Rogelio "Gordo" Estrada makes a point of smiling and greeting customers when they walk in the door of Gordo's Margaritas Mexican Grill in Millstadt.
He thinks it's important for a restaurant to be friendly and clean, in addition to serving good food.
"We accept good and bad commentary," said Gordo, 38, of Millstadt, who co-owns the restaurant with a California partner. "If people don't tell us when they don't like something, we'll never know. I want to hear it."
Gordo's has an extensive menu with fajitas, burritos, chimichangas, tamales, enchiladas and other Mexican fare.
Tim and Terri Banks just moved to town from Missouri, but they have already become regulars.
On a recent visit, they sat in a booth surrounded by colorful murals of Mexican scenes that were hand-painted by an employee. Both ordered chimichangas, beef for him and chicken for her.
"They have good, crispy chips and two kinds of salsa," said Tim 45. "I like the chunky one. It's fresh."
"It seems like it's always clean here," added Terri, 43. "It's just a nice local restaurant."
Gordo was 16 when he moved to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1991.
Since that time, he has worked in Mexican restaurants in Florida, Kentucky, California, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, Missouri and Illinois (Rockford, Marion and Fairview Heights).
Gordo opened the Millstadt restaurant three years ago in a strip mall on Washington Street.
"We love this place," said Melinda Heady, 55, of Millstadt. "They're friendly, sweet, down-home people. They have good service, great prices. It's just a lot of fun."
Melinda was dining with her daughter, Ashley Moyer, and grandchildren Derek, 11, Destiny, 7, and Joseph, 2 months.
Ashley likes the restaurant's quesadillas, especially the chicken-fajita flavor. The kids are hooked on the cheese dip.
"The margaritas are only 99 cents, and they're good," said Ashley, 28, of Millstadt.
Gordo tried a second restaurant location in Waterloo last year but sold it after a few months. He's getting ready to expand to Sunset Hills, Mo.
The Millstadt location has a new video-gaming room. Well-known singer and guitarist Gabie McGarrah plays in the main dining room from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays.
It's hard for Gordo to pick a favorite item on his own menu, but when pressed, he goes for the Guadalajara Special, named after his hometown.
"It's shrimp, chicken and steak, all cooked on the grill with green peppers, tomatoes and onions," he said. "It's served on a bed of rice with cheese sauce everywhere, and (it comes with) tortillas. It's really good."
At a glance
What: Gordo's Margaritas Mexican Grill
Where: 548 E. Washington St. in Millstadt
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Information: Call 618-476-3737 or visit GordosMargaritas.com
On the menu
Burrito Al Carbon -- Burrito filled with strip steak, topped with cheese sauce and served with Mexican rice and refried beans, $8.99
Grande Burrito Gordo -- Fifteen-inch burrito filled with shredded chicken or ground beef, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and refried beans, $9.99
Taquitos -- Five rolled tortillas (flour or corn) wrapped around chicken, deep-fried and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream, $8.99
Gordo's Shrimp -- Shrimp marinated with special recipe, grilled to perfection, served on rice with mixed vegetables and topped with cheese dip, $12.99
Grande Mexican Dip -- Cheese dip with ground beef and pico de gallo, served with fresh chips, $4.99