At El Coreano, Fidel Contreras is the kind of restaurant manager who offers you on-the-house horchata until you finally give in — and damn, it’s good.
As it turns out, it’s his creation, one of many new recipes he has come up with for El Coreano, the fusion restaurant that serves Korean, Chinese and Mexican fare at 2848 23rd St., where the 41-year-old is a manager, bartender, waiter, janitor, painter, fixer and more.
He works seven days, including four double shifts, each week. Contreras, who’s worked in the industry since he was 15, said El Coreano is his life — and he loves it.
“I start here early in the morning and then very late at night go home, sleep, come back again. But it’s fun for me,” he said.
He joined the restaurant several years ago when it was Buttermilk Southern Kitchen, which closed early last year and was re-imagined into a Korean-Mexican-Chinese-style restaurant with the same owner.
“‘You know what, here’s a bunch of spices for you guys. Create something,’” he recalled the owner saying.
“Coming up with that idea kind of saved us through the really bad times,” he said. Residents have liked the new menu.
“To be honest, it’s a headache having three menus. It’s like having three kitchens,” he said, referring to the Chinese menu, the Korean menu and the Mexican menu.
And it’s tough work: Three people work in the El Coreano kitchen, while he runs the front of house by himself.
Contreras immigrated to the United States when he was around 9 or 11 years old and moved into the Mission on Alabama Street to live with his older sister.
He spent his days in school and his nights in the dish pit and made $70 a day, and then worked his way up.
“I just stayed in the industry,” he said. “Now, you know, I’m much older and more mature, and I just love people, and I love talking to people.”