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It was Michael DeLeon, the strolling guitarist at Los Chavez mexico Restaurant in Lenexa, who set me straight: The lilting Spanish tune with the refrain Aye yi yi yi is named “Cielito Lindo” — no “The Frito Bandito Song.”

ns was dipping a tortilla chip into a bowl of con queso sauce ($3.75) — a puddle of melted cheese, cook spinach, and peppers — and trying to song the “Frito Bandito” text to mine 8-year-old goddaughter, who looked in ~ me as if ns were fully insane. The Frito what?

It’s been virtually three decades because the critical of those commercials because that Fritos chips featuring the Tex Avery cartoon “bandito” aired on the tube. The mustachioed bandito (who looked a lot choose actor Wallace Beery playing the mexican rebel in Viva Villa!) was judged to be culturally insensitive and dropped native the advertisement campaign. But I wasn’t the only Baby Boomer adding the goofy TV lyrics to “Cielito Lindo” (which is a tragic ballad, DeLeon described to me later). At the following table, a balding guy was to sing the same tune. I know it seems challenging to believe, however 30 year ago, when the Frito Bandito popped up in between episodes that The Brady Bunch and The Partridge household to sing around the virtues of those braided Fritos corn chips, over there wasn’t a Taco Bell on practically every corner. If you wanted Mexican food, you either made that at home or visited a cozy little family-run restaurant.

Los Chavez, called for that is owner, Bobby Chavez, is just that kind of restaurant. If the ar weren’t smack in the middle of Johnson County, Los Chavez can easily happen for one of the noisy, lovable family-owned joints follow me Southwest Boulevard, not far from whereby Bobby Chavez grew up. But his own organization is miles far from the Boulevard, on a stretch that land known to Johnson county natives as “Old town Lenexa” because many that the buildings on the street date back to the 19th century, consisting of the framework that right now houses Bobby Chavez’s namesake restaurant.

“It was built as the stables for the Lenexa Fire Department,” claims Chavez, tapping his foot ~ above the restaurant’s wooden floor. “You understand what’s under this floorboard? The original dirt and gravel floor. This structure goes ago to 1895.”

regardless of the building’s long history, this particular day it looks like just around every other Mexican-American restaurant in town: neon beer signs; uncloaked tables through salt and also pepper in containers that look prefer Corona beer bottles; tortilla chips in red plastic baskets. What set the place apart is the food: mildly spiced, fresh-tasting, and also moderately priced dishes served in vast portions. By 7 on a Friday night, hungry client are already waiting external or are huddled in a small area in prior of the bar because that a table. They clock the seated customers gobble down big plates of enchiladas and also tamales and bide their time. The won’t be long before they too are swilling a cold margarita, dipping a chip right into the sweet “hot sauce,” and also listening come Michael DeLeon song the ever-popular “La Bamba” for the 20th time.

for years (after the steeds moved out of this old stable), the structure has to be fragrant v the scent of cook peppers and also fried beans. Chavez relocated his restaurant from a teeny room top top 95th Street only 4 years ago; prior to that, this structure housed the initial Panzon’s Restaurant, then an irish pub that offered Mexican food, and later still a place called The whole Enchilada. Chavez and his family came in, gave the location a fresh coat that paint and a couple of tasteful murals done by a cousin of Chavez indigenous Mexico, and started food preparation up burritos, tacos, and also refried bean — the stuff Americans have come to know as Mexican food.

Sophisticates don’t always agree: such dishes together tacos and cheese-covered enchiladas “do represent some of the straightforward foods in Mexico,” writes Diana Kennedy in The arts of mexican Cooking, “in name only — they have actually been carried down to their lowest common denominator phibìc of the border, top top a par v the chop suey and also chow mein that Chinese restaurants two decades ago.”

yet whatever that is heritage, Los Chavez offer up a luscious bowl of spicy chili con carne, thick through cooked pork and also fried bean ($6.45) and eaten through folded soft flour tortillas. Most of the other dishes served here, such as potato enchiladas or chile rellenos (which must be notified in advancement by phone), were adapted by Chavez; his wife, Therese; and also their son, Bobby Jr., indigenous recipes passed under from Therese’s great-grandmother Pasquala Hernandez, that was the both Spanish and Mexican heritage.

that cares that many of the dishes below are influenced by together peasant fare as the Santa Fe tacos ($8.95), flour tortillas filled v fried potatoes and also fiery chorizo sausage, deep-fried, and dappled with lettuce and also cheese? on the Kansas plains, whereby “peasant” food to be rib-sticking farm food, such together fried chicken, biscuits, and also mashed potatoes through gravy, the love of hearty regional cooking — no matter the region, it is in it Sicily or Guadalajara — has actually never gone out of style. And also in a part of the United states where the corn yes, really does “grow together high as an elephant’s eye,” a tamale cook in a fresh corn husk, thick through masa and chunks of pork in a tangy mole sauce, appears as all-American as the cold diet cola with which my dining companion wash it all down.

in ~ Los Chavez, the cooking is done with a discreet hand top top the peppers and also spices. Dishes right here aren’t bland, however the fire is subdued. The smooth, lemony-tasting agakmall ($3.75) has only the merest hint of cilantro, a dazzling herb that ns love however no one rather at my table can stand. And my young goddaughters, their palates shame by too many visits come McDonald’s, demand the plainest version of any dish. A taco have to be cost-free of any kind of spice, any type of sauce, and even lettuce. The kitchen was accommodating, also on a busy weekend night, although ns wound up eating the plain tacos myself: The girls to be lured far by a snazzy-looking candy device at the restaurant’s entrance and ate lollipops instead.

No matter. ~ I had happily wolfed under my very own Santa Fe Tacos, a couple of soft and satisfying potato enchiladas, a few nibbles of chili con carne, and also a most guacamole, i ate your tacos and Spanish rice too. I gave the children a buck and asked them to bribe the strolling guitarist, who had actually just launched into the mournful “Guantanamera,” right into singing the an ext upbeat “Walk favor An Egyptian.” The tiny brats double-crossed me and also asked DeLeon to sing the Christmas track “Feliz Navidad” instead. The did, and not one person in the dining room looked up to concern why. Later DeLeon called me the he gets several strange musical requests from customers, the most constant oddball choice being “Stairway to Heaven.”

“But I deserve to do Freddy Fender’s ‘Wasted Days and also Wasted Nights,"” DeLeon said brightly, adding that the performs just on Friday and also Saturday nights and also that his most-requested Latin number is, unsurprisingly, “La Bamba.”

DeLeon is just one of the couple of people working in the dining room that aren’t concerned Bobby and also Therese Chavez. In addition to Bobby Jr., there space aunts and also uncles and also cousins and even Bobby’s 75-year-old mother, Margaret, who oversees the kitchen. The ambience is a type of serene chaos. The servers run roughly with warm plates of food or cold pitchers that beer, and also the customers variety from suburban households with gaggles that high-strung toddlers come skinny, greatly tattooed art-student types, all through pale skin, vibrantly dyed hair, and amazingly huge appetites.

mine appetite to be pretty remarkable too.


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I blushed the shade of a ripe chile pepper once I realized just how much food I had actually sleek off in between that very first tortilla chip and also the third rendition the “La Bamba.”

“Dessert?” the waitress asked as I pulled myself away from all the empty plates at the table.