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Villa Azteca Opening Second Restaurant, Nicolás, in Carmel Plaza

Villa Azteca beef birria en consome (Photo: Raúl Nava)

June 15, 2021 – Herencia. It means “heritage” and it’s always been a vital ingredient at Villa Azteca in Oldtown Salinas. Now chef-owner Susana Alvarez and her family will bring their signature slant on Mexican cuisine to Carmel with the arrival of Nicolás Cocina de Herencia. 

The new restaurant will open on the ground floor of the Carmel Plaza in the space vacated by Sur La Table, just next door to Alvarado Street Brewery & Bistro.

Alvarez marries traditional Mexican recipes with a modern flair for technique and presentation. It’s a recipe that has won the restaurant fans from across Monterey County. Villa Azteca was one of the most popular openings of 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has remained a hot ticket, managing brisk business for takeout and outdoor dining.

Alvarez welcomes diners to explore Mexico’s rich and varied cuisine, blending classic and contemporary. Selections like chicken mole, beef birria en consomé and prawn aguachile sit comfortably alongside tuetano (roasted bone marrow), octopus tacos and filet mignon with huitlacoche (corn truffle) sauce. Villa Azteca boasts many vegetarian options—potato flautas, tetelas (stuffed masa pockets) and tacos de nopal (cactus), to name a few—ensuring the cuisine is accessible to all.

Chef Susana Alvarez and her son Andres, Villa Azteca’s sous chef (photo contributed)

The restaurant is a family operation with Alvarez at the helm. Her husband Leopoldo Becerra Alvarez handles kitchen operations. Her son Andres Becerra Alvarez is the restaurant’s sous chef and contributes many of its popular weekend specials. And her children Marco Becerra Alvarez and Adilenny (or Adi) Becerra Alvarez oversee front of house and marketing, respectively.

The family’s new restaurant, Nicolás, will be a spacious property spanning more than 5,000 square feet. Design plans submitted to the Carmel Planning Commission call for a dining room that seats 50—including flexible space to accommodate a private party, a 10-seat bar and six seats outdoors.

The restaurant will honor Nicolás, the family’s patriarch. 

Alvarez’s father, Nicolás, came to the United States when he was 18. He saved up enough money to return to Mexico and purchase land to establish an organic farm. His farm supplied strawberries, squash, onions and tomatoes to neighboring towns. In time, his produce was distributed across the country and even to the United States. After Nicolás married his wife Maria de Jesus, his father—Alvarez’s abuelito—shared the family’s closely guarded recipes with his new daughter-in-law. Maria de Jesus found a passion for cooking, developing her own recipes showcasing the produce grown on her husband’s ranch. That ethos inspired Alvarez’s commitment to sourcing, which has become a hallmark of her cuisine at Villa Azteca.

Villa Azteca’s Tuetano Bone Marrow (Photo: Raúl Nava)

The heritage kitchen will celebrate three generations of family recipes. As Adi described, “the wonderful flavors of our family.” Chef Alvarez plans a menu celebrating the cuisine of her hometown in Michoacán, with dishes drawn from her extensive travels across Mexico, including Oaxaca, Puebla and the Yucatán.

The sample menu provided to the planning commission teases duck with red pipian (ground peppers and seeds) and gorditas stuffed with huitlacoche at dinner, cauliflower tacos and shrimp tetelas at lunch, and cazuela de huevo (baked egg) and enmoladas (mole enchiladas) at breakfast. At the presentation to the Carmel Planning Commission, Adi promised “unique cuisine for a unique and special village.”

Cauliflower tacos are among the vegetarian options (photo contributed)

Also expect Villa Azteca’s signature flair for presentation and commitment to attentive service and hospitality at Nicolás. An opening date for the new project has not been set yet.

With Nicolás, Villa Azteca joins a number of Salinas’ hospitality heavyweights in opening a new location close to the coast. Humberto Maravilla brought a third outpost for his family’s popular La Casa Del Sazón to Monterey with the opening of Sazón Express last year. Soon, the Moncada family—who opened popular burrito shop El Charrito—will debut Alejandro’s, a new upscale Mexican restaurant arriving on Alvarado Street in the location vacated by PALOOZA.

And Nicolás won’t be the only new addition coming to the Carmel Plaza either. The shopping center will soon welcome Carmel Burger Bar. Owner Janice Albright—a veteran of restaurants in the South Bay, including Big Basin Burger Bar in Saratoga and RELISH Kitchen + Drink in Gilroy—plans a new spot to showcase burgers with a globally inspired flair. Carmel Burger Bar will open in the space previously home to Bistro Beaujolais, which shuttered three years ago.

Nicolás Cocina de Herencia • SW Corner of Ocean Avenue and Junipero Street, Suite 111, Carmel Plaza, Carmel

About the author

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Raúl Nava (he/him/él) is a freelance writer covering dining and restaurants across the Central Coast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @offthemenu831.