FOOD FIGHT: El Santo brings the taste of Mexico to New West

The Verduras tacos keep the vegetarians and vegans from feeling left out with the meat-centric menu.

El Santo will shatter your conceptions of authentic Mexican cuisine. Founder Alejandro Diaz and Head Chef Shane King have formed a soon-to-be legendary collaboration to bring the fresh and modern cuisine culture of Mexico City to New Westminster.

Proudly local, Diaz has expressed his excitement for belonging and giving back to such an amazing community. “I love the heritage and character of New West,” said Diaz. “At El Santo, we want to emphasize the extraordinary social experience of eating.” He went on to tell me that the company’s phenomenal interior design is all done by New Westminster companies, and that all their beers and wines are from BC.

With the aim of keeping their food as fresh as possible, everything including the tortillas, salsas, and guacamole is prepared daily, and you can certainly taste the difference. “We’re trying to place more focus on staying true to exposing people to the authentic, regional dishes of Mexico rather than the stereotypical foods associated with Mexican cuisine,” explained Diaz. “We want to show people that it’s much more than beans and cheese.”

El Santo’s head-to-tail sustainable menu is carefully curated by King, inspired by years of traveling around the world. The menu is a fusion of foreign and familiar flavors, with both traditional Spanish and modern regional Mexican influences. The ‘El Santo Huevo’ is a popular favourite and a part of their 3 to 6 p.m. Happy Hour menu. In King’s take on a scotch egg, the dish is a masa battered soft boiled egg, wrapped with house made chorizo, and served with habanero apple jam. Other popular items are the ‘Cachete taco,’ made of slow-braised beef cheek, and ‘Pescado a la veracruzana,’ which is a West Coast rockfish served head to tail with cilantro pesto green rice.

Although El Santo has an obviously  meat-focused menu, King does not neglect vegetarian appetites. “We want to include everybody in the flavours and in the directions where we are going,” said King. “I think it’s natural as a chef to include vegan and vegetarian options, it’s not a challenge.”

From the Happy Hour menu, there are several vegetarian options including ‘Rajas con crema,’ a creamy skillet dish of roasted peppers, grilled pineapple and corn, served with an abundance of tortillas on the side, and ‘Chiles Padron,’ blistered peppers with lime and sea salt seasoning. Other eclectic options include a of trio of guacamole and salsas, uniquely crafted salads, and my personal favourite ‘Verduras’ tacos, a unique blend of roasted cauliflower, sikil pak, and mango salsa.

If you are a fan of adding spice to your food, ask for some of that exquisite habanero apple jam, but use an easy hand  — at first you get the sweetness of the Okanagan McIntosh apple, then slowly but surely the habanero comes back to kick you in the taste buds with a feisty fire. It’s absolutely incredible, and we not-so-subtly suggested that Diaz and King consider selling it by the jar.

All in all, El Santo’s creativity and passion is impressive. The prices are fair for the quality dining experience it is, and reservations are accepted. Happy Hour is on every day from 3 to 6 p.m. along with delicious lunch options involving irresistible Mexican versions of eggs benedict. They have the largest selection of 100 percent agave tequilas that I’ve ever seen, and other beverages made to complement their dishes.

El Santo is well worth a visit, but be warned: you will be enticed back again and again.