Why So Many Mexican, Italian (Whatever) Restaurants?

A new Mexican restaurant – Monarcas- is set to open on San Carlos Avenue, just a few doors down from La Cornetta Taqueria.  No doubt, Monarcas hopes to stand out by dubbing itself, “Mexican Cuisine.”

An upscale play may help Monarcas distinguish itself from the competition.  It joins a crowded field of nine(ish) Mexican eateries located in 94070.

Which begs the question:  Why so many Mexican restaurants?  For that matter, why so many Italian or Japanese?  Why, more recently, a wave of Mediterranean restaurants?

“The market is the driver,” said Mark Sawicki, Economic Development & Housing Manager of San Carlos, adding that the city does not regulate the type or number of restaurants.

La Cornetta Taqueria...just several doors West of soon-to-open Monarcas Mexican Cuisine

“You don’t want government to decide what restaurants get to open,” Sawicki said.  “We take a hands off approach.”

That said, the City of San Carlos does aim to keep vacancies low by marketing the town to businesses, including food entrepreneurs who are a good fit for San Carlos and Laurel Street.  “We don’t want chains; we like homegrown restaurants,” said Sawicki.  “It’s part of the quality and charm of San Carlos.”

Assistant City Manager Brian Moura says, over the years, he’s heard residents express their concerns about the multiplicity of certain types of restaurants.  When they’ve complained to him, Moura explains that it’s up to property owners to decide who gets to open a restaurant, not city officials.  “I’ve been here since the ’80′s and when I first got here, there were lots of Asian restaurants,” Moura recalls.   “They come in waves, cycles, then we get to a certain place and the trend begins to shift.”

There are cities that do regulate restaurants and even what they can, and can’t serve.  Moura noted Los Gatos – with its very successful downtown – does exercise that degree of control and even goes so far as to require a permit to serve sorbet.  “I don’t think that would succeed in San Carlos,” Moura said.  “Our downtown is still maturing and evolving.”

The owner of wildly popular Town on Laurel Street agrees.  Greg St. Claire of the Avenir Restaurant Group says the city of San Carlos is fairly easy to work with because there aren’t a lot of restrictions.

Back when St. Claire bought the building at 716 Laurel, it wasn’t the city which pushed him to open a non-Italian restaurant in the old A Tavola space.  St. Claire made the strategic decision to, “change the concept and go with what was missing on Laurel: straight forward American food.”

St. Claire has observed restaurant trends come and go, including a hamburger craze – which struck other towns but managed to skip San Carlos – and the pizza craze.

Economic Development Manager Mark Sawicki says he remembers when yogurt shop Red Mango opened around the block from Harmony – in its old location – Harmony didn’t like the idea of a competitor moving in so close to home.  “They don’t all survive,” Sawicki said, “but the market decided that Harmony was the winner.”

As for the number of Mediterranean places, Town’s Greg St. Claire has his own theory.  “Turkish restaurant owners either do Mediterranean or Italian,” because those are the cuisines popular in that part of the world.

As for what we can expect next in the way of eateries…who knows?  If it were up to the residents to decide, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura says a small survey showed San Carlans would like to see a brew pub and more family oriented restaurants.

What kind of restaurant would you like to see open in San Carlos?  Share your opinion in a comment.

Coming soon:  Are there too many restaurants in San Carlos?





Filed Under: Column 1Restaurants


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  1. Willy says:

    We miss the French crepe place on Laurel. But would love to see some Ethiopian, Spanish, Malaysian, Fusion or cheaper French restaurant in San Carlos downtown.

    • debramonroe says:

      I really miss the French crepe place, too! They did an awesome salad Nicoise. I’m with you…it would be great to have a Spanish restaurant. Burlingame has an excellent one.

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  3. Tina says:

    I miss the crepe place too! They made the best quiche I have ever tasted. And I miss the friendly “bon jour” greeting!

    We probably have too many Chinese restaurants in SC, but I have to give a shout out to my new favorite place Panda Dumpling. I’ve been twice and the food was execellent both times, and very reasonably priced. The spicy dumplings are my favorite.

  4. Joanna says:

    SPANISH TAPAS! The peninsula really needs one and in San Carlos would be awesome!

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