Co-owners expand YEG’s love of Mexican cuisine with second eatery

Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) loves food, so she is working her way through the Tomato’s 2013 and 2014 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of Rostizado on her own blog.

Since my restaurant profile series started in March, I have had the opportunity to try numerous Edmonton eateries, speak with a number of restaurant owners and become friends with some of these entrepreneurs. In a follow-up to my first profile about Tres Carnales, I reached out to Chris Sills, who, along with Daniel Braun and chef Edgar Gutierrez, have expanded their empire with the opening of their new sensation, Rostizado (@Rostizado_yeg).

Located a mere eight blocks away from Tres Carnales, Rostizado opened up this past August in the Mercer Warehouse. Back when I was working on the Tres Carnales story, I guessed that they would be taking over the space previously occupied by Roast Coffeehouse. As it turns out, I was right. The area and the size is perfect for Rostizado, but I wanted to know the reason behind staying in the downtown core. As a true fan of the food at both eateries, I do not think I’d be out of step for saying that lovers of either would follow the Tres Carnales brand anywhere. Yet, for Chris and his partners, business had become about relationships. Their relationship with Kelly and Devin Pope (property managers of the Mercer building) was one of mutual admiration, so when they were approached to move into the space they felt as if they could not turn down the opportunity to further grow into the downtown culture.

Culture is kind of where it’s at at Rostizado. There is so much to look at when you enter the establishment, but the kitchen is one of its most prominent features. When I asked why, Chris explains that Rostizado is based on another one of their Mexican food fascinations. Pollo rostizado is a kind of street food that they have seen all over Mexico and absolutely love. When people pass by rosticerias in Mexico, the ovens are right there in the open. People can watch the meat cook and they get to pick their own bird. Therefore, visualizing the meal is the first step, which is why they decided to keep both of their restaurants wide open. In a way, it allows guests to become more a part of the action.

The Rostizado experience. Photos: Crystal Lee
The Rostizado experience. Photos: Crystal Lee

Chris says that often, the flavours and the style of cooking used at Rostizado are not usually thought of as being distinctly Mexican, giving the three restaurateurs even greater reason to focus on it. That, coupled with the growing appetite of Edmontonians to branch out in terms of the culinary offerings they want to see in the city, and it became the perfect time for the three to introduce us to a dressed up version of a roadside treat.

Like Tres Carnales (and the traditional Mexican rosticerias), the menu at Rostizado is quite succinct, which you can chalk up to their insistence of doing without a freezer, something that started at their first establishment. When the choices are focused and kept to a minimum, they can bring in fresh produce and farm-direct proteins every day of the week. Although this means that they may walk a bit of a tightrope once in a while, they believe that this is the only way to go and they are adamant that going this route is worth every little bit of effort. I can attest that, no matter what dish you order, you’ll know that everything is made fresh and in-house because you can taste the difference.

Don’t worry about ever getting bored with the menu though. Chef Edgar is always experimenting with new dishes, and the ones that make the cut are served as features at both of their restaurants. Of course, if you would rather stick to the tried and true, Chris says the Platter of 2 — a combination of their two rotisserie meats (Four Whistle Farm pork and chicken) and accompanying salsa and potatoes — has been selling like proverbial hotcakes. Their churros are a big dessert favourite. However, from my own experience, I suggest that you go ahead and order the flan as well. The consistency might surprise you, and it will win over cheesecake lovers alike. As for the cocktails, the Paloma, made with aged tequila and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, has become a mainstay.

The food and drinks are not the only thing breathing life into this establishment. When you think of Tres Carnales or Rostizado, the three co-owners are top of mind for me. Their sense of community and home is instilled in every fiber of their being.

As such, Rostizado is set up to accommodate a lot of large tables, and the idea of sharing a meal is very much at the forefront. Chris states that the current layout really allows the Rostizado team to prepare for larger bookings without a hitch. They also customize and discuss the menu with each group days before their function. Most of all, they believe that gathering together for lunch, dinner or drinks is a wonderful, age-old experience that spans all cultures.

Their ideas were brought to life by interior designer Erika Sanchez (who also worked on the taco shop), and branding expert Chris McWilliam who is founder and owner of Destroy the Box Creative. These two local designers really helped to bring all aspects of their vision together by infusing the space with a fun, communal atmosphere. Another local company called Impact Contracting built the room itself. Extremely happy with the outcome, they are glad that they opted to stray from the more popular industrial feel and take it back to a more mid-century, modern vibe. Chris tells me that they feel like having guests come into the restaurant has been equivalent to inviting them over to their own homes, so he supposes that they may have subconsciously let that notion influence the overall lived-in design.

The team also said they realize that the eats and the visual appeal of the place will only take them so far. Unlike Tres Carnales, there are certainly a lot more moving parts at Rostizado because of the full-service nature of this establishment. Regardless, they still adhere to their core values, which involves the education and thorough training of each and every staff member, a love and appreciation for Mexican cuisine and culture as well as ensuring that all of their patrons have stellar dining experiences. The beauty of the restaurant industry is that every day presents its own challenges, which means Chris, Dani, Edgar and their growing employee base are never bored. They understand that they’ll always be learning and adapting as needed.

The Rostizado menu with a coaster that says, “Water for oxen, wine for kings.” Photo: Crystal Lee
The Rostizado menu with a coaster that says, “Water for oxen, wine for kings.” Photo: Crystal Lee

That made me wonder if they are just apt to create new challenges for themselves. When Rostizado’s signage appeared, they not only made it clear that it was linked to Tres Carnales, they also introduced the Tres Carnales name as a trademark. My mind jumped to a variety of possibilities in terms of growth in Edmonton as well as nationally. But, Chris reels me back in by stating that, while they likely have a few things up their sleeves still, for now, they know they have plenty to focus on right in E-Town. They can see that this city is currently going through a metamorphosis and they are happy knowing that they are a part of it.

I have yet to see an unfavourable review of Rostizado. Each article that I have read from the press and Edmonton’s many bloggers have been positive. Across the board, the eatery has been getting raves, and Chris says that the praise feels really good. They are incredibly grateful that this city and its citizens have been so supportive of their endeavours and that Edmontonians seem to share their love and passion for real Mexican cuisine.

Rostizado is fairly new, so it has not yet made The Tomato‘s compilation of 100 best eats in Edmonton. However, I am more than certain that, come March 2015, we will see it on the third annual list. With a casual, throwback style, food that makes your mouth water and top notch service, this is an independent Edmonton-born restaurant that you would not want to miss.