Mupu Grill
930 E. Main St.
Santa Paula
525-9779
$8-$26


When a refurbished Mupu Grill returned to the Santa Paula dining scene in 2005, it was heralded as the hot new place for dinner and drinks, with a casual yet classy vibe that paid homage to Old Hollywood (which itself has a history in downtown Santa Paula) with its Chasen’s décor and movie memorabilia on the walls. The bright neon sign and prime location had it hopping on the weekends, particularly during the monthly “Cruise Night,” when its vintage look fit in perfectly with the classic cars rolling up and down Main Street.

Over a decade later, Mupu Grill hasn’t lost its touch.

It’s true that on this balmy, not-quite-cooled-off Sunday evening the restaurant was relatively quiet. But I’ll chalk that up to the weather: Temps had hit 104 degrees in Santa Paula that day, and the sweltering populace was clearly too hot to dine out — every restaurant on the normally bustling downtown was closed, empty or nearly so. And yes, it was a little warm and humid in Mupu Grill’s dining room. But the climate didn’t dampen the spirits of our friendly and helpful server, or hurt the quality of the food.

The evening started with drinks, and the “French Press Cocktails” menu made an admirable guide. There are

Mupu Grill's mojito

Mupu Grill’s mojito

few drinks as suitable for sultry nights as a mojito, so the choice was easy. Attractively served in a hurricane glass with plenty of ice, it certainly hit the spot and helped with the cool-down. (Your mileage, naturally, may vary.) For a nonalcoholic treat, I can highly recommend the house lemonade, freshly prepared with local produce. Both the standard version and the specialty (a mint and watermelon concoction that was pure paradise) were fantastic: fruity, citrusy, not too sweet and completely refreshing.

I had fond memories of the Mupu Grill roast beef sandwich, but decided this time to try the fish tacos. Fat hunks of fried fish were good enough on their own, but the star of the show was the chipotle sauce served on the side. It packed a major punch: If you can stand the heat, it’s well worth the burn.

Just as good was the chili. It’s rumored to be the same recipe made famous at Chasen’s, and it was delicious. Prepared with chicken and pork sausage, I’m not sure it would win any awards for authenticity, and hotheads might find fault with the moderate spice level, but I’m no purist, and with all that flavor to recommend it, I won’t quibble. I bet it’s great on a burger, too.

My husband struggled to choose between the Sunday specials of roast lamb or prime rib . . . and ultimately went with a ribeye because it just seemed simpler. This may have been the best dish that came to the table. Cooked to perfectly pink, medium-rare perfection and served with wonderful, very garlicky sautéed vegetables, it was a hearty meal for a big appetite.

Strawberry shortcake — truly an indulgence, but well worth the calories. Loaded with the ripest local (of course) strawberries, drizzled with chocolate and heaped with whipped cream.

Strawberry shortcake — truly an indulgence, but well worth the calories. Loaded with the ripest local (of course) strawberries, drizzled with chocolate and heaped with whipped cream.

Clearly, Mupu Grill has a way with beef: my son’s hamburger sliders (ordered from the kids’ menu) looked so juicy and delicious that I had to beg a bite. It tasted as good as I had hoped, and has me thinking a burger would make a solid choice next time I dine here. Also of note was the strawberry shortcake — truly an indulgence, but well worth the calories. Loaded with the ripest local (of course) strawberries, drizzled with chocolate and heaped with whipped cream, it was a delightful end to a lovely meal. Try it while it’s still in season!

A few other things to recommend this eatery: over 20 craft beers on tap, a large appetizer list, a gorgeous bar and exceptional service — our waitress was knowledgeable and efficient, and made us feel as if we were treasured regulars. Or maybe that’s just Santa Paula’s small-town hospitality. Either way, I’ll be looking forward to my next meal at Mupu Grill, which still delivers the goods that made it a local favorite all those years ago.