“¿Could this be the most offensive fake restaurant logo?” you thought.
You wanted something different but you passed ugly sameness in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois. As you drove down the six lanes of concrete Butterfield Road, you saw Burger King, Hooters, Wendys, Pot Belly, and McDonalds. But you had a taste for cilantro and tamarind. Or fried chicken. You thought about the Chick-fil-A where a dude in a cowsuit tried to wave at drivers over a half-dozen hand-written placards, but you didn’t want to fight the gay rights protesters.
To the left, your peripheral vision caught something behind Dick’s Sporting Goods. You drove by here before, this asphalt lot where SUVs congregate like an outdoor Assemblies of God church to worship by the hundreds next to PF Changs and other chains. Near the stoplight was the restaurant Champps, champions of something other than spelling, and Weber Grill, where you paid an outrageous amount for what you could cook on your back patio. But in the far corner of the parking lot, there stood Uncle Julio’s. A gigantic countenance of Uncle Julio looked askance from the faux-brick wall. With a Pancho Villa mustache, “Tio” Julio’s crazed face betrayed he downed a few bottles of mescal or cheap, white tequila.
You wondered, if the gays rights protesters were at Chick-fil-A, where were the picketers from La Raza? What could be more stereotypical than that cariacature of Uncle Julio? Unless he really looked like that. There was only way for a good little community organizer to find out: park and enter.
It was more than a restaurant, Uncle Julio’s open mouth invited you into his “hacienda”. His hacienda was light on agriculture, with only a few weeds popping up in the parking lot. As you gazed at Julio’s image, you surmised he harvested all the agave plants for tequila.
You sat and placed your Spanish-language “La breve y maravillosa vida de Oscar Wao” paperback on the table for the wait. A busser noticed the Junot Díaz book and gave your lily-white Güey mug a knowing grin as he passed.
“Uncle Julio?” your server laughed. “Uh, we’re a chain. In six states!”
You surmised she meant states like Georgia or Virginia, not Zacatecas or Michoacán. In a sad voice, you asked, “So there’s no Uncle Julio?”
She frowned, worried about a diminished tip. “No. Sorry.”
“Then who’s that guy with the mustache?”
She smiled and said in a low tone, “I don’t think he’s real.” She perked up, “Can I interest you in the ‘Appetizer del dia’?”
You shook your head and plodded through the menu. It was less fake than Taco Bell, though so was anything this side of a Hollywood starlet’s chest. You guessed Julio’s mouth was open for all those tortilla chips, enough to feed all of Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon. The menu beckoned you to “cowboy queso” and Chicken Fajita Cobb salad. ¡Douse it with the Honey Dijon Vinaigrette!
You didn’t want to be bothered by anyone that afternoon so you said, “Extra refried beans, okay?”
You squinted and stared at the wild-mouthed Julio on the menu. Was he an offensive stereotype or just glad you enjoyed his hacienda?