"The food that we’re creating at El Jardín is truly a reflection of my life experiences, where I’ve traveled and all the flavors that I’ve ever experienced,” said chef Zepeda-Wilkins. “I don't put myself or my cuisine in any particular box: food has no rules.
“We are making food that some people would have maybe never otherwise eaten. Mexico's cuisine is a mestizo cuisine and our menu showcases all of these nuances, which make Mexican food such a rich and soulful cuisine.”
Zepeda-Wilkins refers to El Jardin as a “matriarchal” establishment.
“We are preparing and being inspired by the food that the women in our lives, as well as the women across Mexico and generations, have prepared for us,” she said.
Located at 2865 Sims Road, El Jardin offers expansive indoor-outdoor spaces.
“When I was pulling together my thoughts on what I wanted the space to look like, I had all my favorite spots in Mexico in mind and wanted to recreate them for people to experience here,” said Zepeda-Wilkins. “From designing the purse stands myself and having my husband manufacture them, to having my kids here the first week running food, El Jardín is deeply personal. I really think of El Jardín as my home.”
The menu of the new restaurant reflects the experience of Zepeda-Wilkins growing up between San Diego, Tijuana and Guadalajara. It features regional dishes refined and reinterpreted with both indigenous Mexican ingredients and local produce, including the restaurant’s edible garden.
Zepeda-Wilkins' respect for whole-animal butchery is evident in her offerings: Smaller plates such as Sonoran scallop aquachile; grilled bone marrow and crispy octopus with stone-ground heirloom corn tortillas and carne apache (aged rib eye tartare); larger mains such as cazuela de chilorio slow-cooked pork shoulder, as well as a “chef’s choice” menu available nightly at the six-person chef’s counter.
Bar snacks such as fideo seco (spaghettini with chili adobo and longaniza dried shrimp from Valladolid) further reflect Zepeda-Wilkins’ dexterity with reimagining classic dishes for a contemporary audience.
Desserts showcase Zepeda-Wilkins’ early years working in pastry and include a sobre el arcoiris, a play on an iconic, multi-colored Mexican cookie.
Weekend brunch similarly highlights Zepeda-Wilkins' multi-faceted culinary expertise with breads and pastries joining the savory offerings.
Agave spirits are central to the bar program with an extensive selection of mezcal and tequila, as well as lesser-known spirits such as sotol, Bacanora and a Mexican sake. Complementing the garden-driven cocktails from consulting beverage director Christian Siglin (Bracero, Cutwater Spirits, Craft & Commerce), Mexican and local craft beers will also be available.
Advanced sommelier Molly Brooks worked closely with Zepeda-Wilkins to curate a concise list of wines from Mexican producers cultivating grapes in Mexico and California, as well as international wine makers with an emphasis on female producers.
Zepeda-Wilkins and Rise & Shine founder, Johan Engman, collaborated on the design elements to bring their shared vision of El Jardín to life through bold pieces and accents that recall the restaurant’s culinary heritage. Local artist Gloria Muriel’s expansive mural showcasing “Ojo de Dios” serves as a focal point for the restaurant, while bull skulls branded with vibrant Huichol-beaded art in the Wixarika-style brighten the interior.
The restaurant space also features handmade chairs and amber leather and metal bar stools designed by Guadalajaran artisans, a living succulent wall and hardwood floors ribboned with turquoise hexagonal tiles. Outside, an expansive patio is ensconced with multicolor bougainvilleas and custom wrought iron fixtures, creating a relaxed alcove. An adjacent outdoor lounge and 12-person table within the edible garden offer further respite for locals and visitors to sip cocktails and savor Zepeda-Wilkins’ expressive cuisine within the warm, 130-seat restaurant.
Where: 2865 Sims Road, Liberty Station.
Hours: Mondays to Fridays 5 to 10 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 4 to 10 p.m.
Info: eljardinrestaurantbar.com, 619-795-2322.