Me and Z’s Restaurant in Arroyo Grande may be new to the county’s culinary scene, but owner Zenaida Stevens certainly isn’t.
In her wide-ranging 22-year career as a chef and restaurant manager on the Central Coast, Stevens has worked at such establishments as the Santa Maria Hilton, Bon Temps Creole Café, the Elks Lodge, Cal Poly, the Shore Cliff Lodge and San Luis Obispo Country Club.
Along the way, she did everything from dishwashing to bookkeeping to cooking, most things in between, and typically held down a couple jobs at a time. Since she was logging about 12 to 14 hours of work a day, she wondered “why not do it for myself?” and decided to realize a longtime dream of having her own restaurant.
Because the Grand Avenue location she settled upon needed a lot of care and remodeling, Stevens said she “quit my job and started putting up sheetrock.”
She plunged headlong into a myriad of other needed tasks, including painting the entire restaurant.
Finally, with a little help from family and friends, Me and Z’s opened its doors in December 2008, complete with a reconfigured kitchen, new appliances, fresh paint and an outdoor deck in the back.
One thing Stevens didn’t put in was a microwave in the kitchen, a conscious decision that reflects her style of cooking.
Everything is made fresh at Me and Z’s, from chips to soups to carnitas, and “nothing comes out of a can except maybe diced tomatoes.” Every dish is made when it’s ordered, an approach that may take a bit longer, but “it’s healthier,” she said, and certainly makes a big difference in the taste.
Indeed, the fledgling restaurant has already won first place for both its fresh salsa and its chile verde in two recent local competitions, and second place for its spicy salsa.
You can enjoy those salsas with crispy chips as you ponder the menu at Me and Z’s.
The couple dozen or so choices are all tempting, from the award-winning chile verde to the slow-cooked chile Colorado, from the grilled fish tacos to the taco salad, from the crispy gorditas to the handmade chili rellenos.
Other creations include refreshing shrimp ceviche, an “Agua chile” butterfly shrimp dish and “Siete mares” — a hearty soup made with several kinds of seafood and shellfish. (Me and Z’s specializes in Mexican food, but Stevens said she’s also going to sneak surprises such as gumbo, jambalaya and even some Italian dishes on the specials board from time to time.)
It’s not likely that you’ll leave Me and Z’s hungry, since most of the hearty entrees include not only rice and beans, but also a cup of soup and a tasty little dessert of ice cream, caramel and sweet, cinnamony, crispy buñuelos.
From Monday through Thursday, the daily soups consist of albondigas, chicken tortilla, corn chowder and creamy tomato and basil; on the weekend, there’s clam chowder on Friday, and menudo and pozole on Saturday.
In coming up with the name for her restaurant, Stevens explained that “a lot of people call me ‘Z,’ and the ‘Me’ can be my family, my employees, my customers.”
Indeed, the classic Mexican fare and friendly atmosphere are certainly winning over new fans and increasing the ranks of “Me,” and many of “Z’s” former patrons are finding their way to her new digs as well.
“I was really nervous to open,” she recalled, “but I’m happy I did. Everyone’s been so supportive.”