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El Vitral, Part Dos

Pablo Becker announces his Chula Vista homecoming with a second El Vitral


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 An olive tree anchors the courtyard at the new location in Otay Ranch.

Mall food. It was long one of life’s unavoidable laments—just some calorie-jammed McGruel engineered to keep shopaholics from losing consciousness. But SD food courts will get a few new stars in 2012. At Fashion Valley, local-boy Nathan Coulon returns with three-star health food at True Food Kitchen. And at Otay Ranch Town Center, Chula Vista native Pablo Becker is scheming a gourmet Mexican revival. Becker, cousin and protégé of famed chef Richard Sandoval, proved with Downtown’s El Vitral that upscale Mex can work in a city built on three-dollar rolled tacos. Now, he and chef Norma Martinez (a Tijuana native schooled in classic French cuisine at The Westgate Hotel) look to up the game of South Bay fine dining. Out with Frida (what was in the old space), in with El Vitral, part dos.

Why the Frida spot? You realize it’s in a mall parking lot, yes? The original designer and architect, Graham Downes, did a beautiful job. But yeah, the mall is pretty dead. I hear people say, “They don’t have any major tenants.”

Long commute? I’m from Chula Vista. My parents live here. My wife’s family is here. We literally live three blocks away from the restaurant.

So Chula Vista as a kid—where’d you eat? We used to go to the Butcher Shop or Jakes near the marina. There’s a huge Latin and Mexican community, but there weren’t many quality Mexican restaurants.

South Bay—on the upswing? I think so. Each year Eastlake would win best city to live in in San Diego County. Everything is new. Everything is well thought out when it comes to infrastructure. They have amazing schools and the 125 Freeway.

  Tostadas de salpicón

Chula Vista vs. Downtown?  In Chula Vista you have 250,000-280,000 people. There’s not that many downtown. You don’t even get that on a Friday or Saturday. The only time you can feel that is during Comic-Con.

Haute enchiladas—a hard sell?  With the high-end, “new Mexican” or “modern Mexican” concept, there are people who get it and people who don’t. We’re in SoCal, so everyone compares it to taco shops. But that’s like comparing Brian Malarkey’s food to Wendy’s or In-N-Out. Just like any other country, you’ve got your soul food or social food and then you have your high end.

Como se dice “pretentious”? If you compare us to high-end Mexican spots like El Agave and Candelas, we don’t have white tablecloths. We’re not uptight. We also focus a lot on mixology. I haven’t heard of any other Mexican restaurant in San Diego that does. We use fresh products like Craft & Commerce does, but with ingredients from Mexico.

I’m thirsty. What’re you buyin’? The “green-go” margarita with blanco tequila, cilantro, cucumber, serrano peppers, with a tomatillo syrup. Or the el tre-some (“threesome” in English) with lime, orange and grapefruit juice, house Curaçao, and green habañero salsa.

Grub? We’ll have small plate items. Some sweet-potato fries with cilantro-serrano aioli. We’re gonna do Mexican street food like huaraches (fried masa with toppings), sopas, and gorditas. We’re going to go heavy on the gourmet tacos and build-your-own taco. Then we’ll do cazuelas, little pots. And barbacoa. We’ll keep the downtown El Vitral favorites like the moles and duck enchiladas.

Design? I’m looking for a local graffiti artist. We have an exposed kitchen and glass now. I want to have a huge mural there. And graffiti-style mariachis.

Frida partied. You planning nightlife at El Vitral dos? Yeah, Fridays and Saturdays. We’ll be catering to the young professional. Frida was catering to the 21-22 year old. They’d take out all the tables and basically fill it up like a nightclub. You can’t do that. We’re going to keep it classy. We’ll have good Latin music, because nightlife is lacking in Chula Vista.

El Vitral opens at 2015 Birch Road in Chula Vista in early February. elvitralrestaurant.com

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