Atlanta’s upscale Mexican scene is about to gain a new member. This August, chef Santiago Gomez’s first local project, Palo Santo, opens on West Marietta Street adjacent to the King Plow Arts Center.
Since moving here just eight months ago from Miami, Gomez says he’s already seen opportunities to create a niche in the Atlanta food scene. “I went to a couple of restaurants here and they were different from what I was bringing to Atlanta. When I moved to Miami, there weren’t too many Mexican restaurants. The only Mexican restaurants were a little bit of out of town and more homey. That’s more or less what I found here.”
Gomez, who has more than 20 years of industry experience, envisions Paolo Santo as Mexican cuisine rooted in Georgian ingredients. Born in Mexico City, Gomez puts his culture and heritage at the forefront of his work. “As a Mexican, I always try to take my culture wherever I go,” he says. “That’s something I’ve been doing since I moved to the States.” He’s working with farms in various Mexican states to bring ingredients including beans, chocolate, chile, and corn to Palo Santo.
Gomez has also found community in Atlanta with the support of local chefs. “All the people have been really nice with me, making me feel at home,” he says. Atlanta chefs including Ford Fry, Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, and Pat Pascarella of Grana have supported Gomez by sharing intel, like suppliers. He’s also met warm reception from local farmers and artists.
Ingredients aren’t the only area where Georgian and Mexican cultures intersect. Much of the art and decor at Palo Santo — agave fiber pendants, curtains, ceramics, and tableware, are made by either Mexican or local artists and artisans, including collages by Truett Dietz and plaster wall design by Super Delicious.
Palo Santo is split into two levels. The lower floor houses the restaurant and open kitchen. Everything here will be prepared on wood or charcoal and served family-style. Gomez says this area will have a more bohemian vibe. This floor is also home to the bar, which Gomez envisions as a destination within the restaurant. General manager and bar director Antonio Moralez is an Atlanta native and shares Gomez’s Mexican family background. Mezcal, tequila, and natural wines will lead the pack. “We don’t want people to just think that drinks are coming to their table, we want people to sit [at] the bar,” Gomez says.
On the rooftop, the atmosphere and menu will be completely different. “I worked in Nobu for almost 2 years and then worked in other Japanese restaurants,” he says. “We decided to make a Mexican-Japanese menu there.” The rooftop’s food selection will focus on snackable items like nori tacos, tostadas, and ceviche, while the bar will have an emphasis on sake. “The nori tacos and tostadas have 100 percent Japanese [ingredients] like good nori, good rice, but we’re mixing some Mexican ingredients to have this fusion that’s gonna give something different to the city.”
In addition to blending his heritage and new home, Gomez aims to change some peoples’ perspectives about Mexican food and bring the new Mexican cuisine in 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 more than excited to bring this concept to Atlanta and hopefully make an addition to the city and start doing cool things here: bringing chefs from other places and starting to make collabs here, and start doing our thing here, but we’re really excited to be here in Atlanta.”
955 West Marietta Street