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Back to:  Home > Food/Wine > Restaurants


New San Diego Mexican Restaurant Opens in Former Jail

December 17, 2013 -

Puesto Opens in San Diego, Restaurant's industrial design converts a former jail into a colorful arena for Mexican food.

After the success of their popular Mexican “street food” restaurant in La Jolla, California, the family that owns Puesto decided they wanted an atmosphere a bit more upscale and eye-catching for their new location in the just-opened The Headquarters complex near Seaport Village in San Diego. The Headquarters development was once the San Diego police headquarters, and Puesto would occupy a former file library and jail cell block. To accomplish the transformation, Puesto hired Thomas Schoos, the designer behind such iconic venues as Tao in Las Vegas, Searsucker in San Diego and Morimoto restaurants in Honolulu, Napa and Mexico City. When Schoos saw the large industrial space, he immediately realized that, instead of attempting to obscure or “clean up” the distressed architecture, it would be far more evocative to preserve the rustic, sensual textures, using them as inspiration for the overall look of the restaurant.

Puesto restaurant

Chipped wall paint, glue marks on the ceiling, old light switches, plumbing and electrical conduits were all left exposed, though clear-coated to preserve them in their distressed state. Schoos also decided to keep the catwalks that were part of the original file room, turning them into a dining mezzanine. In contrast to this, Schoos has placed contemporary décor and artistic elements that create an eclectic, casual vibe while exhibiting a typically Mexican love of color. Two striking examples are the murals by graffiti artist Chor Boogie that occupy walls in both dining rooms, adding a riot of vivid color and graphical interest.

Puesto restaurant

“Even though it is a big industrial space,” explains Schoos, “I wanted Puesto to be as vibrant and alive as a street festival or a bullfight in old Mexico.” In fact, with a mezzanine overlooking the action, the space feels a lot like a “food arena” where watching food being prepared is part of the show. To keep food central, Schoos placed the open kitchen along two walls of the front dining room with only a copper screen separating guests from the flames, aromas and visual stimuli of cooking.

Puesto restaurant

In addition to the food, color and activity, Schoos brightens the industrial space even more by introducing nature, both by opening the space to the outdoors and by bringing greenery inside. Along the front of the restaurant, massive two-story glass doors were added to open the restaurant to the pedestrian plaza out front. From the outside, passers-by can see guests dining on two levels through the tall doorways, creating an alluring facade. Though new, the added doors fit the industrial vibe with their four-inch-square beams made from textured steel. Between the two dining rooms, an indoor/outdoor living room is created with large doors and a tile “carpet” that extends from inside the room out onto the patio. To bring nature inside, the rear dining room features a wire mesh that covers an entire wall, allowing a creeping fig vine to climb the wall toward the skylight. And in the front dining room, aralia trees float in the air in massive concrete pots suspended from the ceiling by steel cables, like giant industrial flowerpots.
Schoos, who is also currently designing the posh new Herringbone Restaurant in the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip in L.A., sees Puesto as a perfect coming-together of location, venue and imagination. It creates a new, more upscale look and feel for the former short-order business while celebrating the history of a San Diego landmark. “It just feels like the type of place where you want to eat delicious crab guacamole or a steak taco along with signature cocktails with friends. It's an urban street party in a killer location with color, art and action. It's one of my favorite designs.”

Visit website: eatpuesto.com


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