Chef Traci Des Jardins, whose local restaurant empire shrank significantly over the last two years, looks to be getting back in the game with a new venture coming to a planned food hall in Los Altos.
The new restaurant's name is El Alto, and it was just added to Des Jardins' website below her only other currently active venture, Public House at Oracle Park. "El Alto, a new restaurant from chef Traci Des Jardins, will celebrate the rich history of the early California-Mexican ranchos and the agrarian roots of the San Francisco Bay Area," the copy reads. The description adds that there will be a downstairs "speakeasy" component as well, and the cocktail menu will focus on mezcal, tequila, and whiskey.
Bay Area News Group caught the news of the opening, which is slated for late summer along with the other tenants of the new State Street Market in downtown Los Altos. El Alto is a partnership with Bon Appétit Management Co., with whom Des Jardins also partnered on her two now defunct Presidio ventures, Arguello and The Commissary. Robbie Lewis, a regional culinary director at Bon Appétit Management, previously worked as a chef at Jardiniere and helped Des Jardins to open The Commissary, and he appears to be involved in the new project as well.
Des Jardins has previously expressed her passion for Mexican food at Arguello and her former Ferry Building taqueria, Mijita. Des Jardins', whose mother is of Mexican descent, showed Food & Wine last year some of what she cooks at home with friends at her lake house in Shaver Lake.
Regarding the menu at El Alto, she tells Eater this week, "People have this impression that moles are these really rich sauces … But if you know Mexican food, you know that’s not true. There are lighter moles. They don’t have to have chocolate. They don’t have to have dark chiles … so I want to create this beautiful and light apricot mole, that will be one of our signatures."
El Alto may give way to a second location in San Francisco, or a similarly themed restaurant of another name. Des Jardins hinted back when she closed Mijita in January 2020 that she had another Mexican concept in the works, planned for SF.
Des Jardins, who was a runner-up on Top Chef Masters Season 3, closed her flagship Civic Center restaurant Jardiniere after 21 years in 2019. Mijita closed a few months later, and both Arguello and The Commissary closed with the pandemic and never reopened, with the Presidio Trust later announcing that they were going a different direction with food services in the park.
Also coming to State Street Market, as previously reported, are chefs Meichih and Michael S. Kim, formerly of the Michelin-starred Maum in Palo Alto and Benu in SF, who are bringing a new casual concept Bǎo Bèi to the food hall that is "both inspired by and a reflection of their Taiwanese and Korean cultural heritage."
And, as Eater reports, other tenants include ice cream shop Tin Pot Creamery, and a new outpost of Cowgirl Creamery.
Photo courtesy of Traci Des Jardins