The long-awaited restaurant Los Altos by Traci Des Jardins opens its doors. Here are five dishes to know

El Alto, the food hall’s only stand-alone restaurant, is located across an open-air walkway from the main lobby. The 72-seat dining room is both warm and moody, the walls decorated with a custom gold mural of agave fields and photos illustrating Los Altos agricultural history. A speakeasy bar downstairs will open later this year with a focus on agaves and whiskeys.

Jardins and chef Robert Hurtado describe El Alto as a marriage between Mexican and Californian cuisines, reflecting their own origins. Des Jardins’ maternal grandparents were originally from Mexico, while she grew up in Fresno and eventually carved out a culinary reputation in San Francisco (notably at the fine-dining French restaurant Jardinière, which closed in 2019). Hurtado, whose family hails from San Luis Potosí in central Mexico, grew up in San Juan Bautista and later cooked at San Francisco restaurants Coi, Rich Table and Des Jardins’ Arguello. They sought out ingredients and dishes that express this overlap, like tamales wrapped in hoja santa from a Watsonville farm or plant-based impossible meat albondigas.

Here are five standout dishes in El Alto and the stories behind them.

Duck leg confit with apricot mole

Duck confit from El Alto with apricot mole, with King City pink beans on the side.

Lance Yamamoto / Special for The Chronicle

If El Alto has a signature dish, it’s this one: crispy-skinned duck leg served in a pool of vibrant orange mole ($32). Jardins and Hurtado hope the dish will stimulate a better understanding of the Mexican dish. Many local diners “still think of (mole) as super heavy chocolate notes and chili notes. People don’t understand the idea that moles are all these very complex and very different sauces,” Jardins said. Even in Hurtado’s family, the mole is prepared in a unique way – his grandmother prepares it with a French roux and Skippy peanut butter.At El Alto, the sauce is light, floral and tangy thanks to the apricots, a wink a peek at the apricot orchards that once grew in Los Altos. Mole gets a sweet heat from guajillo, puya, and ancho peppers. This version uses duck from Liberty Farms in Sonoma County, but they may substitute it later for poultry such as quail or guinea fowl Pair the mole with a mezcal cocktail that also incorporates apricots, created by bartender Enrique Sanchez.

Terracotta deviled eggs

Terra cotta deviled eggs topped with dried salsa macha and herbs at El Alto in Los Altos.

Terra cotta deviled eggs topped with dried salsa macha and herbs at El Alto in Los Altos.

Lance Yamamoto / Special for The Chronicle

Deviled eggs aren’t something you’ll usually find on a Mexican restaurant menu. Hurtado came up with the idea for a 20th-century California cookbook; the recipe repurposed onion skins to dye hard-boiled eggs, turning their white exteriors the warm color of terracotta pots. The eggs ($10) are sprinkled with dried salsa macha — nugget seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, roasted and powdered guajillo and chipotle peppers — and a sprinkle of herbs.

Queso fundido with chorizo ​​verde

Queso fundido with chorizo ​​verde from El Alto, opening March 24 at State Street Market in Los Altos.

Queso fundido with chorizo ​​verde from El Alto, opening March 24 at State Street Market in Los Altos.

Lance Yamamoto / Special for The Chronicle

El Alto’s charcoal oven will produce gooey queso fundido made with three types of cheese ($15). There’s queso edam (a rich, creamy gouda typical of Mexico), queso Oaxaca (similar to mozzarella), and queso Chihuahua (soft and stringy, crucial for photogenic cheeses). Pile the cheese into fresh blue corn tortillas and top with rajas, a side dish made with the tender, roasted meat of pasilla peppers and onions. Diners can also add chorizo ​​verde, which gets its verdant color from serrano chiles, herbs, Swiss chard and spinach. As in the wide world of moles, there are many types of chorizo ​​beyond the typical red served in most Bay Area restaurants.

King City Pink Beans

“Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm coat against the economic cold,” John Steinbeck wrote of King City’s pink beans in his 1935 novel “Tortilla Flat.” It marked the literary debut of these now coveted California beans, which will be served in El Alto both whole and fried in duck fat ($6). Sourced from a farm in King City, these heirloom legumes have soft skins and luscious interiors. Jardins grew up on pinto beans but likes to make King City roses at home in her pressure cooker. “They’re very creamy and really really tasty,” she said.

Chrysanthemum salad

Chrysanthemum salad from El Alto with kumquat, pepitas and cotija cheese.

Chrysanthemum salad from El Alto with kumquat, pepitas and cotija cheese.

Lance Yamamoto / Special for The Chronicle

Chrysanthemums grown at Mariquita Farm in Watsonville inspired this dish, a late addition to the opening menu. They will be served with kumquats, dates, pumpkin seeds and cotija cheese. The bright salad ($15) expresses “the spirit of the restaurant, which is seasonality,” Jardins said.

Alto. Opening on March 24. 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. 170 State Street, Los Altos. elaltolosaltos.com

Elena Kadvany is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ekadvany

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