Fine Mexican cuisine moves to West Hartford – Hartford Courant
El Santo is West Hartford’s newest restaurant, serving upscale Mexico City-inspired cuisine. Co-owner and chef Xiomara Zamudio pays tribute to her hometown, where her mother taught her to cook and where her family spent weekends watching luchador wrestling competitions.
“We went to La Coliseo on Sundays to watch the wrestling. It’s a big deal there. El Santo was the most famous of them all,” said Zamudio. “He wore a silver mask. Nobody has ever seen his face. Even when he didn’t fight, he wore his mask.”
From 1934 to 1982, El Santo was a Mexican legend in the lucha libre ring. He has also appeared in 52 Lucha-themed films and comics as a fictional superhero version of himself. El Santo never appeared in public without his silver mask until a few days before his death in 1984.
El Santo’s decor is dominated by this masked face. A mural by Ben Keller depicts El Santo in its glory days. The venue’s masked face logo presides over the dining room in neon. Silver masks adorn the walls, and luchador masks in other colors sit behind the bar. Tequila flying trays resemble a wrestling ring, with the masked face in the center.
Zamudio opened El Santo with co-owners Alejandro Polanco, a native of the Dominican Republic, and Peruvian-born Lilian Polanco, Yesenia Macias and Luis Araujo.
El Santo’s menu reflects the urbanity of Mexico City.
“We don’t do Tex-Mex. It’s not just about rice and beans and sombreros. Mexico City has a different culture. I love the small towns, but I’m from the city. I have to bring my own concept,” she said.
Entrees, ranging from $5 to $14, range from the traditional — chips and salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, nachos — to the unconventional. Guacamole Rudo ($14) includes pork skin, and Hanging Quesadillas ($12) are tiny quesadillas that hang from a rope on a tray.
El Santo’s menu is probably the only one that clearly states that a Caesar salad is “Made in Mexico.” (The salad was created in Tijuana in 1924.) Each salad ($11-12) can be topped with chicken, steak, shrimp, scallops, and octopus.
Octopus is a popular ingredient at El Santo. Seafood dishes, from $24 to $36, include the La Coliseo platter with shrimp, calamari, tuna and octopus; the El Santo ceviche with fish, shrimp, calamari and octopus; and seafood ceviche sampler that brings in Peruvian influences inspired by Zamudio’s partners. Tostadas are served with shrimp, tuna and scallops, and Arroz con Mariscos features shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and fish.
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Meat dishes ranging from $17 to $38 include cochinita pibil with slow-roasted pork shoulder; Rib Eye Octopus Casserole; and chicken flautas and enchiladas with mole sauce. Zamudio said she doesn’t serve ground beef, except in the “Mexicana Burger,” which features pineapple, guacamole, jack cheese, and chipotle sauce. El Santo also serves a variety of tacos, like rib eye, baja fish, and birria, ranging from $20 to $24.
Zamudio is particularly proud of the chic bar, run by Atelio Lopez, who also ran the bar at Frida.
“There are some crazy drinks. The bars in Mexico City compete with the bars in New York City because they’re cosmopolitan,” Zamudio said.
The focus is on tequila and mezcal, with a variety of margaritas. Zamudio’s favorite is the Pura Uva Mami, made with Casa Dragones Blanco, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, raspberry puree and prosecco. Others include the smoky or spicy Diablo, Green Devil and Red Hot Moon, and red fruit Red Riding Hood.
The bar atmosphere is summed up by another neon sign: “La Ultima y los Vamos”, which means “The last one, and then let’s go”.
El Santo, 970 Farmington Ave., is open for dinner seven days a week — 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday — with lunch breaks during the summer. facebook.com/elsantowh.
Susan Dunne can be reached at [email protected].