Last week, Pancho was taken from Chino Bandido.
It wasn’t a robbery – the 7,500-pound black granite bear statue was moved from the legendary Chinese-Mexican-Jamaican fusion eatery’s original location at 19th Avenue and Greenway Road to its new home at Bell Road and Third Avenue. After more than three decades in the same building, one of the Valley’s most beloved holes-in-the-wall is relocating.
“After 31 years, I knew it was time for a change,” says Eve Lee Collins, who opened Chino Bandido in 1991 with her husband, Frank Collins. “Chino’s,” as it is affectionately shortened by regulars, went on to earn countless local food honors and was memorialized on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It has continued to go strong even after Frank Collins’ death in 2013. “Frank would have been so happy to see our brand-new location, and I am honored to make this dream a reality.”
The new Chino’s will occupy a princely 6,000 square feet, with nearly half of that dedicated to its kitchen. Since every recipe – including Chino’s famous snickerdoodles – is made from scratch, Collins wanted to give her staff plenty of room. Longtime fans needn’t fret: The restaurant’s iconic menu card will remain. Collins says she has no plans for new dishes. “Because everyone seems to have their favorite items, we have not been able to add new items in quite some time,” she says. “Every time I try to drop something, I get threatened with tears and hissy fits.”
Collins chose the new location for myriad reasons. “We liked the multiple, easy-access driveways,” she says. “Bell Road, as busy as it is, allows customers to access us through three different driveways, and two cross streets, Seventh Avenue and Third Avenue. The light at Seventh Avenue allows customers to head east or west on Bell Road without hassle.”
How have regulars reacted to the change? “Every single customer I have talked to about moving has been happy for us,” Collins says. “The only sad faces are our firemen at Station 42, who have been our loyal pals for over 30 years. The new location will be in the Station 35 area. We’re hoping that Station 42 will be able to sneak over once in a while!”
While the restaurant industry has been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chino’s has luckily maintained steady business. “Although we completely closed for several weeks in July , and we have had to pivot multiple times, like so many other restaurants, our loyal customers have supported us throughout this year. We did not lay off any staff and, in fact, have been shorthanded for the entire year. We’re still looking to hire happy faces!”
Collins hopes to open the new location in early June. In addition to more space, it will have upgraded tables and chairs, a patio that seats 30 people and industrial accents. Will all the newness cause Chino Bandido to lose the “special sauce” of its funky, barebones aesthetic? For devotees, the endearing grunginess of the eatery is integral to its appeal. Collins assuages any concerns of whitewashing.
“Everything will be new, but you can’t really put lipstick on a pig,” she says. “Chino’s is what it is: simple food made from scratch. What you sit on and eat at doesn’t really matter.”