Recreo, a new restaurant and bar in downtown Chandler, is a whimsical nod to our school days

Recreo, a new restaurant in downtown Chandler in the space once occupied by El Zocalo Mexican Grill, brings back the fun vibe of our early days. –Photos by Nicole Greason for

By Nicole Greason, Special for

Recreo presents itself as a space of youthful remembrance of a lighter time in the schoolyard.

If only our school days and schoolyards could have been like this new restaurant and bar in historic downtown Chandler – a chic indoor-outdoor bar combined with upscale dining and a laid-back patio that welcomes hipsters, tipsters, moms, pops, kids and anyone who wants to eat, drink and have fun.

Step into Recreo and the first things that hit your senses are the bright green color of the banquets against a long wall, the upbeat music and the dim lighting of a whimsical chandelier made of jump ropes.

This all adds to the schoolyard/playground theme of the restaurant which includes an outdoor play area with a ping pong table and cornhole boards, a school bus art installation, a bar with swings instead of stools and an edible garden. There’s also a live music stage and DJ booth made from a shipping container mounted above the patio at the back of the restaurant.

“Recreo brings a fresh, youthful atmosphere to downtown Chandler,” Henry Malachowski, the facility’s general manager, said in a written statement. “We are delighted to provide fresh local ingredients, an inviting indoor/outdoor garden ambiance and unique cocktails.”

On a temperate evening, the patio is the place to be at Recreo.

On a recent Friday night, the music was pounding as the bar was filled with customers celebrating the end of the week and waiters rushing into a packed dining room, serving up what the restaurant calls “foodventurous” dishes.

Recreo’s approximately 9,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor catering, which seats 242, was once home to El Zocalo Mexican Grill, a local restaurant that operated for more than 20 years before the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll. ‘forces to close permanently in May 2020.

“From the moment we discovered the site, we were immediately dedicated to recreating the space to honor our great state, its melting pot culture, and also to create new experiences as a community,” said Chris Field, founder of Allium Hospitality, Recreo’s development company.

“Recreo celebrates Chandler’s history, while looking forward to its vibrant and vibrant future.”

The menu is travel-themed with sections titled Boarding for charcuterie boards to share, Destinations for main courses, Stopovers for salads, Carry-Ons for sides and The Landing for desserts. There’s an affordable kids’ menu with tasty food to keep little diners happy at the table until they’ve had their fill and run outside to the patio to hang out or play while you finish eating and sip your favorite cocktail.

Signature menu items include the Buddha Bowl, a compilation of cereal, roasted root vegetables and yogurt; fresh ceviche, sugar-crusted ahi, and The Amazing Mushroom, which includes portobello mushrooms, burrata, zucchini, roasted peppers, and arugula. Desserts include Crepes Foster with butter and rum bananas, cinnamon crepes and pecan caramel, and That’ll Do, Fig with white figs, lemon marscapone and fresh mint.

The cocktail menu lists basic cocktails, including That Mean Dog On The Other Side Of The Fence, which is a Greyhound; The faculty break room, an Irish cafe; and This little red-haired kid didn’t bother anyone, a Moscow mule. There is also a selection of wines and beers and soft drinks for those who prefer not to drink.

Recreo, 28 S. San Marcos Place, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday.

More information:

David H. Henry