and friend, Alejandro Avalos, 35.

“We were lucky,” Martinez said about not suffering more impact from the explosion.

All three handle kitchen duties, and Martinez said they couldn’t cook for a month. The insurance check went to pay bills for the business: payroll, rent and utilities. They had to dip into their savings to make their personal rent payments and eat, he said.

At Guimo’s, customers order at a counter, and I was initially bummed that instead of being automatic, chips and salsa cost $3. It would have been nice to have snacked while we waited for our food.

Because we ordered nachos — which arrived with our entrées — I later got over my chips and salsa disappointment. Green and red salsas were in squeeze bottles on the table, but when I tried them on some of the nacho’s bare chips, I found that neither would have been worth eating with chips alone. The menu boasts that the salsa is fresh and homemade, but it didn’t necessarily taste that way.

Martinez confirmed that not only is the salsa made in house, almost everything Guimo’s serves is from scratch.

The nachos ($10.50), however, were special because the chicken was well-grilled, flavorful and plentiful. (Nachos can also come with steak for the same price.) I was at first turned off by the orange cheese sauce, but quickly got used to it. The nachos also had lettuce, pico de gallo and black olives, with salsa and sour cream on the side. Best was a scoop of excellent guacamole in the center.

“Wow, they mean business,” my friend said when the heaping platter arrived at our table. I was suddenly glad I hadn’t filled up on chips and salsa.

The best part of the meal was a single shrimp taco ($3.50). The menu and Martinez said the shrimp had been marinated, but it was hard to pick up on that. The shrimp came inside a flour tortilla with pico de gallo, lettuce and a hint of melted Monterey Jack cheese. It was fabulous.

I was initially put off by the chile rellenos ($10.50), because the two soggy, battered poblano peppers were stuffed with queso panela, a mild Mexican cheese similar to Indian paneer, that doesn’t melt. But halfway in, I got used to it and began enjoying it. The poblanos were also spicier than most, which I liked. Soupy but tasty rice and pinto beans rounded out the plate.

The carne asada ($12.50) came on a gorgeous-looking platter piled with thin slices of grilled beef, that had a fantastic flavor, but were pretty chewy. “It’s not tender by American standards, but fine for me,” my friend said. The plate also had rice, beans, two grilled bulbous onions, two grilled jalapenos with serious heat, a lettuce salad and guacamole.

My vegetarian daughter had a cheese quesadilla ($8.99, the same price as a chicken quesadilla) and is the only person I know who would complain that it was too cheesy.

She was glad to be able to get a glass bottle of her beloved Jarritos Mexican mango soda ($2.50). The homemade rice-milk horchata ($2.50) and tamarindo agua fresca were served in huge plastic cups and were both worth ordering. Guimo’s doesn’t serve alcohol.

The dining room at Guimo’s is pleasant, with colored lights around the ceiling and the walls painted a deep orange. A three-paneled piece of avocado-guacamole art made me glad two of our dishes came with guacamole.

The kitchen and ordering counter are separated from the dining room by a hallway, where two big lounge chairs greet you when you walk in. They’d make a comfortable place to wait for take-out food.

Martinez doesn’t want to make many improvements to the space because he said the landlord has other plans for the property and he only has two years left on his lease. He said he’s not sure whether they’ll move at the end of their lease.

The three partners are from Mexico City and live in Madison. All have worked in Sun Prairie for 10 years. Martinez had been at Food Fight’s Market Street Diner for nine years and managed it for five.

Guimo’s, meanwhile, bills itself as “the area’s leading Mexican restaurant serving Sun Prairie and surrounding areas.”

“The people here in Sun Prairie, they like us and they are really nice to us,” Martinez said. “It’s a really good clientele.”

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