Dahlia Mexican Grill opened last week in downtown San Mateo at 164 S. B St., with the aim of standing out as an upscale Mexican cuisine restaurant bringing something new to the Mexican food scene.

Dahlia is at the old Vault 164 Restaurant and Bar location, and the new restaurant wants to be a place for businesses downtown during the day and a fun place with live entertainment for people at night.

The menu takes inspiration from different parts of Mexico and includes traditional dishes, seafood, tacos, soup and salad. Popular items include the Lump Crab Empanadas, a mixed grill option called Parrillada de Antojitos and Pork Pozole Michoacan, a hearty soup. The menu also has extensive seafood options, including Pescado Veracruzano, a whole deep-fried fish; Bacalao Negro Cabo San Lucas, a black cod wrapped in a banana leaf; blackened salmon and prawns.

The restaurant has a patio for outdoor dining, a private area for parties, and a full-service bar specializing in drinks both local and from Mexico. The restaurant art includes murals of nature and famous Mexicans like Frida Kahlo.

Sean Azad is one of the owners of Dahlia Mexican Grill as part of the Azad Family Restaurant Group. Azad has lived in San Mateo County for 30 years and has been in the restaurant business since he arrived, owning restaurants like Peninsula Grill. He decided to open Dahlia because there were not many upscale Mexican restaurants in the area. He also liked the location in downtown San Mateo and the unique building architecture. The building was a bank before becoming B Street Billiards, then Vault 164, and Azad kept a lot of the same architecture and crown moulding.

Azad said it was hard to open a restaurant during the pandemic with the local government’s restrictions and limitations. They had to get additional licenses because of the COVID-19 restrictions, delaying the opening a couple of months. Inside seating is currently around 75 people, and the restaurant will sit about 150 when it is fully open. They also opened up a patio area outside to have approximately 50 people, and they worked with the city officials to ensure their restaurant met all standards.

“We decided to do it; you have to take a chance,” Azad said. “You have to be careful, use a mask, do everything we can, but we have to, at the same time, move forward.”

Executive Chef Geraldo Garcia, who has spent over 30 years in the industry, put together the menu. He trained professionally at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa and has worked as executive chef with Skoke’s in Chicago and Max’s of Burlingame.

Garcia has been cooking with many different styles for years, including Mexican, American, Peruvian and Chinese. His cooking style comes from those experiences and learning to adjust and adapt to styles, ingredients and presentations. He worked on the menu with others for about two months and experimented with style and creativity to produce something everyone would like. Garcia there has been positive feedback on the menu items so far. The restaurant will continue to work on adjustments and changes based on public engagement and what sells. Everything is made from scratch at the restaurant, with no canned or frozen food, including its organic tortillas, they said.

Garcia has previously spent time in Mexicali and other parts of Mexico and learned about its spices and food culture. He used that experience and inspirations from Peru, Argentina and Nicaragua to add ingredients and techniques to the Mexican style. Most of his current focus is on training staff, but his main goal is to make the customers happy and provide them with many different options.

“I like making things all the time, and doing the same thing every day is a little bit boring. My thing is making food for the customers to try, because I know they like that,” Garcia said.

Dahlia General Manager Juan Loeza is responsible for operations throughout business hours. He has been in the restaurant businesses since 1977 and was part of the team that gave Garcia advice and a different perspective on the menu. He hopes customers feel they are getting something authentic that you would find in Mexico City, Guadalajara or the big cities in Mexico. He describes Mexican food as a fusion of European and indigenous cultures.

“I would like them to get something as if they were in Mexico somewhere in a modern restaurant,” Loeza said.

curtis@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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