Manuel’s Restaurant in Aptos has been serving up classic Mexican food based on the owners’ family traditions since 1965.
Founded by the late Manuel Santana, the place is renowned for not only their food, but also their warm and friendly service. The restaurant started with just nine tables and has since expanded to become a favorite spot among locals. GT caught up with co-owner Patricia Santana, who talked about the restaurant’s food, service, and more.
What is your philosophy on service and hospitality?
PATRICIA SANTANA: We want our servers to treat guests like a guest in their own home. We want them to feel comfortable, like friends or family. When people walk into a restaurant and aren’t acknowledged in a minute, it feels much longer to them. We try to connect with people right off the bat, so they feel that we really appreciate them being here. We try to make every guest feel welcomed, whether they are first-timers or long-time regulars.
What are some of the most popular menu items?
Our specials are always popular; they are different for every night of the week. Different days have different followings. People often come just for the specials. On Sundays we have a molé poblano, a traditional Oaxacan sauce made with 27 ingredients. My husband (Manuel’s son) wakes up at 2am on Sundays just to make the molé. The process takes about eight hours. It’s a dark and slightly spicy sauce with a hint of chocolate and is served over chicken. Another popular special is the Friday night snapper. It’s a breaded and pan-seared fresh snapper topped with a cool sour cream-based sauce.
How has the restaurant been doing amid the pandemic?
We’re basically making it, thanks to our loyal regulars who have really come through with takeout orders and recently coming back to dine-in. We never had outdoor seating before July, but we have recently added seven outdoor tables in our back patio and can currently sit six of our 28 tables inside with proper distancing. We are surviving. It’s not ideal, but we are going to make it through this. Our main focus has been to retain our 39 employees and help support them and their families. Our employees have really pulled together. Many have been here for 10 years or more. We see them as family.
261 Center Ave., Aptos. 831-688-4848, manuelsrestaurant.com.