Completed in 2016, El Santo is a Mexican restaurant in the heart of New Westminster. Named after the iconic lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) star El Santo, the restaurant serves authentic Mexican cuisine in a dining area that blends modern design with traditional Mexican cultural motifs.
This project presented some unique challenges. The dining room is decorated with different textures and design features requiring specialty materials and craftsmanship. The kitchen needed a traditional corn tortilla press to be sourced and imported. The attention to detail shows when it comes to both the quality and authenticity of the food and the overall dining experience.
Alejandro Diaz, the restaurant’s founder, wanted the interior to be classy and modern like other high-end Vancouver restaurants while still authentic to his Mexican roots. The main dining room features family-style booth seating, individual tables, and a high table bar area. The space has high ceilings, so drop ceilings were added above the bar and dining booths to create a more enjoyable and intimate experience. Everything above the drop ceilings was then painted black to bring focus to the different textures and patterns around the dining area.
A key design element was using a Talavera style pattern along the dining room walls. In Mexican culture, Talavera ceramic tiles are a decorative material often depicting a square floral pattern. El Santo features this iconic pattern with a modern twist.
Instead of painted ceramic tiles, we fabricated this pattern in three unique ways. Near the front of the restaurant, the walls are lined with blue wooden boards. We drilled holes into the boards and used yarn to embroider the pattern into the wood. Further down the wall is a section of see-through steel mesh which divides the main dining area from a private room with long tables for larger groups. The same yarn style was woven into the mesh to form the same pattern, creating a smooth transition between the wooden walls and the see-through divider between dining areas. Finally, we had the same floral pattern laser cut out of wooden boards on the back wall, which created a matching pattern out of the negative space when the board was placed on top of the white walls.
The designer—Negar Reihani of Vancouver-based Space Harmony—selected a mosaic of ceramic tile patterns when designing the bar. These tiles were also set flush into the concrete floor to create a seamless transition between the floor and the bar counter. The tile patterns range from traditional hand-drawn illustrations to geometric patterns, staying true to the restaurant’s modern take on Mexican culture.
The iconic mask of El Santo is mounted on the back wall overlooking the bar and dining room. This prominent, spot-lit design feature is impossible to miss and is located on the restaurant’s only white wall to stand out. The mask appears to be a sizeable off-white mask with red accents at a distance. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the graphic is created by combining individual wine corks. This mask is one of the most unique art pieces we have ever installed, and it acts as a memorable tribute to the Mexican folk hero this restaurant was inspired by.
We are proud of how this project turned out. It’s always great to see how designers incorporate more traditional textures and patterns into modern design. El Santo is an excellent example of how to do this successfully.
We recommend El Santo’s high-quality margaritas and tacos made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients (including Vancouver’s most authentic corn tortillas). El Santo is sure to deliver a dining experience that is as exciting and memorable as the high-flying luchador it is named after.