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Taco Time in Santa Clara

Anh-Minh Le | July 10, 2018 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

It’s all about the tortillas. So says Eric Adler, a self-dubbed tacoteur and founder of Puesto, the San Diego-based operation beloved for its Mexico City-inspired fare. “The tortilla is the first step,” he maintains. “Without that, you have nothing in terms of what a great taco is.” At Puesto, the thin rounds—made fresh daily, using organic, non-GMO blue corn masa—are heaped with sustainable meats, local produce and scratch salsas. According to Adler, “the filet mignon, chicken al pastor and any of the vegetable tacos are always big hits” at his five locations. The latest, its maiden venture outside of Southern California, opened in Santa Clara in May.

For the 9,000-square-foot spot, Puesto enlisted BASILE Studio to create a vibrant and contemporary venue that matches the food and drink—which, in addition to tacos, features guacamoles, ceviches and light bites (like chicharróns described as “crackling pork magic”) along with cocktails, beer and wine. While the space boasts a custom mural by Bay Area graffiti artist Chor Boogie, handmade concrete tiles, wraparound patio seating and hydraulic windows, the real showstopper is an enormous liquor carousel that, with the push of a button, revolves around a skylight. A hydraulic system brings shelves down to the bartenders, placing any bottle within easy reach—including the blue agave reposado tequila used in the Puesto Perfect margarita. For those craving a cerveza, craft beers by Baja California’s Agua Mala and Insurgente are among the quenchers.

Puesto launched in 2012 with a La Jolla outpost. Today, Adler runs the business with his brothers, Alan and Alex, as well as their cousins Isidoro and Moy Lombrozo. The founding executive chef is Mexico City native Luisteen González, with whom Adler first came into contact through upscale taco parties that González catered. Adler was impressed by the toque’s unique combination of ingredients and flavors—something that continues today with Puesto’s offerings, such as tacos with zucchini and cactus or soft-shell crab; the filet mignon variation is topped with pistachio-serrano salsa. In keeping with the restaurant’s practice of partnering with local artisans, a taco with cornmeal-crusted Drakes Bay oysters appeared exclusively on the opening menu in Santa Clara. Puesto is also collaborating with Humphry Slocombe on a special ice cream flavor: summer corn with strawberry jam swirl and white chocolate cookie crunch.

In the coming months, a tasting menu—a handful of courses for under $50 per person—will be available at Puesto’s version of a chef’s table: five booths in the glass-enclosed kitchen. Executive creative chef Katy Smith, who previously worked with celebrated chef Rick Bayless, is developing new specialty entrees too, prompting Adler to call the Santa Clara menu “a work in progress,” he says. “We’re always going to be about the tacos, for sure, but we’re going to be adding on and learning from our guests.”
2752 Augustine Drive, Santa Clara, 408.333.9750

Originally published in the July issue of Silicon Valley

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