Pio Loco: Is Anyone in the Kitchen?


Pio Loco first opened in 1986 in a former pizzeria on Lake Boulevard as a non-traditional Mexican restaurant; when the old gymnasium at the Pine Street School became available in the mid-1990’s, Chef Jeff Cerasaro upped sticks and moved to the considerably more roomy downtown location. Within the past few months Pio Loco has undergone some pleasant changes: the bar was moved downstairs, a dance floor was added along with a plant-filled room divider, and a new earthy Mediterranean color scheme completed the update.

About 10 years ago the mainly quasi-Mexican menu expanded to include fusion dishes such as Pork Tenderloin Naranja (pork with sake, mandarin oranges, and cilantro) and sides like risotto and balsamic spinach. In 2007 the Mexican/fusion dishes were scooted to the side when Cerasaro decided to turn the emphasis to seafood. Whether fish didn’t sell well or customers requested the old menu is unknown, but within a year the Mexican dishes were being featured again. A few fish dishes remain (salmon with pesto, halibut con grejo) as do the salads, a few mainstream entrees (rib-eye steak, filet) and some Asian-influenced appetizers (ahi sashimi, ahi poki).

It seems, however, that more attention is currently being paid to the aesthetics of the interior than to the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen. Femme de Joie remembers eating at the Lake Boulevard location, and then at the newly-refurbished Pine Street restaurant, and enjoying the food greatly. Over the last few visits she has noticed a definite decline in taste and presentation, uneven execution of many of the staple dishes, and some oddly inconsistent pricing.


The first thing that caught M. de Joie’s eye on the menu was that the first basket of chips and bowl of salsa are complimentary; order another and that’s $1.00 for chips and $1.50 for salsa. Now, M. de Joie will defend any restaurateur’s right to turn a profit, but it is standard practice at every other Mexican restaurant to simply bring another round of both when requested and figure that into the overall cost of each meal. Further, the hot garlic salsa may or may not still be offered; on one occasion when M. de Joie requested some hotter salsa, the busboy looked confused and said there wasn‘t any other hot sauce. But on another visit the garlic salsa was being served to all tables.

Among appetizers, the oyster shooters (two for $2.95) are a good bet: two raw oysters, each in its own cup, covered in a sweet, chunky cocktail sauce. These are light and fresh, what a good appetizer should be: to whet the diner’s appetite for dishes to come, not sate it with fatty, heavy globules of melted cheese or deep-fried vegetables with gooey dipping sauce.


A lunch special: bay shrimp and avocado wrap with green salad, smoked salmon dressing on the side. This should have been great but was very bland: the green salad was out of a bag — iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot-red cabbage, with a few diced tomato pieces. The smoked salmon dressing (95 cents extra) deserves decent greens but iceberg lettuce isn’t it. As for the wrap, there was no dressing on the filling to give it a creamy cohesiveness. While the avocado chunks were ripe and the shrimp were tasty, the entire wrap was disappointing and needed quite a lot of salt to give it some flavor.

A word about that green salad: a note on the menu indicates if a salad or soup is ordered as a side with a main course, it costs $2.50. However, if you order a simple side salad or cup of soup by itself, it costs $7.95. There is no other word to describe that but rip-off (usury not strictly being correct). Imagine this: you go to meet an old friend for lunch at Pio Loco. You order your meal but your friend isn’t very hungry or is on a diet. “I’ll just have a dinner salad.” When the bill comes, there it is: $7.95 for a small plate of iceberg lettuce. Your friend is not going to be amused and that is what you‘ll both remember about the food.


Burrito mejor with carne asada, $9.95.

The carne asada shreds were tasty enough and freshly grilled, but the rest of the ingredients – pinto beans, Napa cabbage, cheese – didn’t have much flavor on their own and contributed little but bulk to the entire dish. Verde sauce was pleasantly tart but the Spanish sauce tasted like it was out of a can. This appeared to have had the sauces poured over and then allowed to sit long enough for both the Spanish and verde sauces to soak into the tortilla and congeal. It was accompanied by yet another pile of shredded iceberg lettuce and diced tomatoes.


Beer battered halibut and chips, $14.95.

On a lunch outing, M. de Joie placed her order for halibut and chips with the waitress at 12:15. It arrived at table at 12:42 – and this when there were no more than six other tables occupied. The chips were out of a bag of frozen crinkle-cuts and had been sitting around cooling for a good ten minutes or more. The slaw was a mixture of shredded cabbage and carrots in an oily dressing without any discernable flavor, save a slight sweetness. Four small halibut chunks were long on breading and short on actual halibut; what fish was there had been overcooked to a wooly texture. The fish had apparently been fried at the same time the potatoes were.

A better-than-average wine list is offered with numerous selections available by the glass for a fair price, and a couple of local vineyards (Alpen Cellars from Trinity County, Alger Vineyards in Manton), as well as a tasty selection of beers (Kona Longboard, Tangerine Wheat).

Femme de Joie feels that Pio Loco’s kitchen is attempting to go in more directions than can be accomplished with success, and the overall menu is suffering due to a lack of focus. Mexican, fish, Asian, steak, multiple side dishes and appetizers — each one deserves care, high-quality ingredients, and individual preparation, and it appears they are not getting it. There is also a problem with getting completed dishes out of the kitchen in a timely fashion. During one visit, there was one waitress visible plus the hostess and a very hard-working busboy — not enough staff to cover such a large space.

While Chef Jeff can be seen emerging from his office now and then, does he ever go into the kitchen and cook? It’s a shame to see the food and service at Pio Loco slide downhill when it had been so good in the past, and after all the work that’s gone into updating the décor. Pio Loco was at first a fine addition to the downtown business community. It is hoped this is a very temporary decline and the situation rights itself.

Pio Loco, 1135 Pine Street in the Pine Street School (corner of Eureka Way), 530-246-2111. Open 11:30 to 4:30 Monday-Friday for lunch, dinner 4:30 to 9:00 PM Monday-Thursday, until 9:30 PM Friday and Saturday. Full bar. Vegetarian options. On site-parking. Cash, local checks, cards. Occasional live music. Club Coco Loco 9:00 PM – 1:00 AM Friday & Saturday. Website and menu at http://www.pioloco.com/

Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more.

Femme de Joie
Femme de Joie's first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.
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39 Responses

  1. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    I, too, remember Pio Loco from it's Lake Blvd. days. I felt it was a truly unique and the best Mexican restaurant I'd ever visited. It was such a pleasure to have Mexican food that wasn't glopped on a plate drowning in refried beans and Spanish rice . . . and served with real panache. Alas, the Pio has come a long way from those days and now it's just another restaurant.

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I used to love Pio Loco, but it's been a long time since I enjoyed a single meal there. I finally had to quit going because, as you described, the service was beyond slow and the food was always bland and oily.

    It's a beautiful restauant, but I'd rather eat great food in an ugly place than bad food in a beautiful place. If the menu is no good, what's the point of going out?

  3. Avatar Liz Merry says:

    It really has gone downhill. What a shame – I used to love it there.

  4. Avatar LJ says:

    So glad to see that the negatives of Pio Loco have come out! It used to be in the top 3 restaurants we would frequent… it has definitely dropped off our list for the same reasons……food quality, pricing and service!

    Thank you and I hope this will initiate its revival!


  5. Avatar Darcie says:

    The new interior looks beautiful! I have to admit that we stopped going there a number of years ago (previously had gone several times a month) when it seemed they charged extra for everything, refills on drinks, chips and the final straw was when given a choice of dressings I picked the salmon and was shocked to see the extra charge on the bill.

    I hope Chef Jeff is listening – it is a beautiful and unique spot.

  6. Avatar Gabrielle says:

    I used to eat at Pio Loco during the Lake Blvd days quite often, then went a few times to the downtown location, then eventually stopped going altogether. I haven't been in more than five years, at least. I just don't go there anymore because the food and service are just that bad. Pio Loco is not even an option when my husband and I talk about where we want to go for dinner. We never discuss that restaurant anymore. Sad, because it used to be a great place to eat.

  7. Avatar Coach Bob says:

    Yes, AJ (and everyone else) Jeff has had serious bouts of "inconsistency" in recent years. Seems like he's doin' the "can't make up my mind" two-step. Wrong dance; wrong music.

    This place is going downhill FAST….!

  8. Avatar Sue says:

    I hope Jeff is listening and can figure out how to stop the skid!

  9. Avatar Emma S says:

    Never had a good meal there … nor at Rivers. Compared to, Moonstone, Tapas, Vintage or Janya's (new Thai place off Market), where every visit is a pleasure.

  10. Avatar Anne says:

    The Pollo Topopo, a lovely composed chicken salad, has always been a favorite. The last time we were in it was served with tired greens and raw chicken. We have not been back.

  11. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Sounds like there are a lot of "used to go theres". Too bad. Have you mentioned all this to the owner, Miss Femme"?

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear pmarshall,

      You have touched on an interesting subject, which could be an entire column in itself: when dining out, if you are served an unsatisfactory meal, how to convey the message to the owner without sounding like a spoiled princess or someone trying to get the food comped. If one is served an unsatisfactory meal on each of three consecutive visits and complains about each one, what is the liklihood of having the fourth consecutive meal "creatively enhanced" by the kitchen staff? If anyone has any surefire solutions, please pass them on.

      But in answer to your question: Femme de Joie recalls not so long ago dining with a friend, whom Chef Jeff asked if she liked the then-new decor. She told him she preferred the previous design. He stared at her and walked away. We took that to mean only positive remarks were welcome.


      Femme de Joie

      • Avatar Linda Masterson says:

        Unfortunately that has been my experience at Pio Loco's. There is such a nice ambiance there and my friends and I have liked to meet there in the past for a glass of wine or dinner, but Jeff has been so rude on so many occasions that I refuse to return when I would have probably overlooked occasional lapses in the food because it's a central location, comfortable and usually the food and service has been fine. Too bad.

  12. Avatar Chris Bennor says:

    As a former restaurant owner (who did quite nicely, thank you), I know that when consistency departs, so will the customers. It was one of the lessons my late husband pressed over again and again as a secret to success in the restaurant business.

    I hope that pride and arrogance won't block the owner of this restaurant from paying close attention to this review and the subsequent comments. It really sounds like customers are eager to come back if they'll be rewarded with good food and good service. But I'll be the first to admit, most great chefs I've met are full of pride and arrogance. The successful ones suck it up though and learn to take constructive criticism and tackle their issues.

    This is not a slam to you, Chef Jeff and I hope you don't take it as such. Instead, realize that people WANT you to succeed and want to come back to your establishment, you just need to give them a reason to each and every single time they visit.

  13. Avatar Gary Andresen says:

    Our first visit there was a little over ten years ago after moving here from Pleasanton. My wife loved their Salmon dressing and the food was great. They also served the best Margarita in town, by far.

    Little by little the cuisine has deteriorated. Our last time there was with four other couples about six months ago. We had a very healthy bar tab and then noticed that they charged us for chips and salsa. I complained, so they removed it from our bill. We have not returned, nor will we. There are too many alternatives that serve great food and don't charge for chips and salsa.

  14. Avatar ambercita says:

    The food and service at Pio Loco used to be so much better. Pio Loco used to be a favorite Friday evening gathering place for martinis and appetizers (the calamari was the best) and then….things became checkered. Sometimes there was charge for chips and salsa, sometimes there wasn't. When asked about this, the server could not give a solid reason. Speculation went from – the whim of the server, the presence of cleavage, the bar tab? Who knows? The last meal that I had there was a chile verde dish that looked like meat from a can and a dubious tomatillo "sauce" accompanied by – what I would call a 'starch compote' but was meant to be risotto (Lipton's?). This is a sad thing to see in an establishment with such potential; great venue for live music, nice ambiance. But everything else continues to lack. I hope that things change (for the better – versus a For Lease sign) at Pio Loco.

  15. Avatar Barb says:

    I too have had very negative experiences here recently. I love the interior and atmosphere, but in our last visit, the only helpful staff was the busboy. The waitress never offered the specials, never came by our table once the food was delivered, and was overall unpleasant. The food was sloooooow, and the sides were horrible. Did not even touch them. I will never pay for chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant. We have some family owned truly great options here in town like Casa Ramos, Puerto Vallarta and Guadalahara who while not as fancy, know you by name, remember what you drink and give some of the best service around. We eat out several times a week, and love to have options, but sadly, we crossed this one off our list!

    • Don't forget LaCabana next to Crown Camera across from Shervan Square on Market Street. I love the food for its freshness and authenticity, and I adore the family who works there, and I appreciate the good service, and the prices, which are very reasonable. (Try the special: Pollo en Mole ..for $6.99 … it's a family recipe and absolutely delicious. I also tend to order the carnitas burrioto, or fish tacos or the carne asada tacos, ala carte )

      • Avatar Kathryn Kirk says:


        I too love La Cabana. I get the fish tacos ala carte and the interesting side dish of spicy carrots!. Mucho cheapo!

  16. Avatar Sandy T says:

    So glad to hear we aren't the only ones dissatisfied with Pio Locos. We loved in on Lake Boulevard. My husband loved the enchiladas with real shredded beef. When he ordered that at the new site he was served hamburger. Since then we haven't been pleased with any of our meals. They do a much better job as Los Gordos and you can eat all the salsa you want for free. Even with our beers we never spend over $20 for the two of us.

  17. Avatar CHEFF JEFF says:


    • Avatar Jim Dyar says:


      Thanks for commenting here. This discussion really does show that people are passionate about your place.
      Once, while talking to another chef in town (someone who is really good) I asked him, "Well, who else would you try in town?"
      He replied, "I don't know, maybe Chef Jeff." The implication was, when he's on, he's really on. You wouldn't have been in business so long had people not been satisfied year after year.
      Also, speaking for me and my band, we've really enjoyed the great gigs we've played at your place.
      Oh yeah, and one last thing — No more ALL CAPS. You must use them SPARINGLY.

      • Jim, I stepped away from the computer for a few hours, but was happy to return and read your response to Chef Jeff, which expressed my sentiments exactly (well, except the part about my band … because I don't have a band).

        And, Jeff, I second Jim's appreciation that you felt comfortable enough to reply with your own comment. It takes courage to face critics, accept negative feedback and ask for a second chance.

        I hope you're feeling better soon and that you'll be back in the kitchen preparing great dishes again.

    • Avatar Larry S says:

      Jeff, Is your "Caps Lock" button stuck on, or are you screaming?

      • Avatar Cat says:

        He's screaming! and probably drunk ….

        Lets just hope he washes his hands when he goes into that kitchen in between the many mood swings his staff has to endure.

  18. Avatar L.R. Watson says:

    Just for fun and to kill time I searched Pio Loco on Yelp. A review on 12/2/2009 by a Buz F. of Palo Cedro was interesting. He gave PL two stars. What got my attention was the last paragraph of his review. Check it out . .. it's too funny.

    And Chef Jeff, glad what's been written here has gotten your attention. Someone commented that we all want you to be successful. I'm with them. When you start your soul searching and examining changes to make, think about your origin . . . Lake Blvd. You truly shined there, dude. Get back to your roots!

    Buz F of Palo Cedro wrote:

    "Pio Loco is by far the best Mexican seafood restaurant-slash-nightclub in Redding north of Eureka Way and south of the Sacramento River.

    I stumbled across this place entirely by accident, having just had dinner at Chu's Too at the opposite end of Pine Street School, where I had loads of sushi and got thoroughly shitty on Kirin Ichiban. I made a wrong turn in the hallway after leaving Chu's and ended up in Pio Loco. I decided to stay for a 'rita to maintain my buzz. Though not at all hungry, the menu at Pio Loco was so interesting that I just had to try it……and I ended up trying really hard. It was all amazing, from the unique deep-fried zucchini with ranch dressing appetizer, to the equally unique deep-fried chicken nuggets served with fries and ranch dressing that I had as my entree.

    As an added benefit, the owner — a big guy who said his name was "Chef Jeff" — came to my table, removed my shoes and socks, broke out some hot oil, and gave me a long, satisfying foot massage while entertaining me with a seemingly endless supply off-color Obama jokes. That was a nice touch. Where else does the chef come to your table and rub your barking dogs while tickling your funny bone?"

  19. Avatar Doug says:

    When I lived in Redding, Pio Loco was one of my favorite places; I got to know Jeff a bit (even helped a little with the wine list at one point). It's great that everyone has provided such insightful–and constructive–comments and I'm thrilled that Jeff has heard everyone. I second (or third) Jim and Doni's appreciation for you, Jeff, to pipe in and assure everyone that you're still in the fray. More power to you; my respect for you has risen ten-fold. I expect to be at one of your tables on my next visit for sure.

  20. Avatar Jose A. Garcia says:

    I travel from one end of California to the other almost every week, and across the country every other month or so. I eat out, way too much. One thing I have noticed, not just at Pio Loco's but at many restaurants is that the quality is just crap.

    Most "Mexican Food" places smother everything in shredded american cheese and sour cream and make the plate look full with a few cups of shredded ice berg lettuce per entre. Even here in Redding the flagship mexican place is the Casa Ramos, but their quality has gone down as well.

    I have found that as far as mexican food goes that the more simple, fresh, and authentic the ingredients are, the better the food. I strongly feel that when a restaurant gets too big and tries to accomodate every diner at every service that this is when the quality goes out the door in favor of short term receipts. As a family we rarely go out to eat, not because of the price, but because we make better tasting, better looking, fresh food at home than what we can buy in our local restaurants here.

    I would rather go to a place and get told, "Sorry, we're full." than to be served another plate of shredded lettuce and cheese with a gob of sour cream. BLECH! That smacks of trailer trash tripe in anytown.

    The last time my wife and I went to Pio Loco's was in January, after hearing that they had remodeled. We recalled that at one time, they used to make good food. But that was a long time ago. So we thought we'd give them a try. Same old same old. Sorry Jeff, but we work hard earning our money. You've got to earn yours as well.

    Perhaps instead of updating the decor ($$), you could bring in a Chef with a passion for honest, tasty, quality, Cal-Mex food. Take some time off and heal up.

  21. Avatar Russ says:

    I, too, remember better times at Pio Loco. It used to be one of our favorite places for a romantic evening in Redding. It was there where my wife suprised me with the impending birth of our fourth child.

    Even though quality seems to have diminished the last few years, I feel Jeff is to be complimented for acknowledging concerns from the community and taking action to resolve problems. The last time I was there, Jeff was friendly and accomodating. I had the pollo verde y azul, which I would highly recommend. It was a generous portion of food.

    I like the new interior of the restaurant and look forward to returning to see further changes that Chef Jeff will make in response to our imput.

  22. Avatar Sarah Till says:

    Pio Loco has great food & atmosphere. I have had many an agency celebration lunch/after work drink there. I was so happy when the "fish menu" was rescinded for the previous diverse Mexican-gourmet American one. Love the strawberry margaritas, the salsa cheese soup, and the architecture!

    P.S. Chef Jeff, thank you for graciously commenting on this review. You have class.

  23. Avatar Igo Rancheroes says:

    I think I recognize Doni behind the red lipstick and beautiful hat. You look awesome, Doni. I've been reading your articles for a long time, and I remember your fetish for butterscotch…gave yourself away. You look very glamourous in the pic!!

    • Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

      Well, I do love butterscotch (See's suckers and See's butterscotch squares, not butterscotch Brachs candy – ick).

      I'm flattered you think I'm Femme de Joie, but alas, it's not me. If I looked that glamorous I'd quit this gig and be a hat model.

      I am a fan of Femme de Joie, for her balanced writing, acute observations, culinary knowledge and sharp wit. I feel most fortunate for her spot-on reviews.

  24. Avatar Igo Rancheroes says:

    Oh, and our daughter in Sacramento has bookmarked Newscafe. Yes! I have also linked articles to Facebook, and my brother in Seattle (College Prof.) loves Richard Douse's articles!!

  25. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    For those out there looking for authentic Mexican food, Femme de Joie reviewed a great place in Palo Cedro. In Redding, check out Taco Barn on Hartnell. No joke. It's yummy!

  26. Avatar Michael Gregory says:

    I have found the Taco Barn to be my absolute favorite for Taco's.
    The shell is just right. The rest is also top notch for this far north.
    Try them and you will be pleasantly surprised. Ask Jim Dyar.
    Thanks Chef Jeff for Being here in Redding all these years.

  27. Avatar Elenny says:

    Ditto on Pio Loco. La Cabana is my favorite. Great food at a great price, and it's truly a family owned and operated restaurant.

  28. Avatar CHEFF JEFF says:

    hello again, we have reacted to every negative comment here at the restaurant. some may say how could you do it correctly so quickly and that would be correct except for the fact that we knew we had some improving to do before the article.the new "don't try to be all things menu" will be out this week. i knew after three years of knee operations and a fractured femur that things were not what they should be. i had already hired james norman and victoria combs to take the reins in the kitchen and they are now doing just that! victoria's desserts are now available and her mexican chocolate cake and triple layer fresh lemon cake are fantastic. we have also added spumoni or green tea ice cream with toasted marshmallow whipped cream. drink prices have been reduced and we we have added coco smoothies with a new smoothie machine this week we have captain mango with captain morgan spiced rum and mango smoothie.menu prices have been reduced as well and i think people will find them very competitive once again thanks to all who commented -good and not so good- come in and see if we are up to snuff.
    thanxx cheff jeff

  29. Jeff, thanks for the update. Readers spoke and from your reply, it seems you listened.

    I know I will give Pio Loco another chance and I look forward to seeing and tasting the changes.

    I give special thanks here to Femme de Joie, for her fair and accurate reviews, and for opening this civilized and interesting dialogue between a restaurateur and his customers that might just give Pio Loco a second chance to win people back. Pretty cool.

  30. Avatar Cat says:

    The restaurant business is not an easy gig, especially in today’s economy, and I have found that it is a hit and miss no matter where you go to eat in this town, and finding quality, quantity, and cleanliness all at the same place is quite a feat, especially for Pio Loco. Without sounding too rude, Jeff, I don’t believe your broken femur is what caused your downfall as much as what caused your broken femur. Maybe if you curbed your appitite with the spirits and were less condescending and womanizing with your staff and patrons your business would improve. You get more with honey than with vinegar and alcohol just makes you stupid. I would also get your vents cleaned out; last time I was there and looked up at the ceiling, there was a lot of brown fuzzy stuff on them, which can’t be too healthy. If you have improved, I would recommend people to try your Street & Halibut Taco’s, Calamari, and Poke…

    The Scorpion and the Frog

    A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the

    Scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The

    Frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion

    says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

    The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,

    the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of

    paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,

    but has just enough time to gasp "Why?"

    "It’s my nature," replies the scorpion….