One-of-a-kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

 

IMG 5504 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

El Matador, Pablo Velez

There is no mistaking how El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo got its name. 

When you enter El Matador Restaurant, you can’t help but notice the owner, Pablo Velez. At about 6-foot 3, he appears to be almost a head taller than most of the servers. He moves about the room with unusual grace for a man on the other side of 40; his demeanor seems more like that of a dancer than a restaurateur.

Around the room you’ll see images of Velez on posters, news clippings and paintings sprawled all over the walls. In all of these pictures, he’s dressed as a matador.

After a gracious welcome, he invites us to take a peek at the glass-enclosed case beside the bar that displays one of the jeweled costumes he has worn to various fights. He began fighting bulls at the age of 14, he tells us.

IMG 5482 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

The bar

IMG 5510 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

One of many paintings

Still an active matador, Velez has achieved some notoriety as a headliner in the plazas de toros (bull rings) in Mexico City, Leon, Guadalajara and Aquascalientes. He says he continues to do three or four matches a year “for his soul.”

The setting

Velez moved to Los Cabos about a decade ago and created from scratch the building that holds this one-of-a-kind restaurant. With multiple rooms, a tile roof, and stucco walls, it looks like a cross between a family home and a museum. Every surface is covered with memorabilia from his past.

IMG 5457 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

The front room

“The walls are the story of my life,” he says.

He explains his progression from the bullring to the kitchen as if it were natural. His mother was a chef and his uncle was a matador. “The kitchen is the soul of the house,” he says and he fell as passionately in love with food and wine as he did with bullfighting.

When we visited last year, we sat in the front room with its open kitchen and handful of tables. Decorated with Spanish furniture and low lighting, it was warm and intimate. This past May, Velez opened a romantic bi-level courtyard outdoors with a stone fountain and palm trees at its center. Now the restaurant can accommodate about 60 people in total.

Seated al fresco under the star-lit sky, we feel as if we were on the set of an old cowboy movie. Attractive, bi-lingual waitresses walk around in mid-calf-length, ruffled pastel dresses. The table linens are beautifully embroidered, suggestive of a time past. A stuffed head of a bull is mounted at one end of the patio and we are surrounded by paintings that portray the art of bullfighting.

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The bull

The engaging owner stops at our table. “You’ll love the voice of my friend, Carlos Vidal,” he says. We aren’t sure what he means.

But almost on cue, a handsome singer with dark black hair, dressed as a matador, begins crooning tunes in Spanish from an upper balcony and wends his way down the stairs, stopping at each of the tables.

IMG 5564 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

The courtyard balcony

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Carlos Vidal & Me

We learn that Vidal is a matador, too, and that the two men (restaurant owner and singer) will be sparring in the ring next March in San Jose. Velez proudly shows us a poster announcing the fight.

P1250345 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

The poster

The food

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El Matador Menu

The menu at El Matador (which also has a matador and bull emblazoned on it) reflects a fusion of Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine. After appetizers, our group orders main courses that include rack of lamb, chile relleno, veal scallopine, sea bass and chateaubriand. Each dish  is fresh, uncomplicated, flavorful and cooked to perfection.

P1250388 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

Tortilla soup

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Insalata Caprese

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Chile relleno

P1250390 One of a kind: El Matador Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

Chateaubriand

When asked, Velez describes his style of cooking: “I personalize, I don’t invent.”

The bar offers an exhaustive list of tequilas as well as wines from Mexico and California. Located on a residential street several blocks off the Transpeninsular Highway, passersby aren’t likely to drop-in. Rather El Matador is a destination restaurant that draws diners with its artful blend of ambiance, good food and service, and the legend of its unique proprietor.

The motto on El Matador’s business card sums it up: Impossible to ignore and futile to resist.


IF YOU GO

El Matador Restaurant

  • Located on Paseo Los Marinos at the corner of Balandra and Portaviones Col. El Chamizal, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico (Baja California)
  • Open for dinner only from 6PM-11PM, Monday through Sunday.
  • Reservations suggested. Phone 624-142 2741. 

[An earlier version of this story was published in the Chicago Tribune Travel Section on April 8, 2014.]


Watch Chef Velez on You Tube: How To Be A Matador

 

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Category: FOOD

Comments (26)

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  1. The Matador looks wonderful- our kind of place. The food presentation is lovely- hope it tasted as good as it looks!

  2. Donna Janke says:

    What an interesting restaurant. The food looks wonderful.

  3. I got very hungry reading this post! I will definitely visit The Matador next time I am in lovely San Jose del Cabo (I hope it is soon).

  4. I love the motto on the business card! Looks like a fantastic place — the food looks delicious, the setting is beautiful and the matadors, well, wow!

  5. Nancie says:

    He wasn’t in Cabo when I spent time there 25 years ago! Looks like a wonderful place to enjoy an evening out. I think it would hard to decide what to order. Everything you show here looks out of this world delicious.

  6. Michelle says:

    What a fascinating place! I’m a vegetarian, but it looks like there would even be items on the menu for me. I love the decor :)

    • The caprese salad at El Matador was incredible. I love tomatoes in Mexico because they are fresh and tasty By the time they arrive at my supermarket in NY, they aren’t quite the same!

  7. The restaurant is beautiful and the food looks so good! Great article!

  8. Patti Morrow says:

    Love all your posts about Cabo, since I will be there in the fall. There are several dishes on that menu I want to try!

  9. My mouth is literally watering! Sounds like an amazing place!

  10. I confess that I am not a fan of bull fighting, but the combination of his lifestyle with his restaurant upbringing sounds like a winning idea for a unique restaurant – good food is an added bonus!

  11. Tom Bartel says:

    I’ve always thought it was a good idea to kill your own food. Not that I’ve done it, but I do like the idea.

  12. Patti says:

    My hubby would go crazy for that chili relleno! His favorite!

  13. Ben Leigh says:

    Great to memorizing you El Matador. I’ve already fallen to restaurant with my friends on last two years back. Now its perfectly bounce me an idea to move again with my young family too.. El Matador wait for us!!!

  14. So great to learn about this restaurant from you! We’ll share your post with our “Cabo Insider” app readers (and we’ll look forward to trying it ourselves next time we’re in Cabo – we’re addicted to chile relleno, especially if done well). Interesting that Velez is still an active matador…

  15. I can see why this restaurant might seem enchanting; however, I confess I don’t think I could get past the theme — which means I’m a hypocrite since I’m not a vegetarian.

  16. We missed this restaurant during our visit to Santa Fe last fall. One can only go to so many restaurants during a 3 day visit. That’s ok. We can add it to our “do do” (to eat?) list for our next visit :)

  17. W. Mark Dendy says:

    Very nice review Irene! I had the pleasure of meeting Pablo last July at his restaurant. It was a weekday eve and slow and I invited him to sit down with my wife and me. He obliged and my wife and I really enjoyed conversing with him. His passion for the art of cooking and the art of bull fighting seem to fit together nicely.
    For our last night in SJ I asked Pablo to cater a party for us at our condo. He did,and the food and service were both impeccable and he entertained our guests with stories. He even brought my wife and I a very fine bottle of wine with which we toasted each other.
    Incredible restaurant and incredible man!

    • Hi Mark,

      I’m so glad that you had as nice an experience with El Matador as I did. I didn’t think about using Pablo for catering but hope to do so now next time we are in Los Cabos.

      Muchas gracias por visitar!

      Irene

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