Pablos: A Slice of Mexico
Authentic Mexican recipes and personal touches set this independent eatery apart from the big chains.
Paul Morin takes everything about his job personally. From shaking customers’ hands, to traveling to Chicago twice a week to pick up fresh produce, running a successful eatery is all about that personal touch, says Morin, owner of Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant.
“How do we separate ourselves from other Mexican restaurants?” Morin asks. “I can shake your hand, and if you don’t like the food I can fix it personally. You get to see the owner.”
His passion for details has paid off. Nearly all of his customers are regulars, despite the restaurant’s location, set deep off of Route 14 in a strip mall.
“That guy that just left has been coming here for 20 years,” Morin says. Many of his customers attended the restaurant’s opening night. It’s no wonder, with Morin’s mission to give every customer the best dining experience.
“The word restaurant means to rest and revive one’s spirit,” he says. “It’s understanding that one table’s coming from a funeral and the next table’s celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary.”
From Chile Relleno to Enchilada Suizas
Before opening Pablo’s with his mom, Orfie, 21 years ago, Morin set out to discover all that was Mexican cuisine. He ate at every Mexican restaurant he could in South Texas and California, taste-testing different authentic dishes.
“We must have taken in a good 30 restaurants in a one-week period,” he says. “We kind of formulated some of our own recipes from those. We started out with a bunch of different recipes, and we built them into Crystal Lake’s recipes.”
The Chile Relleno with apples and raisins is cooked Vera Cruz style, which uses a lot of fruits and vegetables. Enchilada Suizas, with chicken, Monterey jack cheese and sour cream, has a Swiss influence, Morin says. Carne Asada ala Tampiquena is another traditional Mexican dish that you won’t find at a chain establishment, he says. The dish is made with skirt steak, sautéed peppers and onions and verde sauce.
Showing his “quirky” side on the menu is Shrimp De Juan, made with chipolte peppers, which “gives it a little bit of a kick,” Morin says.
Morin handpicks all of the produce personally at the International Produce Market in Chicago.
“Everything is homemade,” he says of the restaurant’s food. “Rice and beans are made every single day. Salsa’s made every other day.”
A visit to Puerta Viarda inspired Morin to design the restaurant’s interior to resemble a beachside Mexican restaurant. Murals of blue skies, white sand and seagulls cover the walls.
“That’s where I got this whole theme,” he says. “When you walk in, you kind of disappear into a beachside vacation.”
It’s just one more way Morin’s restaurant stands out from the rest.
When he first thought of opening a restaurant, “there were mom and pop restaurants where the food was good, but nobody spoke English,” he says. “Then there were the chains, but the food wasn’t any good. We have the best of both worlds.”
In a business that traditionally carries long hours away from home for employees, Morin sets his restaurant’s hours keeping family in mind.
“They’re family hours,” he says. “This business traditionally burns out a lot of people. I’m very conscious of that.”
There are no late-nights for Pablo’s 25 employees. The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., closing one hour earlier on Sunday.
“It’s more of a laid-back management style,” he says. “We’re not corporate.”
Sponsoring local sports teams and hosting fund raising events, Morin is community- minded. It’s all part of doing what he loves.
“I am in a very select group that loves his job,” he says. “I know it’s my answered prayer.”