Friends and Family

When Ruben and Beatriz Ramirez decided to open a second El Charro Mexican Grill, they enlisted some trusted help.

The siblings, who co-own the Waunakee location, started by bringing on a business partner, Beatriz’s friend, Monica Covarrubias, to manage and co-own the new location, which opened Oct. 10 at 958 Liberty Drive on Verona’s southeast side.

Then, they got help from Ruben’s uncle, Jose Valencia, who had moved to Madison from North Carolina after 20 years of working as a cook there to help launch the Waunakee location last November and has helped get the Verona location started as well.

And they brought in Ruben’s brother-in-law, Gabriel Onate, to help the whole crew renovate the interior from the previous inhabitant, 4 Sisters Tapas Restaurant, so they could afford rent in the new building. 4 Sisters closed in February after a little under a year-and-a-half of operation.

Rather than hire contractors, Covarrubias said, Ramierez’s family painted, cleaned and built as much of it on their own as possible. They constructed their own margarita glass ceiling rack out of wood and put up a stone backsplash behind the bar, which was just a plain wall when 4 Sisters occupied the space.

Covarrubias said carpentry comes to the family just as easily as cooking.

“We got stuff done on our own,” Covarrubias said.

El Charro brings Verona its second Mexican-themed restaurant, joining the Tex-Mex fare served at Pasqual’s Cantina. A previous Mexican restaurant, Cuco’s, closed in late 2017 to make way for Monk’s.

“Charro,” which means “cowboy” in Spanish, was chosen as the restaurant’s namesake because of Ramirez’s childhood love of horses and farms. Ramirez grew up in rural Mexico, but moved to Madison when he was 15 to live with his sister, who had already relocated there. He worked at Mi Cocina in Middleton for six years.

After a three year return to Mexico, he moved to Mount Horeb with his wife, Laura, in 2010. He then worked at Laredo’s Mexican Restaurante east side location in Madison and spent five years at the Courtyard by Marriott in Middleton.

After years hosting, waiting, cooking and making drinks, he decided it was time to own his own restaurant and work for himself.

Covarrubias attested to Ruben’s strong work ethic.

“Wherever help is needed, Ruben plugs in,” she said. “He is always checking if everything is OK.”

Covarrubias has lived in Fitchburg for years. She had past experience working as a hotel cook and barista. She agreed to help the Ramirezs operate El Charro in Verona because she is raising money for her wedding next year.

While she said she doesn’t drink much, one of Covarrubias’ main contributions to the new location is helping to expand their bar menu. The Waunakee location is more limited in its bar options, Covarrubias said.

Covarrubias makes the house sangria herself. She also ensures there will be plenty of Mexican domestic and craft beer selections on the menu including Tecate, which she said is hard to find, and introduced the ‘brava ring’ – a sweet and spicy salt/sugar mix for rimming drink glasses. She also added area drink selections, including wine from Liberty Park neighbor Fisher King Winery and Wisconsin beer from Potosi Brewery.

While they already have many regulars after a month-and-a-half of business, Covarrubias said they aimed for a low-key start so they could all adjust to operating a second location. She said soon they will begin more promotions to get it busier, such as kids eating for half-price on Mondays.

The menu includes many traditional Mexican favorites such as burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, fajitas and quesadillas. Meat options include beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and steak. The vegetarian menu offers unique ingredients such as zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms and asparagus. Guacamole and pico de gallo are prepared fresh by the kitchen daily.

One of the most popular dishes at the Verona location has been a pineapple carved-out and filled with shrimp, bell peppers, chicken, chorizo and onions topped with cheese sauce. Covarrubias’ personal favorite dish is chipotle chicken and rice.

Contact Neal Patten, Verona Community Reporter at