An existing patio has helped Nueva open during an incredibly difficult time for restaurants. Courtesy photos.

Opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic is no simple task, but the team behind Nueva has met the moment with mucho gusto, launching a colorful outdoor patio and garden that can safely seat 100 people. Since opening on the corner of Abbott Kinney and Washington Blvd last month, Nueva’s fresh takes on Mexican classics and creative list of cócteles has attracted hordes of hungry Westsiders.

Chefs Vartan Abgaryan and Mesraim Llanez, who both trained at Le Cordon Bleu, have collaborated on a fresh and flavorful Mexican brunch and dinner menu. So far the most popular dishes include a wood-grilled branzino with mole rojo & castelvetrano tapenade, pork belly chicharron tacos with chili lime salt & serrano salsa fresco, and churros with dark chocolate ice cream.

“When I started working on the concept with my partners Dave, Patti and Vartan, we all agreed that the neighborhood could use a fun, relaxed, boozy restaurant with some foodie items, but nothing fussy and could feature some straightforward menu items. Collectively, we had all spent time in Mexico (mostly Oaxaca, Todos Santos and Baja), and loved it,” said Jared Meisler, one of the restaurateurs behind Nueva. “Vartan was very interested in presenting his take on some of these south of the border dishes. Vartan brought in Mesraim, who he had worked with before, and the new cantina was born.”

The drink menu was developed by Adam Fournier, the Bar Director of NoMad, and includes a series of funky cócteles in addition to the restaurant’s vast tequila and mezcal collection. According to Meisler, diners are loving Nueva’s frozen margaritas, tempache mule, and sotol cocktail.

Brunch, which is served on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, gets its own cocktail list featuring classic mimosas in addition to Mexican inspired drinks like a bloody maria and hacienda fizz. This menu also includes shakshuka-style huevos rancheros, cast iron pancakes with mezcal maple syrup, and a vegan tofu scramble with papas bravas.

Diners can spot Nueva by its retro rooftop sign, which glows above Washington Boulevard. Once they venture inside they will find themselves either in the lush garden centered around a large magnolia tree and surrounded by tropical shrubbery or in the colorful patio space which features a peach wall and twinkling string lights.

“Thankfully demand has been great. We think the abundance of outdoor space and how far apart we have the tables spaced is making guests feel comfortable. Plus the food and drinks are great!” said Meisler.

The patio space was partially converted from the original parking lot and was one of several adaptations the restaurateurs made in response to COVID-19 restrictions. The Co-Founders Jared Meisler and Dave and Patti Reiss of Reiss and Co. intended to open Nueva in April, but delayed opening to pandemic-proof the space.

“With social distancing requirements, we are fortunate to have a large outdoor patio to accommodate required spacing, so that was very helpful and then we converted a large section of our parking lot into a really nice intimate space that about doubled available seating,” said Meisler. The restaurant also uses an iWave air filtration system to enhance guest safety. In the future the owners hope to open up the indoor bar area and eventually seat over 150 people.

Nueva sits in the former space of the Sunny Spot and is next to the Little Friend Bar, which is also owned by Jared Meisler. David and Patti Reiss are behind several other local eateries including The Brig Bar and Yours Truly on Abbott Kinney and Vito’s Pizza in Santa Monica.

Clara@smdp.com