Oak Harbor’s El Cazador marks 30 years
August 24, 2012 · Updated 4:10 PM
A mariachi band that is performing Friday nights through August is helping an Oak Harbor family mark three decades in the restaurant business.
El Cazador, located in a prominent spot in front of Saars and Kmart in Oak Harbor, is celebrating its 30th year.
Owned by the Rodriguez family, El Cazador started operating out of a storefront on the corner of Barrington Drive and Ely Street that is currently the home of Bay Printing.
Jose Rogriguez, who manages El Cazador with his wife, Natasha, said that his father, Aurelio — who was born in Mexico — opened the Mexican restaurant after he had learned the ins and outs of the business while working at Azteca in Redmond. Jose said his dad discovered Whidbey Island and decided to move to Oak Harbor and then opened the eatery in 1982.
There is quite a bit of competition for Mexican food in Oak Harbor with five restaurants thriving throughout town. In addition to El Cazador, Mi Pueblo, Estebans, Valle Azul, Agave Taqueria all cater to Mexican food lovers on North Whidbey Island.
Natasha said El Cazador’s focus is on fresh food. In addition, the staff has added gluten-free and vegetarian selections. She added all of the sauces, beans and rice are made from scratch.
“We don’t cut back on food quality,” Natasha said, adding that the Rodriguezes often attend restaurant workshops to stay abreast about trends in the industry. A delivery service, which is offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, has been a help to business.
In addition to improving the menu, El Cazador has a tequila bar, which offers a selection of about 50 premium gourmet tequilas. Many of those tequilas are family made in Mexico. Jose said it’s been a challenge to find these small specialty tequilas through distributors that focus on large quantities from major producers.
Natasha added finding such brands helps honor the family’s history that originates in Mexico.
“We recognize that it supports the Mexican economy,” Natasha said of the restaurant’s tequila selection. To help people understand and enjoy El Cazador’s extensive tequila selection, it holds tastings. The next one takes place in December and it will feature a national tequila judge based out of Portland.
Aurelio passed away in 1989 and his wife, Hilda, took over leadership. The restaurant has been family operated since its inception. Jose pointed out that two of his uncles work as a bartender and chef. He started as a host in 2000 when he was a student at Oak Harbor High School. He worked his way up before becoming manager in 2007. Natasha, who also worked for El Cazador, joined him as manager in 2010.
In 1994, El Cazador moved to its current location on Highway 20. In addition to the Oak Harbor store, the Rodriguez family operated stores in Bellingham, Burlington, Mount Vernon and Sequim. Over the years, several locations were sold. Bellingham in 2006, Mount Vernon in 2008 and Burlington about six months ago. Natasha said the Oak Harbor and Sequim restaurants will continue.
To mark the 30th anniversary, a mariachi band — Mariachi Juvenil Voces de Mexico — has been performing to guests eating at El Cazador. Like the restaurant, the mariachi band is comprised of two generations of family members.
El Cazador is located on Highway 20 in Oak Harbor. In addition to its restaurant and bar, it offers a banquet room and Natasha said the restaurant is family friendly. For more information call 675-6114 or go to www.el-cazador.com.