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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.