December 2, 2022

Celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins abruptly closes Los Altos restaurant after 6 months in business

On March 24, celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins’ upscale Cal-Mex restaurant, El Alto, made its long-awaited debut in Los Altos as the anchor of the new State Street Market food hall. It was his first culinary adventure outside of San Francisco, his first in Silicon Valley.

On Saturday, barely six months later, El Alto’s Facebook page announced the restaurant’s abrupt closure:

Chef Traci Des Jardins opened El Alto with fellow chef Robert Hurtado in downtown Los Altos. (Photo by Aubrie Pick)

“Since September 23, 2022, el Alto has ceased its activities”, indicates the note published in the middle of the afternoon. “Thank you to everyone who has supported the restaurant during this time, especially our guests and staff who have been wonderfully supportive.”

On Instagram, Des Jardins wrote: “Unfortunately yesterday was our last service at @elaltolosaltos. It has been amazing operating in Los Altos where the interest, excitement and hospitality of the restaurant has blown me away. It was a wonderful experience to work alongside Chef Robert Hurtado again, as well as the incredible kitchen and reception team who worked to bring this concept to life. Loved hearing customer feedback as we interacted in the dining room. Ultimately, I’m incredibly proud and grateful to have been part of this project.

No explanation was given for the closure, and the restaurant’s website and menu had already been taken down.

The opening of El Alto came three years after Des Jardins closed its popular Jardiniere restaurant in San Francisco after 21 years in operation.

During the planning and construction phases of the Peninsula Restaurant, award-winning chef James Beard described El Alto as a celebration of “the rich history of early California and Mexican ranchos and Bay Area agrarian roots.” Originally from the Fresno area whose mother is of Mexican descent, she teamed up with another chef of Mexican descent, Robert Hurtado, who hails from the Central Coast.

El Alto, which serves dinner four nights a week, has an overall four-star rating on Yelp, although the most recent reviews are one- and two-star reviews this month that blamed the restaurant for understaffing and slow service.

The March 24 opening was a joyful night, with diners ranging from fans of Des Jardins since its days 25 years ago at San Francisco’s Rubicon to groups of young women who had never heard of her but discovered that a new restaurant was opening in the room. Des Jardins was in the kitchen for most of the busy night, but made appearances to deliver plates of food, greet former customers and pose for a few selfies. At the end of the night, she thanked the employees before leaving.

A signature entry, the Confit Liberty Duck Leg, paid homage to the orchards of Los Altos’ past with a spicy and complex taupe of apricot. Platos fuertes, or mains, on the inaugural menu ranged from Cochinita Pibil Tacos, three on house-made blue corn tortillas with habanero salsa, to platters of Pollo al Oregano with nixtamal corn “polenta” and nopales and Pescado a la Mibrasa, with Mexican rice and almond salsa. The mibrasa, a Spanish charcoal oven, was also used for grilled vegetables with salsa macha.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.