By Maureen Post Special to Published Jan 09, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Earlier this week, dining expert Amy Schubert shared her experience at COA, a new Mexican street fare restaurant in the Bayshore Shopping complex. It seems a Latin flavors are aflame in the area, as Berkley’s Café in Whitefish Bay transforms into the newly open El Guapo’s Mexican Restaurant, 342 E. Silver Spring Dr.

Closing for only two days over the Thanksgiving holiday, owners Ryan and Marija Whitman, also of Gracious Events, Catering & Event Design, re-opened on Black Friday to unveil a fresh look complete with a entirely transformed menu and casual ambiance.

"Berkeley’s was not doing as well as we had hoped. In being open a year, we were able to ask our customers and find out what they would like, what they were looking for and not finding. It was like having a focus group for a year and the concept of El Guapo’s is really what we came up with," Marija Whitman says.

Taking diners comments to heart, El Guapo’s invokes rich warm colors and snug seating. Adding a drop ceiling to limit noise, the Whitman’s aimed for casual, affordable and fun. They focused on needs in the current economy-- but that’s not to say it isn’t fresh and trendy.

"Most of the changes to the space were just cosmetic. We addressed comfort, atmosphere, coziness and sound," Whitman says.

Done in a style similar to Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace in Madison, vinyl button bar chairs add hipster trend to Mexican tradition. Brightly colored paintings, weavings and pottery add bright appeal while the dark wood color floor adds a taste of in home hospitality.

El Guapo’s prices fall right in line with Southside counterparts. El Guapo competes with Fifth and National staples like Botanas, La Perla and El Fuente; taco, enchilada and burrito platters all fall under $10 while fajitas and specialties like chicken mole and spice rubbed steak take the minor jump to $12-14.

While the offerings include full entrees complete with rice and beans, there’s no question El Guapo’s had your budget in mind when they compiled the menu. Tostadas, tacos and enchiladas are available ala carte for just $3 and you can order a chicken, beef, bean or pork burrito for only a dollar more.

But it’s not all basics here either. Appetizer empanadas are filled with spiced pumpkin, roasted poblano peppers, cheese and avocado ($3.50) and a Queso Fundido strays from the typical nacho cheese to blend Monterey and goat cheese with roasted poblano vinaigrette ($8.75).

Perhaps most surprising, taquitos ($6.50) are filled with orange achiote chicken and jalapeno cream cheese. Roasted tomato soup, roasted pumpkin soup or a Guajillo Turkey Chili increases the options beyond the common tortilla soup.

"When COA opened, we wondered if there was room for both of us. But really, they are two different things. Our goal is to be intimate, fun, inexpensive and to really be a part of the neighborhood. We created the menu so that residents in the area could come once or twice a week," says Whitman.

Maureen Post Special to staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.

After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.

Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.