Ex-El Vitral chef Norma Martinez fronts 'Vintage American' restaurant Downtown

As exec chef for high-end Mexican restaurant El Vitral, Norma Martinez made a name for herself—a French-trained, Tijuana-bred chef capable of inserting bordertown chile-culture into classically sauced dishes. But El Vitral also squashed her hankering for good veggie dishes. Fitting, then, that her menu at Downtown's upcoming spot Chaplos is loaded with ‘em: grilled hearts of palm salad, gluten-free caprese flatbread, grilled veggie empanadas, grilled polenta, etc. “It’s going to be ‘Vintage American,’ which is what I did my thesis on in culinary school,” she says. That means dishes like bone-in ribeye, oysters prepped multiple ways, shrimp cocktails, pork ribs marinated in Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale. “A heavy Latin influence, too,” says Martinez, who lives in Tijuana.

Martinez' ingredients will be as organic, local, natural, sustainable as possible (as every chef worth their salt does these days). The only question is: How the hell will they get traffic to the corner of 10th and B Streets (across from the Jiffy Lube at the 163 entrance to Downtown)? “There are 670 residents in the Vantage Pointe,” says the building's owner Edwin Seymour. That's not a small amount. Reasonable, then—with the clean, modern look and Martinez’ talent—that Chaplos could survive as a business lunch and locals’ dinner spot. As the area fills in (a nearby auto shop is slated to become a residential high-rise), they could even thrive.

DESIGN: Clean, with dark woods, black vinyl—testosteronal minimalism. Seymour bought the massive, ornate-wood bar from Fat City; tiffany lamps hang in multiple spots; a Civil War-era mirror was also snagged at auction; a huge marble board room table with black stools for communal dining; Colonial-era telephone and cash register.

BAR: The bar will have craft cocktails of the old-American style: whiskeys, gins and bourbons. And she’ll have six wines on tap—a trend that makes too much sense to go away, what with 90 million wine drinkers in America and growing.

LATE-NIGHT FOOD FOR THE MENTALLY ASKEW: “I’m gonna do a hot dog for the late-night crowd,” says Martinez. The wobbly nocturnal set preemptively thanks her.

OPEN DATE: Early November.

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