◀︎return to newslistLongtime local chef to open Mexican coastal restaurant

May 11, 2022 – 

Fernando Ruiz, who has worked as a chef for more than 20 years at some of Santa Fe’s top restaurants, will return to the cuisine of his childhood — Mexican coastal food — when he opens his first restaurant in a year or so at El Camino Crossing.

The menu at Escondido will reflect what Ruiz remembers when he was growing up, shuttling between Phoenix, where he was born, and Guaymas, Sonora.

“I’m going for clean, fresh ingredients with lots of flavors,” Ruiz said. “We will have saffron scallops, ceviches, tacos, moles, tequilas, mezcal … without all the silly frills of a high-end restaurant.”

Escondido will be at the nonprofit Homewise’s development at Agua Fría Street and Harrison Road.

“In my opinion, Santa Fe needs good food at an affordable price in that area,” Ruiz said. “We’re going to be open late, at least 11 o’clock, maybe even midnight.”

Ruiz was the first executive chef at Palace Prime, the downtown Santa Fe steakhouse that opened in late 2020, but left in March 2021. He also worked the kitchens at Rio Chama, La Boca and Santacafe, and he emerged a winner on the Food Network’s ChoppedGuy’s Grocery Games and Beat Bobby Flay.

Ruiz is not abandoning high-end restaurants, he said. In a few weeks, he intends to announce a downtown Santa Fe location for Fernando’s Fine Dining.

For the past year or so, he has secured financial backing and collaborative support for Escondido from Meow Wolf co-founder and former CEO Vince Kadlubek and Santa Fe venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, whose day job is early-stage, risk-oriented technology investing. Escondido is a private investment.

“This is surreal to have my own restaurant, make my own decisions,“ said Ruiz, majority owner of Escondido. “Stewart and Vince said, ‘You need to have your own restaurant. You need to have majority ownership.’ I never thought that would come to fruition.”

Kadlubek a year ago visited the coastal town Playa Escondido in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a concept was born. He brought the Escondido name and concept to Ruiz.

“We really wanted to find him his own restaurant,” Kadlubek said. “We pulled together a concept, something like Paloma or the Cantina [at Coyote Cafe]. … I came up with the name, [Ruiz] came up with the menu. We collaborated on the look and feel.”

Kadlubek came up with rooftop dining. The new building will be custom designed for Escondido. “I’ve often thought Santa Fe needs to have a rooftop initiative,” Kadlubek said. “We have all these flat roofs.”

He and Ruiz met through Nomada Goods, a Santa Fe chile importing company, where Ruiz is a partner and Kadlubek became an investor. Ruiz plans the use Nomada Goods chiles at Escondido.

Escondido, pizza maker Tender Fire and the Co-Fe co-working space are the final components for Homewise’s El Camino Crossing, a mixed-use development with some affordable housing. The project includes 40 single-family homes completed in 2017, 13 condos completed in 2020 and 20 live/work units completed in April, said Johanna Gilligan, the organization’s community development director.

Construction is expected to start in late summer on two, 3,000-square-foot commercial buildings for the three businesses.

“This is a group of entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the pandemic,” Gilligan said, adding Homewise had two other restaurants lined up a couple of years ago, but the pandemic scuttled those plans.

“This area deserves to have quality and vibrant places,” Kadlubek said. “We want people to get to have fun. How to make this more than just a restaurant. We want to make it an event space.”