If you're looking for a truly authentic Mexican dining experience, Nena's Mexican Restaurant in Stockton is the place to find it.
Nena's opened on Waterloo Road more than 20 years ago. The first south Stockton restaurant, known as Little Nenitas, has been opened even longer.
The large restaurant is identifiable by its brick exterior and colorful Aztec mural. The restaurant faces a small side street, where a dirt parking lot sits across the street.
Inside, a hallway leads to a large dining room that has booths on a smaller upper level and a larger sunken dining room. There are both tables and booths. The dark wooden walls create a dark atmosphere, but overhanging lights brighten up each table.
Near the entrance, you'll find a salad and salsa bar with choices of lettuce, marinated vegetables and traditional Mexican side dishes.
In a brick area, several women make homemade corn and flour tortillas. They roll the dough until it's thin and floury and then place the tortilla on a grill. Restaurant supervisor Yolanda Salcedo says the restaurant goes through at least 50 pounds tortilla dough each day.
Open seven days a week, Nena's offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, most dishes are available all day long.
Menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made with tripe, is a weekend breakfast favorite. Salcedo says they make a huge pot on the weekends, and it goes faster than anything else on the menu.
"We always run out of menudo by 9 a.m," Salceda said.
The inexpensive prices make Nena's Restaurant an ideal place to get a large, home-cooked meal for cheap. For $6.99, customers can order huevos rancheros for $6.99. The breakfast dish includes corn tortillas, two eggs, refried beans, spicy sauce and jack cheese.
Birria con huevos (eggs with shredded beef in a house special sauce) and huevos con chorizo (eggs with Mexican pork sausage) are two popular breakfast options.
dishes are available all day long.
From quesadillas to shrimp, Nena's offers a large menu of family recipes. Salcedo says the chili verde, fried pork in a tomato-based sauce with tomatillo, is the favorite entree.
"Everybody seems to like it," she said.
Each day has a different special: Meatball soup, albondigas, in a chipotle sauce (Monday), short ribs with cactus (Tuesday), pork rinds in red chili sauce (chicharron guizada, Wednesday), chicken mole (Thursday), chili relleno (Friday) and deep-fried shredded pork (carnitas, Sunday).
Nena's also serves seafood, including shrimp sautéed in butter with three types of chilies and pescado a la plancha - fish grilled in garlic and butter. But be prepared, this fish dish takes 30 minutes to cook.
Restaurant At A Glance
What: Nena's Restaurant.
Where: 1064 Waterloo Road in Stockton.
Specialties: Authentic Mexican cuisine.
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. week days.
When dining at Nena's there are the regular favorites, like chili Colorado and fajitas, but you can also order milanesa (breaded beef steak), carne asada charbroiled steak and chicana (diced carne asada in chipotle with onions and bell peppers).
If some of the traditional dishes are a little bit of a culture shock (Nena's is no Baja Fresh or Tex-Mex), there are sandwiches (tortas) and even a hamburger and fries. The tortas are a little different. For example, you can get a Torta Cubana that includes ham, milaneza, asada and avocado between a sliced roll.
Nena's is considered by many to be the best authentic Mexican food in Stockton. Still strong after 20 years, the restaurant has become skilled in offering loyal customers what they want.
The restaurant has even branched out by doing catering and opening a banquet room that they say is perfect for baptisms, graduations, retirements, business parties - and even divorces.