Justine McNeilly goes to Chava's Mexican Restaurant in Soulard every Tuesday night with eight girlfriends.
"It's my favorite place in the whole city," she said. "The food is amazing. They have really good margaritas and really good prices on beer. Their pulled-pork chimichanga is insane. It's so good. And I like the staff."
On a recent weekday, Justine, 27, of St. Louis, was finishing lunch at Chava's in Edwardsville with two co-workers.
The restaurant opened June 17 in Park Plaza, a "live-shop-eat" development across from Edwardsville Public Library.
The owners are Lisa and Bruce Bohanon. Lisa's brother, Chris Ybarra, has operated the Soulard location for seven years with partner Mirek Petzel.
"His cooks came over and trained my cooks," said Lisa, 51, of Edwardsville. "People have the expectation -- and they should have the expectation -- that the quality is going to be the same."
The menu offers appetizers, salads, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, fajitas, la tortas, soft and fried tacos, combination plates and vegetarian options.
The restaurant and an entree, De Guadalajara, are named for Lisa's grandfather, Salvador "Chava" Ybarra, a Mexican immigrant from Guadalajara.
"This is the food we grew up eating," Lisa said. "The tacos and tamales definitely came from family recipes."
Lisa formerly worked in health care-related corporate sales, which required a lot of traveling. Bruce spent 20 years at IBM.
They wanted to open their own business and thought a Chava's would be good for Edwardsville, noting the city has become a regional dining destination.
The Park Plaza space formerly housed a sandwich shop. The Bohanons added a full bar, painted walls an adobe-like cream and decorated with colorful sarapes, wagon wheels and metal lizards.
Rick and Denise Brewer have stopped by the restaurant twice.
"Everything seems really fresh, and it tastes good," said Rick, 52, of Edwardsville, who ordered Fajita Tacos both times. "And the service was good."
The Brewers also liked the salsa and chips, which are homemade in Chris' tortilla factory in St. Louis.
Chava's makes its frozen margaritas with real fruit.
"There's a different one each day -- like Mango Mondays, Pineapple Tuesdays and Raspberry Wednesdays," Lisa said. "You can actually see chunks of fruit. People just love them."
At a glance
What: Chava's Mexican Restaurant
Where: 217 E. Vandalia in Edwardsville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1 to 9 p.m. Sundays
On the menu
Jenas -- Eight baked jalapeno halves stuffed with Mexican sausage and white cheese, $5.95
Big Fresh Salad -- Mixed lettuce with seasoned ground beef, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, Cheddar cheese and jalapeno bacon with ranch dressing, $7.95
El Mireko -- Two ranchero chicken burritos flash-fried, topped with chile con queso and guacamole and served with rice, beans, lettuce, tomato and onion, $10.95
De Guadalajara -- Two flour tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef and flash-fried, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese and served with rice and beans, $8.95
Vegetarian Fajitas -- Fajita-seasoned zucchini and red, yellow and green bell peppers, sauteed with baby carrots, green beans, tomatoes and onions and served with lettuce, guacamole, shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream and warm flour tortillas, $10.95