Atlanta’s upscale Mexican scene is about to gain a new member. This August, Chef Santiago Gomez’s first local venture, Palo Santo, will open on West Marietta Street next to the King Plow Arts Center.
Since moving here from Miami just eight months ago, Gomez says he’s already seen opportunities to carve out a niche for himself in the Atlanta food scene. “I’ve been to a few restaurants here and they were different than what I brought with me to Atlanta. When I moved to Miami, there weren’t that many Mexican restaurants. The only Mexican restaurants were a bit out of town and cozier. That’s more or less what I found here.”
Gomez, who has over 20 years of industry experience, envisions Paolo Santo as Mexican cuisine rooted in Georgian ingredients. Born in Mexico City, Gomez places his culture and heritage at the forefront of his work. “As a Mexican, I always try to take my culture with me everywhere,” he says. “I’ve been doing this since I moved to the States.” He works with farms in different Mexican states to bring ingredients like beans, chocolate, chili and corn to Palo Santo.
Gomez has also found community in Atlanta with the support of local chefs. “Everybody was really nice to me, it made me feel at home,” he says. Atlanta chefs including Ford Fry, Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield and Grana’s Pat Pascarella have supported Gomez by sharing information such as suppliers. He has also found warm welcomes from local farmers and artists.
Ingredients aren’t the only area where Georgian and Mexican cultures cross. Much of the art and decor at Palo Santo — agave fiber pendants, curtains, ceramics, and tableware — is made by either Mexican or local artists and craftspeople, including paintings by Truett Diestz and plaster wall designs by Super Delicious.
Palo Santo is divided into two levels. The restaurant and the open kitchen are located in the basement. Here everything is prepared on wood or charcoal and served in a family atmosphere. Gomez says this area will have a more bohemian vibe. Also on this floor is the bar, which Gomez envisions as a destination within the restaurant. General Manager and Bar Director Antonio Moralez hails from Atlanta and shares Gomez’s Mexican family background. Mezcal, tequila and natural wines will lead the field. “We don’t want people to think drinks are coming to their table, we want people to stay seated [at] the bar,” says Gomez.
On the roof, the atmosphere and the menu will be completely different. “I worked at Nobu for almost two years and then worked at other Japanese restaurants,” he says. “We decided to do a Mexican-Japanese menu there.” The rooftop dining options will focus on snacks like nori tacos, tostadas, and ceviche, while the bar will have an emphasis on sake. “The nori tacos and tostadas are 100 percent Japanese [ingredients] like good nori, good rice, but we mix some Mexican ingredients to have this fusion that will bring something different to the city.”
Gomez not only wants to combine his heritage and new home, but also wants to change some people’s perspective on Mexican food and bring the new Mexican cuisine from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to Atlanta.
“It’s Mexican cuisine that’s different. It’s fun, it’s diverse, it’s different,” he says. “We’re beyond excited to bring this concept to Atlanta and hopefully make an asset to the city and do cool things here: bring in chefs from other places and do collaborations here and do our thing here, but we we are very happy to be here in Atlanta.”
955 West Marietta Street