ON THE PICTURE : Pancakes at Downtown Cafe. Photo by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Between Xielo, BG’s Cafe and about a million incredible taco shops, there is no shortage of great restaurants in downtown Oxnard. Even so, it got a little tastier in 2022 with the January opening of Downtown Cafe by JL. He is owned by a trio of Lopez – cousins Jill and Julio, and a third partner, Jose Luis – who collectively represent the “JL” in the name. (The three also own and operate Loru’s Cafe in Camarillo.)
Unsurprisingly, Mexican cuisine is one of the specialties here — but the menu is by no means limited to flavor south of the border. A variety of seafood dishes and steaks can be enjoyed for dinner, while lunch includes plenty of burgers, sandwiches, and wraps.
But my favorite meal here, by far, is breakfast.
On the savory side: the usual dishes with eggs, bacon and sausages; cookies and gravy; fabulous omelettes and benedicts. For those who like sweet and/or sweet: waffles (with fried chicken if you wish), pancakes with multiple flavors and French toast (traditional or more gourmet cinnamon role version). But the offer that really deserves my gold star: pancakes.
Downtown Cafe also does several different things with these pancakes. Try the German version, with sweet, lemony butter, or the Swedish style with lingonberries. Chocolate lovers will probably be drawn to the crepes filled with Nutella with fresh strawberries. Do you like pancakes but not sweet ones? Chicken and mushrooms or bacon, ham and Swiss, both with Hollandaise sauce, await you.
I’m a savory breakfast person, but if I see blintzes on the menu, they’re probably going over my order. My husband and I started our breakfast at Downtown Cafe with just that: two fluffy, tender pancakes filled with sweet cottage cheese and topped with fresh strawberries and cream. For a lighter meal, these accompanied by an excellent latte or cappuccino would have been more than sufficient.
But none of us can resist the lure of a good chile verde, and it’s definitely one of the restaurant’s specialties. We happily gulped down chilaquiles and huevos rancheros spiked with the tangy, rich and meaty concoction of pork and tomatillos, and ate just about every bite, despite the generous portions. We weren’t a fan of the house potatoes, which were surprisingly bland despite being sautéed with peppers and onions, but the hash browns were impeccable.
The drinks list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s pretty good. The usual coffee and espresso drinks, micheladas, Bloody Marys (made with soju or something similar I imagine) and mimosas. . . plus sodas, milkshakes, wine, and beer for afternoon libations. Mimosas are $10 a pop, with your choice of cranberry, orange, pineapple or strawberry juice – and our server was kind enough to leave us a mix of pineapple and strawberry juice for ours . It’s Oxnard and the strawberries are in season, so it should come as no surprise that the “juice” is pureed fresh strawberries. . . and delicious. If you’re feeling indulgent, you can get it bottomless (and probably try ALL the juices) for $17.99 — but note that there’s a one-hour limit on that.
As for the service, just as good as the food! Even on this busy morning, our server took the time to answer our questions, make recommendations, and watch over us throughout our meal. And at the end, Julio Lopez himself dropped by to say hello (something I noticed him doing with all of his customers). Locally owned with the owners taking a hands-on approach to management – I guess that contributes to the success of this lovely little cafe. (A great location and nice outdoor seating probably helps, too.)
Despite fierce competition in Oxnard’s bustling Fifth Street community, Downtown Cafe by JL more than holds its own. Even on a foggy morning in Week, the place was full of cheerful diners who enjoyed good food, good coffee and good company. Just like us. Just like you, if you go there yourself. And you should. . . because everything awaits you Downtown.