The click-clack of Manolo Blahniks announces the arrival of another "girl posse," one of Sabor Cocina Mexicana's most loyal demographics. The well-dressed women settle into a comfortable, yet finely-appointed booth and sip on Skinny Girl margaritas while enjoying a decadent appetizer of gossip and laughter.
It's time to order and a health-conscious blonde peppers the server with questions. The waiter now takes on the role of passionate educator, touting Sabor's use of heirloom veggies, organic chicken and grass-fed pork. He cites the local farmers who sell their harvest's finest to the restaurant's two locations. Satisfied, she orders the jicama tacos - one of Sabor's most popular dishes.
The process is repeated hundreds of times a day at Sabor's Valencia Bridgeport Marketplace spot and, most recently, the Thousand Oaks location at The Lakes. Opening two fine restaurants in two years may seem overly ambitious in this economy. But there's no hint of a recession within the handpainted walls of these Mexican cusine dining rooms.
"We've been very, very fortunate," says owner Mark Hansen, who, with his wife Leticia, run both locations. "We opened the Valencia restaurant at the bottom of the stock market and we've never looked back. We're going forward and we're growing."
Looking to grow a brand with an ever-expanding following, the Hansens are, in fact, actively seeking a spot for their third Sabor installment. "We're searching everywhere from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles," says Mark.
If the existing locations provide a hint as to how the next restaurant will be received, the Hansens will have another hit on their hands. "We've filled a niche; there is a demand for authentic, upscale Mexican cusine. We go above and beyond when it comes to ambience and service, but when it really comes down to it, people come to Sabor for the food. It's like dining in one of Mexico City's finest restaurants. There's no Tex Mex here," says Mark.
Often drawing upon the recipes of Leticia's grandparents, Sabor's menu is heavy on authenticity, but little else. Portions are filling but not overwhelming (except when it comes to Sabor's famous margaritas). There are no overstuffed bean burritos here; instead you will find fine cuts of meat and a variety of dishes that unite fresh ingredients with deeply-flavored sauces that were developed a century before.
All told, the menu is clearly a recipe for success.