Locals know David and Ana Elias from their wildly popular former restaurant, Margaritas. The parents of four have been owning and operating restaurants in Atascadero for 20 years. David Elias is a Greyhound — he attended Atascadero High School back in the 90s — and Ana Elias grew up in San Luis Obispo. David Elias took a small hiatus from the restaurant business to spend more time with his family, but he couldn’t turn down the tempting location of the former Ocean Harvest spot.
For the grand opening of Ortega’s Mexican Cuisine, the Elias’ are offering $1.99 tacos and $1.99 domestic beer all day on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The public is invited to join them for some complimentary nachos and taquito platters during a ribbon cutting with the Chamber of Commerce will take place from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
The Elias’ new authentic Mexican restaurant, located right next door to Mr. Putter’s Putt-Putt mini-golf on El Camino Real, features traditional recipes and unique décor. The indoor space is brightly colored with hand-painted Mexican folk art chairs and gallery-quality artwork. Booths run alongside a ticket counter and kitchen window where you can see David Elias stocking the line with fresh produce, and Ana Elias waits tables and works the front of the house. Art on the walls are large original paintings of famous mariachi singers Antonio Aguilar and Vicente Fernandez and Western actors Sam Elliott and Robert Duvall as well as hillside landscapes mixed with cacti. Local artist Hugh Slayden, who passed away last April, gave the paintings to the Elias family as a gift. Slayden’s work is all over the North County, including A.J. Spurs and F.McLintocks.
David Elias knows many people in town — he knows the children, their parents and their grandparents. When he was in junior high in Atascadero he waited tables at his family’s Mexican restaurant, Don Pedro’s. His father was what he called a “strict, old-timer,” who expected his son to work hard every day after school.
“I would get out of junior high at 2:15,” he said. “The bell would ring. I had 30 minutes to be at the restaurant. So I grew up with the family business.”
When David Elias was 19, he opened up his own restaurant, ‘Margaritas.’ He worked there 14 years. They closed the restaurant to take a break and focus on their children.
“I went out, got my Class-A license,” he said. “I traveled all over the country, driving a big 18-wheeler. Then this restaurant here just kind of happened. Somebody saying, ‘hey, this place over there is for rent.’”
David Elias is humble of his culinary talent, saying he stuck with the family restaurant business, Don Pedro’s in Atascadero because he “didn’t have the brains” to stay in school. He pointed to his wife when he said his kids are the smart ones (their oldest is in college).
“They got it from her,” he said.
For the Elias,’ their kids are everything.
“To me that’s the purpose of life,” said David Elias.
Ortega’s Mexican Cuisine is a full-service lunch and dinner restaurant, with room for 26 indoors, and dog-friendly outdoor seating. They also offer take-out.
On a first visit, David Elias said to try the chili relleno, made from fresh chilis (so no need to worry if there’s a seed or two – that just means the chile did not come from a can) or the other most popular dish: the chili verde.
“People just love it,” he said.
For the chili relleno, he said, there’s only one way to cook it right: making the dish from scratch. The fish tacos, made with tilapia, is another one of Elias’ recommendations. “I love our fish tacos,” he said.
Elias doesn’t bread the fish and throw it in a fryer. Instead, he sautees the fish in wine, garlic, butter and onions.
The menu is chock-full of a large variety of combinations, burritos, house specials, tostadas, seafood dishes, fajita dinners, egg dishes, tortas and burgers. Sides are also offered, as well as a kid’s menu.
The restaurant, located at 5799 El Camino Real, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lunch specials are $8.75 and served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Happy Hour is 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with $2.75 domestic beer and 30 percent off all appetizers. Daily specials include: $1.99 Enchilada Mondays, $1.99 Taco Tuesdays, $2.50 Burrito Wednesdays, $2.75 Domestic Beer Thirsty Thursdays and homemade menudo is made on Sundays.
To reach Ortega’s call (805) 464-2890 or view the website at ortegasmexicancuisine.com.
You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.