When Patria Cocina opened in mid-July in Grant Park, it was something of a resurrection for longtime devotees of El Mexicano — the celebrated Mexican food mecca on nearby Moreland Avenue that shuttered in May.
What Patria Cocina and El Mexicano have common is owners Roxana and Octavio Aguirre and family, and a broad menu that ranges from bona fide street tacos to elegant Mole Negro Con Pollo.
But while El Mexicano was beloved as a cheap eats hole in the wall, Patria Cocina is a pricier, much more pulled together place. That’s in keeping with its prominent place as one of the first additions to the Beacon development on Grant Street, which is billed as a “unique retail, dining and cultural destination nestled along the Beltline.”
The bright white facade displays a giant avocado logo and advertises “Authentic Mexican Dining.” Inside, beyond a spacious patio with umbrella tables, the contemporary build-out features an airy open dining room with a soaring ceiling and wood floors.
Accented with Mexican tiles and topped with flower arrangements, the bar is the focal point of the space. And the drinks menu is an important part of the concept, with the usual margaritas, and draft beer. But there are cocktails, too, like the Cazuela Mexicana, mixed with El Jimador Reposado, triple sec, fresh grapefruit, lime and orange juice and grapefruit soda, served in an earthenware bowl.
From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, $8.99 lunch combos with tacos, burritos and enchiladas include rice and beans. There’s also huevos rancheros, a taco salad, and a Torta A La Mexicana served with fries.
The extensive dinner menu includes a la carte tacos and sides, plus apps, shared plates, salads, soups, and entree-size house specialties, as well as fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and DIY combos.
Last week, Patria Cocina chef Octavio Aguirre and general manager Sofia Yzaguirre sat down to talk about the move to a new restaurant and the new menu.
“It’s a big step, seriously,” Aguirre said. “We wanted to be in Grant Park and stay in the area. We love the neighborhood and the community. But this is a different concept. We’ve been working on it for almost two years.
“I had almost 14 years cooking in big Mexican restaurants in California. When I moved to Atlanta, I saw the Mexican food here was not like that, so we wanted to try to do something totally different from that here.”
“I think it’s been a great experience for them,” Yzaguirre said. “A real learning experience. Different from Moreland Avenue and a different kind of community. More families, for sure, and we love that. We’re a big family here. When we transitioned from El Mexicano, all of our staff came back to work with us because of that.”
As for the specifics of the menu, Aguirre said the idea was to represent the variety and geography of Mexican cooking.
“We want to bring the flavor of different states in Mexico,” he said. “Things like the mole negro from Oaxaca. It’s so good. You can taste the chocolate and the spice, and it has so many different ingredients. Another thing we’re doing for a soup of the day is pozole verde. It’s a green pozole with chicken that’s really traditional in Mexico for celebrations.
“For people who don’t want to eat meat, we do something that’s really, really traditional, tacos de papa, that’s so simple and beautiful. We stuff tortillas with mashed potatoes, fry them crispy and serve with cilantro avocado sauce, cabbage salad, sour cream, queso fresco, pickled onions and radish.”
So far, most guests are responding well to the restaurant and the menu, Aguirre said. But there has been some explaining to do sometimes.
“It’s so interesting because people want to know why this Mexican food looks different and tastes different,” he said. “We have some people who just want to stay on the same page. We want to keep them happy, but want them to try something new, too. Something different is good.”
1039 Grant St. SE, Suite B13, Atlanta. 404-622-3501, patriacocinaatl.com.
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