Thee Elbow Room owner

Thee Elbow Room owner Cristal Arguelles shows the hand-crafted prosciutto and arugula panini at the newly opened location at 2418 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Arguelles is applying for a liquor license so she can offer local California craft beer in addition to the sandwiches and coffee now available. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / February 13, 2014)

Though last year saw a number of Honolulu Avenue eateries close their doors, new ones quickly pop up to take their place. One of the newest to debut in the Montrose shopping district is Thee Elbow Room, a petite-sized coffee and lunch spot, replacing the former Java Brew.

Soft-spoken and bright-eyed, chief and co-owner Cristal Arguelles moves efficiently through the restaurant, providing a sandwich that made one customer exclaim “home-run” upon the first bite.

“I’m very excited to have her here,” said Janelle Williams, a customer and neighbor. “The food is fresh. Everything is handmade. Nothing is [pre]-prepared.”

Arguelles makes her own dressings and cheese, as she believes it makes a significant difference in both taste and customer satisfaction.

“That’s what’s really important to me,” she said. “Simple things that most people just don’t take the time to do. Little things like that don’t cost much, they’re just little differences that people notice and hopefully come back for.”

Having completed her training at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Arguelles has worked under renowned chefs in Las Vegas, including the likes of Rick Moonen, Bobby Flay, and Charlie Palmer.

Moonen’s ethic of supporting locals particularly influenced Arguelles, she said. She purchases the cafe’s bread from Montrose Bakery.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a steady influx of customers walked through the door.

“I wish I was busy like this every day,” she said, barely managing to take a breath and speak for several minutes between customers.

Used to “high-volume working” in Vegas and describing herself as a “workaholic,” particularly before her daughter was born, Arguelles said she misses and enjoys the energy of a fast-paced kitchen.

Despite building its reputation as a cafe, Arguelles and her partner, Steve Kwan, aim to transition Thee Elbow Room into a craft beer bar, serving California-made brews.

Once they receive their liquor license, which she said she believes will be in about four months, they will close for a short period of time in order to install refrigeration and taps. Although there will be some reconstruction and a “face-lift,” Arguelles said they will maintain the cafe’s cozy ambience.

“We're just going to be a comfortable, homey pub with good food and craft beer,” she said.

Despite her training and experience in high-end restaurants, Arguelles does not like pretentious or “stuffy” atmospheres.

“I like to make really simple, familiar foods that working class people can recognize and relate to,” she said.

Agnessa Kasumyan is a freelance writer.

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