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El Mirador, a Southtown landmark and favorite breakfast spot for many San Antonio business, community and political leaders, served its final breakfast and lunch on Thursday before closing its doors for two months for interior and exterior renovations.
Customers who crave El Mirador’s unique antojitos, live music, and margaritas, are invited to the restaurant’s Cinco De Mayo celebration Thursday evening, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Julian Treviño Sr. and his wife, Doña Maria, opened the restaurant in 1967 as a humble spot for locals to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant’s savory tacos, fresh corn and flour tortillas, and soups attracted many hungry and loyal customers.
El Mirador moved several times before settling on its current location at 722 South St. Mary’s Street in 1978. Eventually, the Treviños passed the management to their son, Julian Treviño Jr., and his wife, Diana.
The couple continued the family’s legacy until 2014 when it was sold to Chris Hill, a local restaurateur and real estate developer who owns several business and properties including the Esquire Tavern, St. Benedict Lofts, and an under-development boutique hotel in the urban core.
When Hill purchased the restaurant, he inherited a book of Doña Maria’s famous recipes. She was a talented cook, who continued to work in the kitchen well into old age. On Saturdays, her soups would draw crowds of customers who would wait in lines that stretched out the door for hours.
This renovation project will update the restaurant’s facilities, menu, design and food, and “hopefully revisit the days when (Doña Maria) was in the kitchen,” Hill said. The remodeling process would take between four to eight weeks, he said, “we want to do it right.”
Staffers expect the new Mirador will be painted white, hacienda-style, and decorated very simply with accents given to the ceiling’s wooden beams.
Hill declined to comment on specific redesigns, but hinted that it would take customers back “to the beginning days of El Mirador.
“(It is) already an iconic Mexican restaurant in San Antonio,” Hill said. “We’re hoping to preserve and improve on that.”
On Friday, servers will remove the hanging photographs of the Treviños, the Diego Rivera and Fernando Botero prints, and el rincon de los platos. Those will be returned to the Treviño family.
“To me, this place stayed open all these years because of Doña Maria – it was her love,” said Efrain Patino, who has worked as a waiter at El Mirador for 27 years. When she died in 2013, some of the restaurant’s unique approach to the dishes was lost, but the restaurant’s customers and staff are optimistic that it can be restored.
“Everything is so nice, and it’s going to be nice, but it is going to be so sad to close,” Patino said, tears welling in his eyes. “Tomorrow, we’ll be putting away chairs and tables.”
The temporary closing means long time customers will have to look elsewhere for breakfast tacos and several employees will need to find jobs elsewhere – at least temporarily. Hill said most of the El Mirador staff will have positions waiting for them when the restaurant reopens its doors, including Patino.
“Two months seems like such a long time, but I’m not going anywhere,” said Patino, as he organized breakfast menus Thursday morning. “I promise I’ll wait for y’all,” he said laughing.
Two original plates – “Don Julian’s Favorite,” a plate with freshly made machacado mixed with scrambled eggs, and “Doña Maria’s Favorite,” scrambled eggs with spicy sausage, jalapeño, tomato and onion – remain two of the favorite dishes among customers.
“The menu items will be 80% the same,” Hill said. “The only menu that is really changing is the dinner menu, and we will be returning to some of the older items that (Doña Maria) used to serve.”
Brooke Smith, executive chef at the Esquire Tavern, will be taking over the kitchen at El Mirador, bringing a “farm to taco” approach to the menu. Esquire Bar Manager Houston Eaves will also produce a more modern cocktail menu that is sure to include a selection of classic choices with mezcales and tequila. Garry Baker, general manager at the Esquire, will make a lateral move to El Mirador.
“It’s important that we will be retaining as much of our original staff as we can, so people can expect to see their favorite long time servers,” Hill said. “But we expect to see some great things happen.”
Major renovations include the expansion of the restaurant’s back patio and the elimination of the front patio, which is largely disconnected from the main flow of the restaurant. “We hope to have a great area that opens up the back, and connects to the bar,” Hill said.
There are many customers who have deep connections to the restaurant, many of whom have laid claim to specific tables for breakfast or lunch.
“I don’t know what we’ll do for breakfast,” said longtime customer Nancy Shivers. She and her husband Robert co-own Shivers & Shivers, a prominent local immigration law firm in King William. Their table is near the front entrance on the left. They’ve been sitting in that spot for the last 10-15 years. “I moved here in October 1982, and my husband had already been going to El Mirador for many years at that time. He knew Julian and Mary Treviño.”
Robert, who was unavailable for comment, once rented a house on South Presa from the Treviños. “He used the house as his law firm at the time, but it was great because it was right behind the restaurant.”
Since 1982, the Shivers have come to El Mirador for breakfast six days a week, unless work takes them out of town. When asked how much the couple spends at El Mirador each year, Nancy said “I have no idea. But there aren’t too many places we can go and have a breakfast like that – two tacos and two coffees – for (less than $10).”
El Mirador has kept prices relatively low over the years, especially compared to the more modern projects that have been established in Southtown since like Feast, Bite, Hot Joy, Bliss and Sukeban. Hill declined to comment on how or if prices will be effected.
“This is a second home, everyone knows my name,” she said. “That’s why we continue to come back. We discuss wildly political ideas, but there’s that feeling of comfort, and it’s how we remember people. …We still like to sit down, read a newspaper and talk about what’s happening (and) share ideas about whats going on in the city, country and King William.”
Even people who moved away from the area years ago will regularly drive back for breakfast.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, and “all the congressmen come in here pretty often,” Patino said. Before leaving San Antonio to become Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro would often meet with City Manager Sheryl Sculley. They had a corner table.
Top Image: El Mirador is located at 722 S St Mary’s Street. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone