Jenny Scarborough

Ocracoke's newest restaurant may close for a few months after Labor Day weekend.

Within 15 minutes only the stems were left. Nom nom nom.
Within 15 minutes only the stems were left. Nom nom nom.

In the meantime, El Faro may be your best bet to sit down for a filling, affordable meal with no waiting for a table.

Huevos Rancheros won out over the Speedy Gonzales for Sundae, who scraped her plate clean and announced that she was well satisfied. I ordered chile rellenos, because the recipe involves cheese and a fryer. Yum. At first, I confess, I thought the beans looked a little runny, but in my mouth they were perfect, creamy and cheesy and delicious with the rice. Neither of us had room to finish the last of the complimentary chips and salsa.

The former home of The Flying Melon and once, long ago, The Trolley Stop has been transformed. El Faro owners Julio and Rosie Zapata carpeted the interior, gave it a coat of soothing Carolina blue paint, and added large, comfortable booths. Booths! The shaded outdoor tables look like a brilliant place to kick back with a few friends and a few 24 ounce $10 margaritas.

The menu includes favorites from south of the border, like burritos, fajitas and chimichangas. El Faro also offers a number of lunch specials for $6.99 and $7.99.

Just add friends and cerveza. A perfect hidden spot on Ocracoke!
Just add friends and cerveza. A perfect hidden spot on Ocracoke!

El Faro opened in the spring of 2013, and "locals have kept us open," said Julio. A number of islanders like Sean and Laurie Death, Martha Garrish, Byron Miller and Roger Garrish are devoted to the food, and often order carry out.

Jude and Frank Brown eat there most Thursday nights. "It is absolutely wonderful. The fried calamari is great," said Jude, who also loves the steak chimichanga. In addition, Rosie and Julio are "good people. They're sweet people," said Jude, who gave the couple a gift of a lighthouse in a bottle to congratulate them on their venture.

Julio hopes the restaurant will catch on more with visitors next summer. The 2013 season was slower than expected for most Ocracoke Island businesses, which added to the challenge of running a new restaurant.

The Zapatas pay attention to feedback from customers. "We use Trip Advisor to gauge ourselves," said Julio. People were pleased with their meals, but balked at the prices on the original menu, so they dropped their prices to be in line with what people expect from Mexican restaurants in their hometowns, said Julio.

The couple, now parents to two active boys, met in a Mexican restaurant in Greenville, NC. Rosie was waiting tables, and "I was the annoying customer," said Julio. He got a friend to introduce them, and then invited Rosie to join him on Ocracoke, where he had lived for a year. Love and marriage followed. Many visitors may recognize Rosie and Julio from the Jolly Roger, where they were both servers for the past decade.

El Faro is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. If they are open during the winter, they will offer specials to get locals out. The restaurant can also host events and parties.