It’s the bustling new place on the corner of Palm Canyon and Tahquitz with the large, open, misted patio that is, quite frankly, one of the best spots in Palm Springs for people watching. It shares its name with a superstar tequila, and the rest spells out just about everything you might think you need to know: “El Patrón Crafted Tacos and Drinks.”
The passion project of Mario and Alex Gonzalez of GHA Companies, builders of commercial spaces and residential communities throughout the Coachella Valley for the past 30 years, El Patron is, as Alex puts it, “...a dream really.” Their extended family has a decades-long history in the food industry, so this venture is taking them back to their roots.
Situated in an E. Stewart Williams-designed building listed on the Palm Springs register of historic places, the El Patron team had to work with the city’s Historic Site Preservation Board to preserve the aesthetics and integrity of the architecturally significant building. And if that sounds like it might be hard, it’s actually even harder.
Designer Emily Wutz, formerly with downtown guru Chris Pardo’s Elemental Architecture, was the designer for El Patron and is very familiar with the area. “Starbucks was my big project,” she says. “We also did the public spaces (courtyard), lobby cafe, and the High Bar. It was a great learning experience.”
One of the biggest challenges Wutz faced at El Patron turned out to be the railings. The preservationists wanted to make sure the rail was aesthetically appropriate to the design of the building, and that it created the illusion of being open to the street.
“I designed three or four different railings as instructed by the historical society,” says Wutz. “We ended up taking inspiration from the windows, using the same proportions and bringing them down to the rail. We wanted the railing to represent the building in some way and to have that aesthetic so if the tenant moved, the railing would still match the building.” Wutz says they painted the entire railing charcoal hoping “it would recede into the shadows and the big white modernist box would peek through.”
Emily Wutz created this mural inside El Patron.
At the entrance the frame has been flipped to create what Wutz calls “a portal” in hopes that “meet me at the portal” might become local nomenclature and a designated landmark for gathering.
Inside, Wutz took inspiration from the dish al pastor, which is actually a recipe Lebanese immigrants brought with them to Mexico in the 1900s. She combined Mexican and Mediterranean colors in the textiles, which were sourced from local vendor Su Casa Mexican Imports, as well as the pinata-like star lamps hanging from the ceiling. It was important for Wutz to use locals, so she commissioned crafts such as their El Patron branded candle table-toppers, created by local artist Susan Durazo.
We wanted the railing to represent the building in some way and to have that aesthetic so if the tenant moved, the railing would still match the building.”
— Emily Wutz, designer
A visit to the bathroom usually does not require fanfare, but in this case it’s warranted. Along the way, check out the truck seat (fashioned from the tailgate of an old Chevy), by Chris Cunningham of CC Designs who also did the metalwork and railings. Local artist Gustavo Rimada created two murals and the artwork on the restroom doors, and Wutz herself designed a special collage of hundreds of small pictures that, when you step back, create an even larger image
While Wutz was busy dancing with the preservationists, the Gonzalezes were busy building and adjusting, so they wisely hired long time, local, restaurant consultant Gerard Noonan of Focus 1 Hospitality to oversee start up operations. Noonan, who was also the winner of the 1994 Bartender Olympics at TGI Fridays, created all of the craft cocktails. In addition to the $5 margaritas, Noonan suggests you try the specialty prickly pear margarita. It’s pink, like the neon “tacos y tequila” sign written in cursive by Riofine Neon above the grill.
A restaurant needs a chef, and while Mario and Alex were looking, the phone rang. It was David Gonzalez (no relation), the chef at a popular spot in Newport Beach called Wild Tacos. “We have a house in Newport Beach, and we went to Wild Tacos all the time,” says Alex. “It was actually part of the inspiration for El Patron.”
A pair of Prickly Pear margaritas.
In addition to the blow-your-mind menu of carnitas, carne asada, shrimp, fish, and barbacoa tacos, Gonzalez dreams up daily specials influenced by his Jaliscan background, and fueled by his imagination (“it’s what comes into my head that morning”) all served on handmade tortillas. So make sure to check out the chalkboard to see what he was thinking earlier that day.
There’s a lot to see while you’re enjoying your drinks and street tacos, so make sure you check out all the details. There’s no devil in there, unless you count the Dia de Los Muertos-inspired artwork.
Pair your Prickly Pear margarita with a torta.
Jalisco-inspired street tacos, with more than 25 brands of tequila in an achitecturally historic and redesigned location
Location: 101 W. Tahquitz, Palm Springs (corner of Tahquitz and Palm Canyon Drive) 888-340-8226; elpatronps.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Parking: Street parking, and the lot behind Brickworks and Ruby’s is a two-minute walk.
Prices: Taco Tuesday is $10 tacos and $10 beer. Nachos with protein daily price is $14. On the high end of the taco spectrum, but location, location, location.
Recommended Dishes: Al pastor tacos, Carne Asada tacos, fish tacos, cauliflower taco, Prickly Pear margarita.