Running the kitchen

Running the kitchen

Here’s something you might not know about Jose Patino, owner of Aqui es Mexico: He’s an avid marathon runner who’s completed 16 of them, or maybe 17 (he’s lost count) since he picked up the sport at the age of 50 in 1992. In 1995, he says he finished the Boston Marathon in 3:08 and two weeks later did the New York Marathon in 3:04—that’s, like, really good! At the time, Patino was living in Chicago, and the Mexican government pronounced him “the best athlete of the Midwest.” O.K., this has nothing to do with food, but it does say something about Patino’s discipline. And these are interesting personal tidbits that he’d like for you to know. Oh, not to be boastful or anything, but because he understands the cult of celebrity that American diners favor. “Americans want to know the chef,” says Patino. “They want to know who’s in the kitchen making their food.”

Personal touch: The newly expanded dining room of Aqui es Mexico may soon house some of owner Jose Patino’s marathon medals.

Giving a little insight into the man behind the kitchen curtain is why you may soon see some of Patino’s marathon medals adorning the walls of his newly expanded dining room. Right now, there are just a few pieces of Mexican artwork here and there in the new, bright orange seating area, which was unveiled about two weeks ago in the old Pay Day USA spot adjacent to Aqui’s original home on Carlton Road. The original spot continues to house Aqui’s kitchen and now also includes new, larger walk-in coolers and an office for Patino.

“Name another Mexican restaurant in town. Can you tell me who the chef is?” Patino asks Restaurantarama, somewhat rhetorically while we dine on combo No. 1 (beef sope, cheese pupusa and crispy chicken taco) in the lovely, light-filled new room last week. “Uh, no,” we stutter. “I guess it’s a bunch of different people?” we offer.

Patino nods at us in agreement. Here at Aqui es (translation: “Here is”) Mexico, though, it’s different. Here, Patino tells us, he is on the premises every day, running the kitchen in the same professional manner that he previously handled his executive chef and executive sous-chef positions in numerous large hotels and banquet outfits, including, most recently, the Omni Charlottesville, the Boar’s Head Inn and The Colonnades. And when he’s not overseeing the kitchen operation, monitoring every dish that enters the dining room or managing Aqui’s growing business with his wife and daughter (who started the restaurant as El Tepeyac, before Papa Patino took over and changed the name in 2006), Patino is making the chorizo and carnitas from scratch.

Aqui es Mexico is a dream on top of a dream come true for Patino. He actually started his first restaurant back in Chicago in 1978, and though he says it was successful, he closed that Mexican joint in 1983 because he realized he needed more industry experience, not to mention more English-speaking skills. “My goal was to become a chef in a large hotel,” says Patino. Having achieved that, Patino is back to where it all began—a little neighborhood Mexican (and Salvadorian—thanks to his son-in-law’s heritage and influence) joint.

Not that Patino is settling for smallness. Now that he’s doubled the seating, he sees an even bigger future for Aqui, as in more locations at some point. We guess that means he’ll also need to run a bunch more marathons to add to the decorations.

Yo, it’s more froyo

Yes! The new, third Arch’s Frozen Yogurt has finally opened on Emmet Street. We stopped in last week and had ourselves a nice lunch on the balcony overlooking 29 South. Who would have thought that would seem quaint and relaxing—but it does! If only to breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not stuck in the traffic juggernaut yourself. This third Arch’s installment has a large sandwich, salad and kid menu, in addition to the yummy frozen Arch’s goodness.

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