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If you're gonna do it, it might as well be fun

August 4, 2017

My intrepid editor-in-chief here at Cape Gazette reminds me to keep an open mind when I'm out and about. After all, pretty much any experience could morph into next week's column. And with weekly deadlines that never go away, her advice is well taken. 

Last Monday was such a beautiful day that I treated myself to lunch at El Dorado. This unassuming little spot on Route 24 about a half-block west of Coastal Highway has earned a solid reputation for fresh, made-to-order food with a Mexican accent. And that is not a paid placement - it's really true. 

I rarely dine alone, but when I do that's usually when the muse strikes. As I sat there in the middle of the lunch rush, the most noticeable sound in the restaurant was the voice of El Dorado owner himself, Aquiles Demerutis. I was intrigued. Though he was taking orders quickly and efficiently, he managed to engage the entire line of waiting customers in conversation. Most of whom he greeted by name, and if he didn't know their names when they walked in, he definitely did by the time they reached the counter. He alternated seamlessly between English and Spanish, and by the time the guests' orders were rung up, they were friends with this guy. 

I like the old saying, "Do what you love and the money will follow." And in this often thankless business of eating, nothing could be closer to the truth. So when Demerutis brought my order to the table, I said to him, "It must be fun being you." He reflected for a few seconds, looked around at the almost-full eatery, and replied, "It is fun. These people have so many choices, and they choose to come into my little restaurant. I want them to have a great meal and feel welcome. They come back and that's even more fun!" 

From a street vendor in Guadalajara to a Rehoboth storefront sandwiched between a UPS Store and an electrical supply place - that's quite a leap! Half Mexican and half Greek, Aquiles calls himself "Greexican." His El Dorado has become one of the go-to places in Rehoboth Beach for light and fresh Baja-style fish and shrimp tacos and burritos.

Dorado means "mahi-mahi" or "dolphin fish," and that's Aquiles' magic ingredient. On my first visit several years ago, I bellied up to the counter and ordered a chicken burrito. He looked stunned, set down his pen and said, "Sir, you can get a chicken burrito (rrrroll those Rs!) at Applebee's. Boring! Why not order my specialty!?!" Nothing if not obedient, I complied. And I'm certainly glad I did. 

If El Dorado were any more informal, it would be in a tent. The specials are emblazoned on a laminated menu. Tables and booths orbit a fixin's bar that's the star of the show. After Aquiles or one of his loyal minions delivers your order to the table, it's your turn to load up on the cool and fresh pico de gallo, avocado salsa with chili peppers, even more shredded cabbage, a tomatillo salsa made with chili de arbol (that is my favorite), and a potent mix of onions, carrots and habaneros (very hot and impossibly delicious). I cannot tell a lie: I went back to the counter and ordered a pint of it. That night I stood over the sink and ate it all. Let's just keep that between you and me, OK? 

El Dorado is in the Plaza 24 shopping center on the right after you turn west onto Route 24. They're open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday. Give them a call for carryout at 302-645-1596. If Aquiles Demerutis is there, you will also make a new friend.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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