El Palenque, en Español, is an arena used for events such as concerts and horse dancing.

Eduardo Mendoza wants his family’s new Corvallis business, El Palenque Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, to be that sort of festive, gathering place, where friends and family get together over fresh food and perhaps even a margarita or cerveza.

“We want everybody to come in here and have a good time,” said Mendoza, manager of the business.

The restaurant opened up in early November.

“So far people have been loving the chile rellenos. We make them the authentic way,” Mendoza said. “Our fajitas have been a really popular item, as well.”

Carne asada and margaritas also have been hot sellers, as has tableside guacamole. “It’s as fresh as it gets,” and diners can choose how spicy they want their guacamole, Mendoza said.

Mendoza said freshness is key for El Palenque and many of the items also are gluten free, with vegetable oil instead of lard. That makes for a healthier Mexican meal, said Mendoza, who eats at his own restaurant almost every day.

His go-to meal, which he guessed he eats about four days a week, is the chicken fajita burrito. “I just like fajitas. My thing is, if it’s all wrapped up and ready to eat, it’s easier,” Mendoza said.

The storefront used to house a Mexican restaurant but that closed down a few years ago. A new feature is an expanded cantina area.

During renovations that took eight months, Mendoza said he was regularly approached by people who were eager for another Mexican neighborhood restaurant. “It was a daily thing. People would be, ‘Are you open? Are you ready?’" Mendoza said.

While El Palenque’s specialty is margaritas, the restaurant also has eight taps, including domestics, microbrews and cider.

Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Mendoza’s parents, who own La Roca in Albany, own El Palenque, as well. Mendoza said a recent drug bust involving a La Roca worker has been frustrating to his family.

“Some people you think you can trust, and it turns out you can’t,” said Mendoza, a 2010 graduate of South Albany High School.

La Roca’s regular clientele have still been coming to the restaurant, which hasn’t taken too much of a hit from the negative publicity.

The menu at El Palenque is very similar to La Roca by design, Mendoza said. “We were successful over there with what we were doing,” he added.

El Palenque, 1845 NW Circle Blvd., is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, go to the business’ Facebook page or call 541-754-4904.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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