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MUSIC: Ventura County | LOCAL ANGLE

Salsa and Sports

Good food, games, beautiful people and security keep crowds coming back to Yucatan Cantina.

June 25, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What planning. The Yucatan Cantina in Westlake is located next to Slim at Last in the ever-busy North Ranch Mall in Thousand Oaks, where many ranches have become malls.

The Yucatan, that "fresh Mexican grill," is a great big room with different areas for all kinds of activities: State-of-the-art games line the walls and there are separate areas for pool and darts. Smoking is allowed outside on the patio.

One prominent sign proclaims the Yucatan as "Your Local Sports Center." This is not far from the truth. From one of the tables, one can see 22 of the 35 TVs, several of them showing soccer. A couple of banners proudly proclaim the cantina indeed has Fox Sports West and even the elusive Fox Sports West 2.

Pittsburgh Steeler paraphernalia covers the walls around the deejay booth, where Deejay Paul hangs out five nights a week, presumably cheering on the boys in black between songs, while locals totter on the verge of indifference, now that SoCal no longer has pro football. With little regard for geography, a large "Home of the Steelers" sign is displayed.

Next to that sign is a large banner that reads "USC--Home of the Trojans--San Fernando and Conejo Valley Alumni Club."

The Yucatan-USC connection is easy to trace: owner Robert Simonetti is a Trojan, but he swears he would hang a UCLA banner if the Bruin faithful would pay for it.

Also found on Yucatan's walls are photo collages of past parties and all the beautiful people who showed up, many of them women.

"We get a lot of beautiful women in here," says Simonetti . "I'll tell you what I don't want the Yucatan to be, and that's a nightclub. We don't turn the lights down so it's dark. The '90s are different from the '80s--women take an hour to get ready and they want to be seen, and they feel safe here. We have a lot of security; we escort them back to their cars. And on any given night, the women outnumber the guys. It's just amazing."

The Yucatan used to have more live bands when it opened five years ago, but not anymore. Wednesdays it's karaoke, and Sunday, Urban Dread plays reggae; on other nights, Deejay Paul rules with disco and hip-hop dance music.

"One of the first bands we had here was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but since they hit it big, that probably won't happen again. We were the first place to have the Boogie Knights--their first gig was at Yucatan. Through the summer we do live bands Sundays, but one reason we don't do more is that there aren't very many good local bands, and hardly any of them have a draw."

So with not much live music, does a deejay work? It does at Yucatan. And the dance floor gives new meaning to the notion of up close and personal.

"We pack 500 to 600 people in here on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and on Tuesday, Ladies Night, we draw between 250 and 300."

In addition to entertainment, the Yucatan is, after all, a restaurant. The menu is serious with burritos, seafood, salads, chicken and steaks plus all sorts of tacos and other munchies. The salsa is made fresh daily, and for dessert, there's the Mile High Mud Pie. Yucatan Cantina continues to be a hit, and the owner thinks he knows why.

"We have over 350 regulars who come in here three times a week. We keep track of stuff like that. We have a good relationship with the cops, and we don't try to be anything we're not. We get people in here from 21 to 50, plus a lot of families come for the food. We have good food at a good price."

BE THERE

Yucatan Cantina, 3825 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Westlake; 495-7476. Deejay dancing tonight, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Urban Dread plays reggae Sunday and there's karaoke Wednesday.

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