Mama Coco restaurant opens in downtown Menlo Park | News | Almanac Online |


Mama Coco restaurant opens in downtown Menlo Park


By Tiffany Lam | Special to the Almanac

Mama Coco Cocina Mexicana, a family-owned Mexican restaurant, opened this month at 1081 El Camino Real in downtown Menlo Park, at the site formerly occupied by Mex To Go. The restaurant offers a casual dining experience, blending authentic Mexican cuisine and brightly colored décor.

Co-owners Omar Piña and Monica Pilotzi, who have two kids, ages 8 and 14, have lived in Menlo Park for 18 years. This is the first time they've run a restaurant, but Mr. Piña is familiar with the business. He has worked at restaurants in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

"I've wanted to open my own restaurant for two to three years," he said. "When I ate at Café Borrone a few months ago, I looked at Mex To Go across the street and thought it was a great location. I called the owner and she was willing to sell the space."

Under new ownership, the restaurant has undergone a huge transformation: freshly painted walls -- blue, red, and yellow, influenced by the colors of restaurants in Mexico, according to Mr. Piña -- new floors, and a redesigned patio.

Ms. Pilotzi's grandmother, Sotoro Tarano, is the inspiration for the restaurant's name. Known as "Mama Coco" to residents of Mexico City, Ms. Tarano established the name (derived from her first name) when she fed home-cooked Mexican cuisine to people in her community.

"She raised 12 kids by herself," said Ms. Pilotzi. "She started to cook at home, invited a few workers from the street, and soon her house was full. She fed the whole community, sometimes for free. She was everyone's mama."

The restaurant's menu uses Mama Coco's recipes. Among them are Mama Coco empanadas ($9), homemade turnovers filled with vegetables, cheese, and corn; and Mama Coco ensalada poblana ($9), salad with peppers, avocado, lime juice, and salmon or shrimp.

It serves basic dishes like tacos ($10) and burritos (price varies by filling), as well as more unusual entrees like salmon veracruzano ($15), pan-roasted salmon with Veracruz salsa; and cochinita pibil ($15), suckling pig. The restaurant also serves wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Mr. Piña and Ms. Pilotzi said they designed the restaurant for a "family feel," adding to the patio an area for kids to draw and play.

"We want to bring families to the restaurant so they can start making memories," noted Mr. Piña. "Customers like it because there aren't many family restaurants around. Parents can bring their kids and still enjoy their food."

Ms. Tarano died in May, a couple of months before the opening. "She didn't know about the name. We wanted to surprise her," said Mr. Piña.

But the restaurant is lined with reminders of her lessons, according to Ms. Pilotzi. On the walls are picture frames with paper cutouts of Spanish words, including amor (love), tradición (tradition), and sabor (flavor).

"They're things she taught us growing up. I think she would be really happy to see them here," said Ms. Pilotzi.

Mama Coco, located next to Trellis Restaurant, just south of Santa Cruz Avenue, is open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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Like this comment
Posted by MaryK
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 16, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Fabulous food!! Just had lunch there today. High-flavor, original, satisfying, well-priced food in a clean, casual, colorful environment. A fabulous (and needed!) addition to the Menlo Park restaurant scene. Nice patio seating area outside in the back as well. Looking forward to going back again soon as there were too many tempting items on the menu -- hard to pick just one. I'm very happy I ordered the huarache with shrimp. Their guacamole (always my husband's test of a great Mexican restaurant) is so fresh and delicious. A great venue for the whole family. Thank you, Omar, for making us feel so welcomed.

Like this comment
Posted by Forrest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Great food! I highly recommend and will frequent this spot. Finally someone to do good mexican food at a fair price

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I stopped by and looked at the menu but didn't find it to my liking. I also thought it was very expensive.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm

The menu prices seem very reasonable -- $9-15 is cheap for a sit-down place that serves genuine, homemade food from family recipes. Yummy!

Like this comment
Posted by Matt
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 17, 2014 at 8:55 pm

We had dinner on the patio tonight.. Cochinita pibil was really quite good. A difficult dish to make - Lots of flavor and spice. Cool condensed wine list too. Staff seemed very personable and approachable. Kid friendly. Very much a family setting. We will be back for sure.

Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 18, 2014 at 9:24 am

I want Mex to Go back!!!! It was inexpensive, delicious and consistent.

Like this comment
Posted by Marc
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Reader: I agree. Mex to Go was good and the right price. I really don't think we need a pricey Mexican restaurant.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm

You might want to re-read the reviews for that now closed restaurant -- Mex-to-go -- which are still on Yelp. There were numerous and repeated food poisoning complaints. Maybe that's why Mex-to-go went out of business??

Given the lack of restaurants coming into MP, this new one should be welcomed.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:45 pm

plenty of places for super cheap mexican if you want it.. I would rather spend the extra $1 ($8 for a burrito at this restaurant I think -not sure how it gets cheaper), get sit down service and watch my kids play while I enjoy a margarita. worth every penny. we were there tonight and look forward to going back. thanks Omar for taking good care of me and my family tonight

Like this comment
Posted by Mixed Bag
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

The food was tasty and fresh, but the prices were high and the portions small for Mexican. We all left hungry. Hope they improve. Would like to have another restaurant option downtown.

Like this comment
Posted by M & M
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Excellent menu - terrific food - smaller sized plates with small sized prices allows you to sample. We tried the pibil, empanadas, and tacos. All very tasty. Very original toppings.

The owner spent time with us to explain the history of his mom's cooking and how hard it is to start up a restaurant.
We're going back to try the mole.

If you're expecting lots of mediocre food, this is not your place.

C'mon your local family operated taqueria.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 26, 2014 at 7:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

We went there last night - good food and good service. And they were very busy. I think that Mama Coco will be a success.

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