Adrian Banuelos was 8-years-old when he began cultivating his culinary skills. He recalls growing up in Nayarit, Mexico, a breathtaking coastal state along the Pacific Coast north of Puerto Vallarta, where he would chop onions, lettuce and dice tomatoes to help his grandmother who ran a thriving catering business.
“It was like playtime for me,” Banuelos said. “I loved being in the kitchen.”
Watching his grandmother stir, steam and grill her savory recipes, as well as greet and meet customers, and handle the affairs of a busy business allowed the young Banuelos to shadow her. It led him to follow in her foodie footsteps.
Today, Banuelos is the owner of Bahia Azul, a restaurant at The Alley on Bitters, 555 Bitters Road, that specializes in Mexican seafood created from his grandmother’s secret recipes.
“I brought 60 dishes from Nayarit,” he said. “In Nayarit, they have a particular way of cooking. We use a lot of spices, chiles and sauces we call huichol.”
If it comes from the sea, then it’s a safe bet that Bahia Azul uses it in their recipes. That includes fish, shrimp, octopus, mussels, crab and clams, not to mention fresh vegetables, avocadoes and jalapenos. There’s also carnitas, roasted pork, and beef and chicken dishes although seafood is the main fare on the menu.
Banuelos insists, however, that he can’t take all the credit for the delectable dishes that diners enjoy. He gives kudos to his chef, Sergio Herrera, whom he’s known since Herrera was 3.
“Sergio has created a lot of other recipes that we serve,” Banuelos says. “He gives everything such great flavor. I can tell him what I want, and he automatically comes up with the perfect dish just the way I was thinking or even better. I never have to worry when he’s in the kitchen.”
After moving from Mexico to San Antonio in 1999, Banuelos worked at a couple of popular Mexican restaurants and acquired the necessary experience as a waiter, cook and manager that would prove helpful as owner of his establishment. In 2007, when his family decided to move to Indianapolis, Ind., to open a Mexican seafood restaurant there, they asked him to help them, so Banuelos packed his bags and moved to the Midwest.
But after four years, despite the enormous success of the family restaurant, Banuelos longed to return to San Antonio, which he considers his “second home.” So last year he moved back to the Alamo City, with his chef in tow and decided to go into business for himself.
In January, he opened the doors of Bahia Azul and business has been steadily growing ever since. At the moment, a patio and bar are under construction, which he hopes to have finished soon so that patrons can enjoy a meal or drinks outdoors. Every Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., guests can enjoy flamenco music and performances by Dancer La Muñeca and Monica and music by guitarist Ricardo Castillo.
Whether it’s a soup Nayarit style, entrée or specialty dish like the Bahia Azul style paella, Banuelos is happy to answer questions about a menu item or suggest a plate to satisfy one’s palate.
“We always help customers with the menu,” Banuelos said. “We explain the different salsas, so they can choose what’s right for them. I want to make sure my customers leave satisfied.”
Although Banuelos’ grandmother is no longer alive, her grandson no doubt would have made her proud by carrying on her secret family recipes. “One of the things she taught me was about giving personal customer service,” he said. “Go to each table and make sure everything is fine. I make sure to do that with my customers.”
For more information, call (210) 549-2623 or visit ww.bahiaazulsa.com