Space Harmony's Negar Reihani makes her commercial design debut at New Westminster's El Santo restaurant.

When Alejandro Diaz said he didn’t want his Mexican restaurant El Santo to look like a taqueria, Negar Reihani, founder and principal of Vancouver’s Space Harmony knew exactly what to do.“I wanted to reference the origin of the food, but I didn’t want the design to scream ‘Mexican’ as you pass by,” she says. Instead, inspired by a recent trip to Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende, Reihani selected traditional elements—ceramic tiles, glass and textiles—but incorporated them in a more modern way to complement the sophisticated cuisine (read: pork belly chilaquiles, roast cauliflower tacos and costilla asada with bone marrow salsa).It seems only natural that a first-time restaurant owner would enlist the help of a first-time commercial designer. Until now, Reihani had only undertaken residential projects: “This was my debut and it was a good one!” she says.

Photos: Inside Contemporary Mexican Restaurant El Santo

elsanto_007The mask of El Santo greets guests as they arrive. Made from wine corks, it pays homage to the real-life Mexican luchador (Diaz’s childhood hero).elsanto_001elsanto_008A mix of ceramic tiles line the bar, above which hangs a stunning blown-glass light fixture, a reference to the glasswork Reihani saw in San Miguel de Allende.elsanto_002elsanto_003The booths at the front of the restaurant are clad in yellow fabric (“I wanted the place to be very happy and light and bright,” says Reihani). Here also, the embroidered flower motif makes its first appearance.elsanto_004Polished concrete floors and warm wood tones exist throughout, creating balance amongst the bright pops of mustard yellow and steely blue.elsanto_005The design changes as you move towards the back of the restaurant, where yellow booths have been traded for navy blue and black seating, and bright glass chandeliers have been swapped for Moooi Random lights.elsanto_006The flower motif appears once again in the restaurant’s private dining room, this time in the form of laser-cut wood panels that line the wall. On the ground, stencilled patterns are meant to mimic Mexican textiles and rugs that will, over time, leave a subtle-yet-beautiful patina.

El Santo

680 Columbia Street, New WestminsterSunday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.Friday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 11:00

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