It’s barely noon on a cloudy, breezy Friday, but already Gina’s Mexican Café is starting to fill up with hungry patrons like Crystal Zappa and Rob Stephens, who are giddy about a plate of fish tacos.
“We’re all about the fish tacos right now,” said Zappa, who, with Stephens, was visiting Nanaimo for the day from Courtenay.
Fish tacos are definitely high on the list of customer favourites, as is the Coyote, Navajo and … well, let’s face it, pretty much everything on the menu is a crowd pleaser, including the margaritas.
But after a day of kayaking, beachcombing, travelling or even working, most people who enter the pink house on the hill start their Gina’s experience by diving into a plate of nachos, voted again this year as Best of the City.
“People like them, we get top honours for nachos almost every year,” said owner Don Corfield. “But I want to expand our horizons a little and get top restaurant next year.”
Gina’s is a local icon. Few changes to staffing and even fewer to the menu over the past 26 years (though one recent addition is wild sockeye salmon tacos) has resulted in a loyal following both by locals and summer tourists.
“People know what they’re getting when they come here,” said Corfield. “It’s like coming home. They know the names of the wait staff, they know what they want before they even get here.”
Corfield smiles at one recent customer who ordered an Aztec combo plate.
“We haven’t had the Aztec on the menu for 16 years,” he said. “We keep it on the fire extinguisher in the kitchen so the kitchen staff know what’s in it if someone orders it.”
But be warned if you arrive hungry, there may be a bit of a wait for a table, especially on one of those summer days that just begs for Mexican cuisine.
As quipster and baseballer Yogi Berra once stated, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
Gina’s has changed a little for 2012 – it recently built a 12-seat wood deck on its Skinner Street frontage for those who prefer their burritos and tacos al fresco.
With a preference for local food – seafood, chicken and produce are all fresh and local, only the beef is from off-Island – Gina’s is authentic Tex-mex dining and atmosphere.
When the 100-Mile Diet ramped up a few years ago, Corfield jumped on the bandwagon.
“People don’t necessarily ask for it, but I think they appreciate it,” he said.
So the ingredients are all there for Gina’s continued success: happy staff, great atmosphere, fresh food, and the city’s best nachos.