Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Cuisine is one way to bring community together.
Add in a great atmosphere and it’s an excellent foundation.
Chef Fernando Ruiz is teaming up with a Homewise mixed-use project in Santa Fe near Agua Fria Street and Harrison Road.
The name of the restaurant is Escondido, which means hidden in Spanish. Ruiz is partnering with Meow Wolf co-founder Vince Kadlubek to create the concept.
Kadlubek, a member of Meow Wolf’s Board of Directors and senior consultant to the arts organization, has worked with Ruiz for the past year developing Escondido.
The project received early support from a third founder, Santa Fe resident and early Meow Wolf investor Stewart Alsop.
“Homewise was looking for some restaurants as anchor tenants for the project,” Kadlubek said. “Fernando was looking to open his first restaurant.”
Escondido’s owners say the restaurant will focus on simple, fresh and healthy Mexican cuisine at reasonable prices. The restaurant will also serve traditional margaritas with a wide selection of tequilas and mezcals. The 3,000 square-foot restaurant will hold over 120 seats between its main dining room, an outdoor patio, and a rooftop deck. The rooftop deck, Ruiz and Kadlubek both agree, is a key feature of the restaurant.
“Not many restaurants outside of downtown have a roof-top patio,” Ruiz said. “It’s another feature that we will build on. We’re also planning to be open later than most restaurants.”
Kadlubek and Ruiz wanted to bring high-quality food to Santa Fe’s south side.
“It’s not downtown,” Kadlubek said. “South side of Santa Fe deserves to have high-quality and fun places at reasonable prices.”
Ruiz has built his culinary reputation from the ground up after spending nearly four years incarcerated for running drugs and guns. While in jail, he earned his GED and learned how to cook. Upon his release, he immediately enrolled in culinary school.
After earning his culinary degree, Ruiz moved to Santa Fe in the early 2000s and worked at Rio Chama, La Boca and Santacafé.
In 2017, Ruiz won three Food Network competitions – “Chopped,” “Guy’s Grocery Games” and “Beat Bobby Flay.”
The dish Ruiz defeated Bobby Flay with was Chile en Nogada, a traditional stuffed poblano that will be a featured entree at Escondido.
“I am proud to bring high-quality, locally-sourced food to the central part of town and at a reasonable price,” Ruiz said. “Opening my own restaurant has always been a dream, and to do it in the Agua Fria neighborhood in Santa Fe couldn’t be more perfect for my first concept.”
The word escondido resonates with both Kadlubek and Ruiz.
“Fernando and I have felt like much of our life was out of the mainstream. Kind of hidden,” Kadlubek said. “With me having shoplifting charges and not having a college degree, we both have an outsider’s perspective.”
Ruiz continues, “I was constantly playing hide-and-seek with the police growing up. Being locked up in a cage, I was hidden to the world.”
Kadlubek is inspired by Ruiz’s story because he is a prime example that past mistakes shouldn’t define a person.
“We need more representation of this,” Kadlubek said. “Working hard proves to people that you can focus on something you’re passionate about. Things can be turned around.”
Ruiz wants to create a space that feels like home.
“Let’s be good humans and nice to each other,” Ruiz said. “Especially here in Santa Fe. We have something different to offer.”
Escondido is expected to open in summer 2023.