Changes continue to be made in Morro Bay’s culinary offerings, with several new restaurants opening up.
Changes have come in the Downtown and the city’s busiest tourism area the Embarcadero, which has seen five new eateries open relatively recently. There’s also a future restaurant space under construction now at Harborwalk Plaza.
EBN spoke with some of the owners of the new Waterfront establishments that include some Mexican restaurants — both traditional and modern.
Situated in a stand alone building at 500 Embarcadero, La Katrina Mexican restaurant is owned by San Luis Obispo restaurateur, Raphael Hernandez and Wendy Morales, whom readers might recognize for the years she worked at the Hungry fisherman.
Hernandez, Morales explained, owns Pancho’s in SLO and La Katrina is his second business venture. Hernandez, when asked if he works at both places, sheepishly nods his head and says he works La Katrina during the day and pulls a double shift at Pancho’s, a breakneck pace that many other entrepreneurs might appreciate.
Morales says they opened their restaurant last Nov. 22, filling a space that had been a Chinese restaurant — Imperial China and then China Dragon — for many years and was once home to a Swiss restaurant, too.
But switching cuisines meant many other changes had to be made. Morales explained that they had to replace much of the kitchen equipment to go from “wok-style” cooking to grilling required with their menu.
They were also fortunate that the dinning room and entryway were pretty much in place and not in need of major remodeling, though they did add a colorful “Día de Los Muertos” mural of their mascot, “La Catrina,” on the interior wall and outdoor monument sign. The symbol is meant as a tribute to one’s family and ancestors who’ve died to pass on their stories.
A traditional mascot seems to fit their restaurant. “It’s authentic, traditional Mexican food,” Morales says. “The recipes have been in Raphael’s family for over 25 years.”
Asked what his specialty is, Hernandez counts off “chili verde, burritos, enchiladas,” and more. One offering has three different kinds of enchiladas plus, of course, rice and beans, in somewhat of a sampler of the variety of dishes he makes.
La Katrina is among a trio of Mexican restaurants that are now open on the Embarcadero, a place known for a variety of fare that’s grown a lot over the past couple of years.
La Katrina is at 500 Embarcadero, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mondays-Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays, 7-3.
The oyster bar at Keepers in Morro Bay.
A spot that was once home to The Otter Rock Café, is now Keepers, an elegant eatery, owned by Paso Robles native and veteran restaurateur, Roger Sharp.
The space was completely made over by master leaseholder, Cliff Branch a few years ago, and had been first re-opened as the Port House, which never really caught on with the public.
Keepers grabs your attention from the minute you enter, with a bright pink neon sign that says, “Hello Gorgeous,” next to a Morro Bay, Ca. sign on the wall.
“We did some cosmetic changes,” Sharp says, as a reporter who was a regular at Otter Rock points out the eye-catching entrance. They switched to earth tones, he explains, varied the textures on the walls (including a section that looks like bricks) and put in the oyster bar.
What else grabs your attention is an iced display case with big crabs and lobsters. Around the corner at the bar is an impressive oyster bar with the mollusks from different sources on display and ready for shucking.
Sharp also owns Blue Skye Café in Marina Square that he bought a few years ago as well as the Sweet Shop a bakery and coffee shop in the Salt Building (Beach Burgers is also there).
Sharp has a lot of plates spinning in the air at once. He explains that his company also has two Tortilla Town locations — in SLO and Paso Robles; Big Bubba’s BBQ in Paso; Nate’s Nashville Hot Chicken and is also getting ready to open Tito’s Red Tacos in Pismo Beach sometime in April. He opened Keepers on Feb. 8.
“It keeps me jumping,” he laughs, about what a workload with so many locations might be like. He adds that it’s a family business and his wife helps with the restaurants as well. He also has a management team that oversees the different locations under the apt name, “Bad to the Bone Management.”
Sharp said originally he thought about opening Keepers as a Cajun-style restaurant but after consideration, switched the theme. “We decided to highlight the oysters instead.” The interior is decidedly a sit-down style restaurant with booths and tables of varying sizes and a raised center dining area.
Their menu is huge with a variety of seafood dishes from oyster shooters to lobster rolls and dozens of others. And while they don’t have a full liquor license, “We have 25 beers on tap,” Sharp says, with a “substantial wine list.”
Sharp says they make up for not having distilled spirits with a number of specialty drinks, some using the Korean spirit, Soju, which has an alcohol content that falls under their beer and wine license.
“Our drinks are really awesome,” Sharp says. “They’re nice, creative drinks.
“We wanted to give the Embarcadero something different.”
Keepers is at 885 Embarcadero (at the foot of Harbor street) and open Wednesdays-Mondays (closed Tuesdays, for now) from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sharp says they are working on also opening up for breakfast soon, hopefully sometime in April.
They’ve only been open a couple of weeks. “We’re dialing everything in,” he says, “it takes a little bit.”
Nadine Iniquez and Luis Cortez, owners of Rock Tacos
It’s the newest restaurant in the Embarcadero’s newest development.
Rock Tacos is the first restaurant to open in the upstairs space at Morro Bay Landing (next to Harbor Hut). Bob Fowler is the master lease-holder for Morro Bay Landing, which was once Virg’s Landing tackle shop.
Fowler has built new, much needed docks, and replaced the single story tackle shop with a new, stylish building with the roofline reminiscent of waves on the ocean that was designed by local architect Gene Doughty.
It also houses the Visit Morro Bay Visitor’s Center, Morro Bay Oyster Company, Patriot Sports Fishing (booking for the Endeavor and Black Pearl); and Central Coast Lift, an electric vehicle rentals and Lift e-foils sales.
Rock Tacos is another Mexican food restaurant that overlooks the marina and has an unobstructed view of the harbor and Morro Rock. Rock Tacos just opened Feb. 20 and is owned by husband-wife team, Nadine Iniquez and Luis Cortez.
Iniquez explains that she is new to the restaurant business but her husband is a veteran cook who previously worked for many years at the Harbor Hut and House of JuJu, both are also on the Embarcadero.
Theirs is a “modern Mexican menu,” she says, “specializing in tacos — pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, mushroom and cactus.” Cactus? (This reporter can attest with confidence that the cactus is delicious.)
Iniquez chuckles and says the mushrooms and cactus are vegetarian offerings.
They also have other fare including tortas, and different ceviche (seafood stew).
They are in the process of getting a beer and wine license, she says, and for now offer Mexican soft drinks and brews.
Iniquez says her husband makes everything fresh daily from scratch, and, “Nothing is pre-made.”
Their plans include putting in some TVs to play sporting events like prize fights, pro sports and especially soccer, and to make good use of the big patio with the million-dollar view. “We want to make it an ‘atmosphere,’” she says.
Rock Tacos, 1215 Embarcadero, is open daily for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. They also plan to do a big grand opening soon, once their beer and wine license is granted.