James Beard Award winning chef Traci Des Jardins' restaurant el Alto abruptly closes its doors in Los Altos months after highly anticipated opening | Peninsula Foodist | The Peninsula Foodist | Almanac Online |

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James Beard Award winning chef Traci Des Jardins' restaurant el Alto abruptly closes its doors in Los Altos months after highly anticipated opening

Uploaded: Sep 24, 2022
By Julia Brown

El Alto partner and chef Traci Des Jardins and chef de cuisine Robert Hurtado in the Los Altos restaurant on March 15. The restaurant announced its sudden closure Saturday. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

James Beard Award winning chef Traci Des Jardins’ California-Mexican restaurant el Alto has abruptly closed its doors nearly six months to the day since opening at State Street Market in downtown Los Altos.

“As of September 23, 2022, el Alto has ceased operations. Thank you to all that have supported the restaurant through this time, especially our wonderfully supportive guests and our staff,” a message posted to the restaurant’s website and Instagram page Saturday reads.

In an Instagram post Saturday, Des Jardins wrote, "Sadly, yesterday was our last service at @elaltolosaltos. It has been incredible to operate in Los Altos where the interest, excitement, and reception to the restaurant blew me away. It was a wonderful experience to again work alongside Chef Robert Hurtado, as well as the amazing kitchen and front-of-house staff that worked to bring this concept to life. I loved hearing the feedback from guests as we interacted in the dining room. At the end of the day, I'm incredibly proud and grateful to have been a part of this project."

State Street Market, which also houses a 20,000-square-foot food hall including restaurants from Michelin-starred chefs like Little Blue Door, a casual sister restaurant of Palo Alto’s Ettan, and Bao Bèi, a concept from former Maum chefs Meichih and Michael Kim, opened about a year ago. A representative from State Street Market declined to comment further on the closure.

Bon Appétit Management Company, a Palo Alto-based restaurant company, said it "has been honored to collaborate with Traci Des Jardins and Los Altos Community Investments on the el Alto project."

The Peninsula Foodist spoke with el Alto partner and chef Des Jardins and chef de cuisine Robert Hurtado before the restaurant’s highly anticipated opening March 24. Des Jardins told former Foodist Anthony Shu that if she could start her career over again, she “would have really focused on Mexican food from the very beginning and gone deep into Mexico to experience (the cuisine) firsthand.”

“You could go to both of the taquerias here (in downtown Los Altos), and they serve the same things,” Hurtado said in March. “There’s definitely a place for that. But I want people to be able to explore Mexican cuisine through a different lens; there’s more to Mexican food.”

The Los Altos restaurant featured a modern Mexican menu with dishes like King City Pink Beans refried in duck fact, an ode to Hurtado's grandmother, and the confit Liberty Duck leg with apricot mole, a tribute to Los Altos' stone fruit orchards.

Des Jardins closed the renowned San Francisco restaurant Jardinière in 2019 and her Ferry Building Mexican eatery Mijita a few months later. Des Jardins’ other restaurants, the Presidio’s Arguello and The Commissary, closed when the pandemic began. As of March, Des Jardins was involved with one other establishment, the Public House at Oracle Park.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 11:17 am

Annette is a registered user.


Posted by Lenora Winters, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 11:37 am

Lenora Winters is a registered user.

If one cannot manage a restaurant effectively, the endeavor is doomed to failure regardless of good the menu offerings are.

With a track record of premature closings, this comes as no surprise.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 4:52 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Regardless of why it closed, it's still sad to see a restaurant go out of business. Upscale Mexican restaurants are going against the grain. Customers expect certain ethnic food (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) to be cheap. Even in Los Altos. Until next time...

Posted by Harry Carter, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 7:13 am

Harry Carter is a registered user.

"Customers expect certain ethnic food (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) to be cheap."

Though labor intensive, Chinese and Mexican food should be reasonably priced considering the actual ingredients.

And the same applies to pasta dishes. I will not pay over $15 for a plate of spaghetti.

Posted by Meg Williams, a resident of Stanford,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 8:58 am

Meg Williams is a registered user.

"With a track record of premature closings, this comes as no surprise."

Every chef aspires to run his/her own operation but not everyone is cut out to do so.

Maintaining 'artistic integrity' and business responsibilities are natural counterparts.

If one is gifted but cannot run a business, they should work for an entity that has the capital to sustain periodic losses.

Lastly, raising prices to accommodate revenue loss is a surefire path to failure.

Posted by Kenneth Raines, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 9:24 am

Kenneth Raines is a registered user.

Another reason for the current restaurant failures is that there are too many 'fusion' stylists out there trying to lump different types of ingredients and cultural foods together.

We do not need absurd blendings like Japanese/Mexican, French/Chinese, East Indian/Italian and all of the other hairbrained concoctions.

Most people want real food, not the eclectic offerings seen on 'Chopped' and other cooking shows.

Posted by Florence Jackson, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 10:50 am

Florence Jackson is a registered user.

Mexican restaurant menus (including rice, beans, and an entree aka combo) should always be priced at $14.50 or less regardless of the chopping involved and/or the ingredients used (including camarones aka shrimp).

To charge more is an insult to the paying customer.

Chinese food should also be a cheap dining option because all you are getting are some vegetables and a few scraps of meat + some arcane seasonings.

Posted by Gerald Glass, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Gerald Glass is a registered user.

Like lawyers and dentists, we have far too many restaurants in the SF Bay Area.

One less = no major loss.

Posted by Steven Gentry, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 1:38 pm

Steven Gentry is a registered user.

When it comes to Mexican food, most diners want a combo plate, unlimited chips & salsa, and a pitcher of margaritas or a good Mexican beer.

Foo-foo esoteric cuisine is best reserved for the likes of Chez TJ, Greystone/CIA, and the French Laundry where one pays more but gets less.

Posted by Erika Prescott, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 4:03 pm

Erika Prescott is a registered user.

For countless folks, Red Lobster is their 'go to' restaurant for moderately-priced seafood as Olive Garden is for Italian, Chevy's for Mexican, Chili's for TexMex, PF Chang's for Chinese, the Shogun for Japanese, and Sizzler or Outback for steak.

Fair prices and a standardized menue is why the aforementioned outlets are more successful than the overpriced restaurants spouting fusion, noveau cuisine, and celebrated chefs that no one but epicurean snobs have heard of.

Posted by Rose, a resident of Mayfield,
on Sep 29, 2022 at 6:25 pm

Rose is a registered user.

After all the fuss when they opened I was looking forward to eating there. What a disappointment. Lousy food and high prices. My friend also thought it was awful.

Posted by John Sack, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:30 pm

John Sack is a registered user.

My spouse and I ate at El Alto three times -- including opening week and about three weeks ago. Every time it was excellent food, and an even better hospitality experience. The portions were not large -- and I didn't myself think they were small but others apparently did (relative to price) but I was not looking for a second meal in a take-out box.

It always seemed busy to us. And people were certainly having a good time.

If people don't think Mexican food should ever cost more than $15, then of course they should not go places where it costs more. But El Alto seemed busy enough with people who WERE willing to pay more. Would be interesting to know if they had repeat customers or is my spouse and I were unusual.

Or maybe there was something else going wrong (food costs, staffing, investors, etc.). I hope there will be more reporting on the actual reason if that becomes known (vs. gossip, or people like me and others speculating..)

Posted by PhilB, a resident of St. Claire Gardens,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 10:26 am

PhilB is a registered user.

Still miss Jardiniere in SF, right across the street from Davies Symphony Hall. Dinner there plus a concert with Michael Tilson-Thomas conducting. Pre-pandemic of course.

Too bad those days are long over.

Posted by MVresident2003, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 1:57 pm

MVresident2003 is a registered user.

“Days are long over".

They are indeed. The insane overreaction and response to Covid has forever changed our society. The loss of independent businesses, reduction of service, inability to get good staffing.

Days long over.

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