Asked what makes Sinaloa so special, Elmer said without hesitation that “the people of Morgan Hill are Sinaloa.”
By David Dindak
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sinaloa Café owner Elmer Orellana about where he’s been, where he is now, and where he’s headed. What an interesting and amazing visionary he is!
Born in El Salvador, Elmer has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. His hospitality career began in 1992, and he worked at Chevy’s and Rotunda at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco for many years.
In 2004 he opened Fiesta Vallarta, a Mexican-fusion spot in Los Altos. Expanding horizons, he began searching for another restaurant in the mid-2000’s. Mining the net, he came across Sinaloa Café, and didn’t think much about it at the time, but one day came back to the computer and saw the Sinaloa page still open and felt this was a sign.
Elmer knew nothing about Morgan Hill and took a road trip. Once in town he felt it was nice enough, but rather quiet. However, his gut said this was a downtown with great potential. His first offer was declined but he kept it on the table. A year later Sinaloa was still on the market. Knowing what a gem Morgan Hill is, he circled back and eventually sealed the deal, taking over in November 2016.
Elmer’s vision was to change everything including the name to Fiesta Vallarta. He started by changing the margarita recipe. The café had been operating since 1960 and was famous for its margaritas. So, that didn’t go over well at all. Long-time customers complained and said he should be ashamed to keep the Sinaloa name. Elmer was offended and became red-faced like a tomato. However, knowing the importance of customer satisfaction, he apologized and gave them drinks “on the house” — not to entice a return visit, but because they candidly expressed how they felt. Ever since, he’s served margaritas the traditional way loved by the loyal patrons. He lives by the code that if customers don’t like something he wants to know so he can fix it.
Elmer decided to maintain the Peña family legacy by keeping their name. Additionally, a large painting of Sinaloa creator Adolfo Peña still hangs on the wall. He kept the Peñas’ amazing chile verde recipe, and only tweaked a few menu items with healthy and natural ingredients.
Lassoing the great chef Roman Beltran, head chef since opening, has led to a successful menu improvement. He came from Universal Café in San Francisco where Elmer had breakfast every Sunday and Roman always improvised, creating something delicious. Elmer’s favorite dish at Sinaloa is the burrito vallarta topped with garlic butter.
Asked what makes Sinaloa so special, Elmer said without hesitation that “the people of Morgan Hill are Sinaloa.” Morgan Hill supported Sinaloa through the shut-downs of COVID, during the worst time any business could have. Without the people of Morgan Hill, Sinaloa would not exist, and he sincerely thanks you.
Since you’ve read this far, I got something special for ya. Roman is a culinary artist and enjoys creating special dishes and has developed a “secret menu.” He’s from the Yucatan Peninsula where they don’t have things like cheese, burritos and enchiladas.The menu includes fennel and asparagus salad with truffle vinaigrette, seared salmon with fresh corn polenta and ratatouille, and braised beef that fell apart just looking at it accompanied by crème fraiche mashed potatoes and seasonal veggies. Spectacular! Who would have thought these fares are created at a Mexican restaurant? Currently only offered on Fridays, it will soon expand to the rest of the week. When calling for reservations, ask for Roman and his secret menu. He’ll be happy to oblige.
Before signing off, have you heard of Capos in Gilroy? How about EDM — Electronic Dance Music? Opened in November 2018, CAPOS is another Elmer project — a restaurant/night club in the old Strand Hotel downtown. It is a spectacular light show/video/music venue intended to serve the needs of every adult age and ethnic group. The goal is to offer everything from Hispanic, English, country, salsa and beyond. On Aug. 20, they will feature well-known singer/songwriter Frankie J. Check them out at www.caposnightclub.com. You’ll be amazed.
That’s it for this month, you guys. Remember, Brew Crawl is Saturday, Sept. 11. So keep that date on the refrigerator.
Cheers to you all, and we’ll see you around town.
David Dindak is the Morgan Hill Downtown Association president and co-owner of Bubbles.
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