The family behind one of Los Altos' newest restaurants wants you to feel like you're in their home — albeit a very stylish home — when you walk through its doors.
They've even gone so far as to bring elements from their home inside Tal Palo, their Mexican restaurant and shop that opened last week on Main Street. Co-owners Adriana Domínguez-Porter and her husband Aaron Porter set up their own kitchen table inside the restaurant, subtle crayon markings intact, and erected their family's Christmas tree inside the shop instead of inside their home.
"Our house is half-empty right now," Domínguez-Porter says with a laugh. "The whole feeling when you come to Tal Palo is that you're coming into our home, but we're there to serve you and make you feel welcome."
The familial atmosphere is part of the guiding ethos behind the restaurant and shop. Its name comes from the Spanish idiom, "De tal palo, tal astilla" — which means, from such a stick, such a splinter. Or in other words, "like parent, like child."
It's the family emphasis that's part of what's driving the couple to start the Los Altos business. Domínguez-Porter says she grew up in the restaurant industry as the daughter of two accomplished and longtime Bay Area restaurateurs. Her parents have run Taquería Salsa in Antioch since 1988, and Domínguez-Porter's mother, Gloria Domínguez, also led Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, located in Old Oakland, for 14 years until it closed in 2019. Domínguez-Porter met her husband Aaron Porter in Oakland; he is the former co-owner of The Trappist, a bar specializing in Belgian beers located in that neighborhood.
The two eventually married and had three children, moved to Guadelajara for a few years, where the Domínguez family is from, and have since returned to the U.S. with twin 9-year-olds and a 4-year-old.
Domínguez-Porter says she's spent years going out in Guadalajara and building relationships with craftspeople, and she's eager to share their products with the Los Altos community. The shop will highlight Mexican art, ceramics and packaged food items like drinking chocolate, beer and wine. Her dream? Creating an Eataly-style experience for Mexican food and products. Retail offerings will rotate to highlight different designers, but will emphasize quality, she says.
"We have amazing product. Everyone's all about European designs ... and they're willing to pay the price. But Mexican craft is often undervalued because they associate it with cheap labor," she says. "This happens and it's not fair ... Mexico has amazing artisans that are not highlighted enough."
One reason the family chose to open a shop in Los Altos is the community's family-friendly nature, she says. The family's children have been giving their own input about the business that their parents have taken into account. For instance, their kids nixed the idea of having a separate kids' menu and are pushing to have a rotating portfolio of activity sheets so that other children who visit don't have to do the same mazes, word searches or draw-by-number activities every time. Domínguez-Porter says she also plans to stock kid-friendly items in the shop.
The space is small, with just a handful of tables and a bar, while the shop occupies a space in the front, separated from the cafe with custom-made glass walls. Elements from around the restaurant were painstakingly selected to highlight local and Mexican craftspeople — especially from Domínguez-Porter's family hometown of Guadalajara, she says. The tile work on the floor of the restaurant, the back patio and the shop interior is all from Guadalajara. The tiles in the shop are particularly elaborate, made using old-fashioned cement tile techniques. The bespoke approach to the interior design, combined with industry-wide construction and supply chain issues, led to some of the delays the couple experienced as they were preparing to open their cafe-retail space.
The menu focuses on beverages like wine, beer and coffee, plus lighter Mexican-inspired fare — salads, soups like the sopa de chayote, made with an indigenous squash from Mexico and molletes, a toast served with beans, cheese, salsa fresca and pico de gallo. They're also serving chilaquiles with two kinds of roasted salsa, served with beans and topped with a fried egg and avocado. Cafe offerings include an oat milk latte served cold with agave nectar, drinking chocolates that highlight the products of different farms, a "chiquito" — similar to a flat white with frothed milk folded in — and teas from Proyecto Diaz, an East Bay-based tea maker. The wine offerings will highlight natural wines from Mexico, while the beers will primarily be Belgian ales, building on Porter's expertise from his former business.
Offering both a retail shop and food is part of the food and drink industry veterans' efforts to stay flexible through changing times, Domínguez-Porter explains.
"We want to have a really flexible model, because after the pandemic you can't really just be one thing," she says. "We have a menu set, of course ... but I think it's also important to make sure we have the support staff we need, and that's really hard right now, especially if you're opening during the holidays."
During their soft opening, she adds, they want to have fun as they get their feet wet and collect early customer feedback. They also can make the space available for private holiday parties.
With Tal Palo opening during the holiday season, the restaurant is available for private parties, and its owners are planning to observe the Mexican celebration of Las Posadas, a religious festival celebrated from Dec. 16-24 in Mexico, the U.S. and parts of Latin America, with pozole and ponche this week.
"We have traditions. We have our family traditions, we have traditions in our community, and we want to be involved in that," she says.