4200 N. Ventura Ave.

Most people head toward Ojai on Highway 33 from Ventura. If they look to the right, they’ll see a Pepsi bottling plant and industrial buildings. A little farther on the left is Brooks Institute Film School. What many do not realize is that the highway parallels Ventura Avenue, and at about the midway point between Shell Road and Cañada Larga is a nondescript building with a convenience market on one end and a small take-away Mexican restaurant at the other.

That small take-away restaurant also happens to have some of the tastiest home-cooked and affordable Mexican food in Ventura County.

Maggie’s on the Avenue is a tucked-away gem for simple, nonspecialty everyday Mexican food. Opened by Maggie and Alfredo Acosta in 1992, truly as a “mom and pop” take-away food stand, Maggie used everyday family recipes for their tacos, burritos, chile rellenos, tamales and the like, and local workers and nearby residents soon learned this little stand would consistently provide delicious and familiar Mexican standards.

Sometimes in the morning a breakfast burrito is exactly my first meal craving of the day.  While there are many options at Maggie’s, my favorite combination is chorizo, beans, rice and cheese, also stuffed with a chili relleno. The chorizo is ground and made on site, as are the cheese-filled rellenos. It is a lot of food and a heavy way to start the day, but the taste combinations are particularly satisfying.   

I often stay with my burrito choice for breakfast, but see a lot of workers starting their day with huevos rancheros or a scrambled machaca combination. Nearly everyone orders an extra portion of the delicious salsa casera, a blended spicy combination of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lemon juice and garlic (and very fresh-tasting as it is also made daily on site).

The lunchtime crowd at Maggie’s is often the same returning workers who may often order a different burrito combination for lunch ( I prefer the chicken chile verde, although the red pork chili Colorado also is mighty flavorful); also, though for the hearty eater, the carne asada plate is a terrific option: two strips of grilled rib eye steak, rice (of course made on site daily), beans, french fries, three corn tortillas and pico de gallo salsa (at $7.50 the most expensive and best value option on the menu).

For the non-Mexican food fan, there are also a number of hamburger options, freshly grilled to order. A note here to the vegetarian eaters: there are quite a few meatless and veggie burrito options, as well as several garden burger options; this number of meatless options is rarely offered at small take-away Mexican restaurants, and Maggie’s is to be commended for such variety.

Another often-ordered lunch selection is the torta (ham and cheese with avocado, carne asada with sour cream, or my personal favorite, jalapeño smoked sausage served with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and sour cream — really a good savory taste combination.) If I have any criticism of Maggie’s recipes, it is probably of the tamales. Every Mexican cook has a tamale recipe and a masa style. I like my masa airier and less compacted, and the meat stuffing more compacted. Just my preference, but Maggie’s tamales do have a very satisfying flavor, and I am particularly fond of the sweet corn tamales. The sweet tamales are not seen as frequently in local markets as I would expect, and Maggie’s is great option for holiday ordering.

Do not expect Maggie’s to be fancy in any way, nor to be anything other than a corner take-away food stand.

Although Maggie passed away in 2005, her recipes and family home-cooked style live on with her husband’s daily hard work and cooking. But judging by the long lines at breakfast and at lunch many patrons are continuously happy with the fresh, homemade style and taste of this small restaurant.