At 50, Charco Broiler thrives under four generations of the same family

Nick Cordova, left, and his son Brock Cordova, right, are the third and fourth generation of their family to run Charco Broiler on Jefferson.
Nick Cordova, left, and his son Brock Cordova, right, are the third and fourth generation of their family to run Charco Broiler on Jefferson. Photo by Kim Leeson

When Charco Broiler opened on Jefferson Boulevard in 1964, that was the center of the Oak Cliff universe.

“Oak Cliff was very popular for shopping,” says third-generation owner Nick Cordova. “You had J.C. Penney, Sears, Rick’s Furniture, Nelson’s Beauty Store, Pep Boys …”

All those places closed or moved to Red Bird Mall when it was built, but Charco Broiler remains.

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In the early days, the cafeteria-style steakhouse served three plates — chop steak, ribeye and top sirloin — each served with baked potato, salad and Texas toast. Tea and water were the only beverage offerings.

“They saved us,” Cordova says of Hispanic Oak Cliff neighbors. “They turned us around.”

All that is still available, plus burgers, salads, grilled chicken, chicken-fried steak and more.

The ’60s and ’70s were great years for the restaurant, Cordova says. They would serve as many as 1,000 people on a Friday night. Things started taking a turn in the 1980s, when buildings on Jefferson started to empty out, but Charco Broiler hung on. When the Cordovas noticed that most of their new neighbors were Hispanic, they started marketing Charco Broiler to that population.

“They saved us,” Cordova says of Hispanic Oak Cliff neighbors. “They turned us around.”

Lunchtime diners move down the serving line at Charco Broiler. Below/ Brock Cordova works the grill.
Lunchtime diners move down the serving line at Charco Broiler. Photo by Kim Leeson

Revitalization of the Bishop Arts District and a renewed interest in Oak Cliff also have helped, he says.

Now the restaurant is about as busy as it was back in the ’70s, he says.

At lunchtime one recent Friday, the swiftly moving line for steaks and chicken is about 20 people deep.

There are downtown workers, retired folks, lunch dates.

Charco Broiler loyalists Darren and Jenna Thompson live in Garland and both work downtown. They say they meet for lunch at Charco Broiler about once a month.

“Where else can you get a steak lunch for $12?” he says.

Nick Cordova’s grandparents, Steve and Stephanie Kamenoff, immigrants from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, respectively, started Charco Broiler in the early 1960s. The original location was in Snider Plaza, and they opened a second location on South Buckner in 1963. Eventually there were three or four Charco Broiler restaurants, Cordova says. While the one on South Buckner also is still operating, the one on Jefferson is the only one still in the family.

Cordova’s parents bought the Jefferson restaurant in the mid-’60s, and he grew up working there.

His parents also bought a pizza place that was next door, but in the late 1960s, pizza wasn’t a thing, and that restaurant flopped. So they took out the walls and expanded the Charco Broiler floor space.

Brock Cordova works the grill.
Brock Cordova works the grill. Photo by Kim Leeson

That’s been about the only expansion. Cordova resisted moving south to Duncanville or Cedar Hill in the ’90s. The menu is bigger, and they’ve added a soda fountain, but Cordova doesn’t have ambition to grow.

“We’re just a small family business,” he says. “We all have kids, and we try to keep it simple.”

The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, and Cordova plans to keep it that way. Getting a liquor license and a bar would be too much trouble, he says.

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Cordova’s 29-year-old son, Brock, is a manager at the restaurant and plans to take over the business once his dad retires. Cordova has six grandchildren, and he says he hopes to keep Charco Broiler in the family for a fifth generation.

“We’re hoping to make it another 50 years,” he says.

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  • Dean Humphus

    For a time I was childhood friends with Nick and his brother Glen. Enjoyed the restaurant very much.

  • Pingback: #FBF: The iconic Charco Broiler - Oak Cliff()

  • Pat Ivey

    MY HUSBAND WENT HERE WEEKLY WHEN HE WORKED FOR THE CITY. NOW WE ARE BOTH RETIRED AND WE STILL GO HERE ONCE OR TWICE A MONTH AND VISIT THE ONE ON BUCKNER THE SAME WAY. LOVE THE COOKS ON JEFFERSON. LOVE THE FOOD PERIOD!!!! BUCKNER MAKES THE BEST TOAST HANDS DOWN!!!!!

  • Dana (Sullivan) Gillham

    My daughter grew up with the daughter of Nick’s. This was one of our favorite places in Oak Cliff. I worked for the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce in the Dallas Power and Light Company in the 60’s so that was a good lunch place. Keep up the good work. I am so glad to see all the improvements being done to Oak Cliff. I went to Rosemont, Greiner and Sunset, graduating in 1956, Daughter graduated from Kimbell in 1975.

  • Jeff Emmert

    I’m 44 years old. And I have been going to the charco broiler since I was 7. Back then we called it ( Fred’s ). It has always been a wonderful family place to eat and socialize. For the past year and half now I’ve lived in Tennessee but not a week goes by that I don’t think about this place its that much like home to me. And I pray all goes well for them so it is there when I get back. Miss you guys.