There is a saying that if you love what you do for a living, you never “work” a day in your life. This is certainly true for Laura Palacio, owner of El Tapeo Wine Bar and her partner Martin Quintero. Her very successful culinary venture sprung from her love for food, friends and fine wine.
“Before I met Martin, friends would come over once a week for drinks and appetizers. I had a TV in my kitchen. We would put on CDs of music we loved while I cooked and we sampled wines,” Laura said. “There were very few places that sold wine and nothing exceptional.”
Her niece knew many people in the Valle de Guadalupe wine country of Baja California. So they traveled to Baja and she met the winemakers. “My friends wanted something more upscale and modern, a place where you can dress up a little, but most important was the music, wine and beer,” she said with a smile.
The future began to unfold when her very good friend Violeta said, “Why not open a place in the old El Mariachi Cafeteria location?”
The Palacio family, who currently operate Puesta del Sol at the Playa Bonita Resort, have been in the restaurant business for many years. El Mariachi was a breakfast-only restaurant they operated in the Laos Mar hotel until 2008.
“When I told Martin what I wanted to do, he was ready to help,” Laura said. Martin went to work on the remodel, including putting in custom lighting. He built the bottle tree which decorates the entryway and during the covid shut-down, he and a friend built the first of the big barrel booths that sit out front.
Laura and Violeta created the interior décor, including the affirmations painted on the walls; and they chose the beverages, food and music.
“We started with just six tapas on the menu and added more and more. Then Violeta said, ‘Let’s do paella one day a week.’ At first we called our friends to get them to come. Now we can’t make enough to meet the demand.” She said they will do paella on special order for four or more people, if requested in advance.
Today, the kitchen at El Tapeo is overseen by Mara Pino. Building on the tapas that Laura created, Mara has taken the cuisine to new heights in flavor and presentation. The new, outdoor, wood-fire pizza oven is manned by Isaac Castaneda, a graduate of culinary school here in Peñasco. The pizza has become a very popular offering, so Isaac and Laura plan to add more varieties to the menu.
Among the new options will be a pizza with scallions, salami with jalapeno, and raw egg cooked in the oven. “It is typical in Spain,” Laura said. Another is onions caramelized in wine with salami, bacon and cheese.
From the days in her kitchen with the CDs playing, music was always at the heart of Laura’s vision, and it continues to be an important part of the experience. The band Rojo has been with El Tapeo from the beginning. They play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., on Friday and Saturday, following Mario who plays guitar and sings solo. Other bands come in for busy weekends and special events.
Last month El Tapeo held its annual “CheveFest,” a craft beer festival that highlights micro-breweries from Mexico. “Cheve is slang for cerveza,” Laura explained. “We started the event to feature beers, but now some of the wineries and Sunora, a bacanora distillery, want to be involved. So we are planning a CheveFest for the Cinco de Mayo weekend next year.”
It was Martin who researched the breweries to find a good selection for the restaurant. It also inspired him to start brewing his own beer which is named Cachora, after a little lizard. It has been so well received that he is now doing a special order for his friend Chef Neftali Ponce’s Ala Burger con el Chef in Rocky Point.
As Laura continues to grow her business, her children are adding new branches to the family’s culinary tree. Laura’s son José Ramon created the La Cuadra food court near Calle 13 on Elias Calles. Her daughter Bernadette has the Pasta Factory within La Cuadra, and her daughter Genenis opened El Local which serves breakfast and lunch, just a few doors down from La Cuadra.
El Tapeo is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
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The wine tree adorns the patio at El Tapeo year-round but draws extra attention in December.
Your table/barrel awaits at El Tapeo.
The atmosphere at El Tapeo is warm and welcoming, casual and cozy.
Whether it’s Mexican craft beers, the fabulous wines from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, or another spirit, El Tapeo is a great place to enjoy a drink, great food and friends.