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Real food, real flavor draws diners to California Al’s in Lodi

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Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2017 8:30 am

Pull up to California Al’s during lunchtime on a weekday and you’ll find the parking lot packed without a free spot in sight. When you go inside, you’ll find tables crowded with happy diners.

People from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life all gather in California Al’s for his tasty menu selections. Customers are greeted by waitress and cashier Zaira as they enter the restaurant and choose a table. The smell of burgers, fries, onion rings and other delectable treats lingers in the atmosphere.

For Al Gamez, owner of California Al’s, this is a dream come true. He always wanted to have his own restaurant — so when the opportunity arose, he didn’t hesitate to take it.

Being a restaurateur is in his blood. Both of his grandmothers owned restaurants during his childhood, and his father spent many years working in the restaurant business before Gamez got into the industry himself.

After almost two decades in the business, Gamez decided it was time to fulfill his dream of having his own restaurant, and he opened California Al’s in March 2013. Gamez and his son Albert IV run the restaurant, together with the help of his other two children on the weekends.

Interacting with the people and seeing them enjoy their food is the best part of running the restaurant, Gamez said.

He described the atmosphere at California Al’s as casual.

“Most of the people are local people who ride their bikes over here or walk over here because of where I’m at. I’m close to two neighborhoods on both sides,” Gamez said.

The restaurant specializes in American fare. Menu items range from breakfast entrees such as pancakes, waffles, French toast, omelets and steak and eggs, to lunch items like burgers, sandwiches and salads.

In addition to its regular menu, California Al’s also offers a kids menu and a seniors menu with low prices.

Gamez offers specials here and there on the weekends, depending on how he feels and where the day takes him, he said.

Domestic beer and Lodi wine also available at California Al’s.

On weekends, Gamez said, the restaurant sees more than 100 customers each day. During the week, things tend to slow down a little bit and the numbers vary.

Gamez said the fact that the food is “real” is what keeps bringing customers in to his restaurant.

“The food is real and super good, so most of the time, whatever they have, they always come back,” Gamez said.

Some people come in for lunch and enjoy it, and that prompts them to want to come back for breakfast, or vice versa, he said.

“Most of the people are pretty loyal. They keep coming back,” Gamez said. “That’s why I’ve been in business so long ... because of the loyal customers who appreciate the food that I make.”

Gamez doesn’t serve premade patties — his burgers are fresh and handmade, he said.

“We do have grass-fed organic beef for the burgers, and the chicken is the same thing — it’s non-GMO. We try to keep it good and healthy at the same time,” he said.

While the beef and chicken are currently the only organic menu items, Gamez’s overall goal moving forward is to make the entire menu organic.

His burgers and breakfast burritos are the most popular items on the menu, he said.

“I try to make them chubby so they taste good, and I try to use grass-fed beef all the time,” he said. “I read it has more vitamins and minerals because the cows eat the grass, which is more natural and non-GMO. I told myself that if it’s going to be good, it’s going to be even more good for the body.”

Prices at California Al’s range below $10, with some burgers and seafood items ranging up to $10.95.

“Most people say the prices are too low,” Gamez said. “The most expensive thing I have is $10.95, and it’s big and comes with your choice of side and everything. I think that’s pretty low.”

He welcomes the public to come give California Al’s a try. In addition to daily dining, he is available for afternoon banquets and private parties. For a group of five or more, he is also willing to deliver to nearby locations.

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