Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - July 22, 2011

Friendly family fare

Sancho's Adam Torres weds good food with welcoming spaces in his new restaurants

by Sheila Himmel

Adam Torres didn't intend to build an empire of four restaurants in six years — two of them navigating the infamous Palo Alto permit process — plus a catering business. It just happened.

"My wife says I'm at my limit," says Torres, 35.

The family lives in the Emerald Hills area of Redwood City, near Torres' mother and his first restaurant. The cramped 600-square-foot original Sancho's Taqueria seated 15 people, at most. It has been expanded to fit 40.

The newest, due to open in Palo Alto's Midtown area later this summer, will seat 60. There will be sidewalk tables in front, a brand-new patio in the back and sports on TV.

"This is such a family neighborhood. Where does a family watch a Giants game?" Torres asks while showing a visitor the new spot. The menu will be bigger than at Sancho's in downtown Palo Alto, which opened on Lytton Avenue in late 2009.

Meanwhile, in downtown Redwood City, Torres grabbed the opportunity to expand his repertoire and use a new name. The recently opened Patty Shack, at 909 Main St., features all-natural, nitrate-free hamburgers and such American standards as fried chicken and meat loaf.

When a Sancho's fan who happened to own commercial property in Midtown contacted him about her 1,600-square-foot empty space, he wasn't in the market. But she persuaded him to take a look. "I'm always looking for a casual place to eat with my kids," Torres says. So he brought Cruz, 4, and Rosie, 2, to check out the area on a Sunday. Nothing was open. They finally found something to eat at Pommard, half a mile away.

The newest Sancho's enticed him for another reason: cooking space. "I've always been so limited," Torres said. "Here, I'll be able to have an oven!" Among the menu additions will be Mexican lasagna and vegetarian options.

Between a hobby shop and a Subway, Sancho's will be open daily, including Sunday, until 9 p.m.

Torres notes the abundance of apartments in Midtown, and people pushing strollers. The restaurant will speak to Torres' constant quest for "something between Applebee's and white tablecloth."

Torres knows white tablecloth, having gotten his first job out of the California Culinary Academy at San Francisco's well-heeled Boulevard. Then he worked at Chantilly, the Midpeninsula's grande dame of Continental cuisine. His big break came at the Village Pub, in Woodside, where he worked every station and learned every dish, from charcuterie to duck confit.

Torres developed his signature fish taco at the Village Pub, and the secret sauce. It's a chipotle remoulade, tangy mayonnaise pulsed with capers and cornichons. The red snapper is fried in a light tempura batter or simply grilled. Sprinkle fresh lime into the warm flour tortilla heaped with fish, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Torres and his partner, his cousin Armando, grew up in the restaurant business. Torres started washing dishes at his father's traditional Michoacan restaurant, La Pachanga, on the Middlefield strip of Redwood City known as Little Michoacan. There he also learned about Playa Azul seafood and cotija cheese.

Sancho's taco truck has become a fixture at graduations, charity events and local companies like Tesla Motors, on Deer Creek Road.

Sancho's is a regular at Edgewood Eats, the food truck friendship circle at Palo Alto's Edgewood Plaza parking lot every Monday night. A Facebook page lists the trucks that will be there each week. "People bring blankets and hang out," Torres says. It's very family-friendly.

Info: For more about Sancho's, go to www.sanchostaqueria.com.

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