The two-story seafood and Mexican restaurant has a primary dining area with an attached outdoor patio, decorated with blue, green and yellow lights at ground level. The second floor is an outdoor bar where guests can sip on their mezcal and watch the sunset. Here, the modern, coastal atmosphere is strong, but the excess in dining traffic is mostly due to the authentic Baja cuisine.
Elio Mendoza was hired as Pueblo’s new executive chef two months ago and has been working hard to make sure guests’ taste buds receive the same spicy and saucy thrill as when they were on get-away trips in Cabos or Cancun.
“People come back from those vacations and they expect to have a place that serves that kind of food,” said Mendoza. “The goal is to make it 100 percent authentic. As soon as I came in [to Pueblo] I just started changing all the ingredients, all the produce. I think we’re at 90 percent authentic now. We’re all doing a great job in the kitchen to make it happen.”
Courtney, who has been a server at Pueblo since last May, added: “We got a lot busier when Elio came. The food became more approachable and people are just so impressed by the dishes.”
Mendoza first started as a prep cook at age 19 at a hotel’s restaurant in Tijuana. He says he “peeled potatoes, washed dishes… everything they didn’t want to do.” But Mendoza’s 23-year-long love affair with food first began at home.
“Since I have memory, I remember my mom cooking in the house,” said Mendoza. “Every Sunday in my house was like a big party. As soon as I wake up, I see that big table full of food. That’s when I remember thinking, ‘This will be my career.’”
That passion-driven career has taken Mendoza and his family around the world, allowing them to see what rich tastes other cultures have to offer. Right before he was hired at Pueblo, Mendoza returned from a trip to Yantai where he cooked at an intercultural exchange between Mexico and China. The chef also attended a food fair in Colombia a couple of years ago to cook and give a presentation on the President cheese brand.
Today, Mendoza and his wife, Linda, own a small restaurant in Tijuana called L’Pozzole, which serves homemade Italian and French cuisine, inspired by their various trips to Europe.
“I really love Italian culture and spent a lot of time cooking Italian cuisine because I fell in love with Italian food,” said Mendoza, who just spent two weeks cooking in Italy last April. “My roots are Mexican, but the cooking is really similar. They use a lot of tomato like us, as well as a lot of onions, and they use a lot of sauces like us. My first job in the U.S. was working for an Italian restaurant downtown on Fifth Avenue.”
Now, Mendoza is back to his roots, cooking the food that inspired him as a child. His most popular dishes are the salmon al pastor with pan seared salmon, grilled pineapple, avocado crema and pastor marinade, and the daily market fish fillet with bacon-wrapped red snapper fish with market vegetables and poblano sauce.
“I have a lot of customers that will try my food and say, ‘Oh, I already tried this in Mexico.’ And this is what I want people to think,” said Mendoza. “In this restaurant, you’ll find anything from really nice lobster or lamb, to a plate of enchiladas. I like to keep it traditional. I want to keep it real.”
Where: 877 Hornblend St.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.to 3:45 p.m. daily; dinner 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays,
4 to 10 p.m Fridays-Saturdays.
Info: pueblopb.com, 858-412-3312.