, which opened in the old space on Dec. 30, wants to distinguish itself from other Mexican restaurants in the area by focusing on organic, locally-sourced foods, a wide variety of alcohol choices and service by warm, friendly people.
The space is decorated in bright, warm colors coupled with metallic fixtures and a large garage-style door that opens out to a patio. There are many large new energy-efficient HDTVs dotting the room too. The long bar is surfaced with wood and includes little Mexican wrestler masked head statues.
The menu boasts a variety of appetizers, a selection of quesadillas and enchiladas, a spread of tacos, some signature dishes and three desserts. It's purposefully small so that each item can be produced well.
Owner and head chef Mimmo Alboumeh is passionate about making sure that he finds the best-quality all-natural ingredients to use in his food, but doesn't brag too much about the name brands he uses on the menu because he thinks the products should speak for themselves. This is reflected on the menu, which includes fresh avocados in the guacamole, locally-sourced chicken in the chicken tortilla soup, tacos made with Georgia trout and more.
He wants to spark a new generation of Mexican cooking that is less like the typical Tex-Mex restaurant and focuses more on the quality of the ingredients as well as taking pride in what is produced.
“My idea of making food is still old-school recipes, just new hands...I wanted to create [something] where the customer can come in here and enjoy the flavors. There's no place in the whole city, or actually the whole state, serving anything like this,” he said.
He also takes pride in Red Pepper's little details: the decor, the plates and glasses used, the music that plays, the luchador head statues and how everything combines to create the total experience.
Alboumeh, who was raised in Madrid and went to culinary school in Spain before settling in Georgia, is very familiar with restaurants. Not only is he currently part of six area restaurants—four Ray's New York Pizza locations, Coldbrews Sports Bar and Grill and Red Pepper—he grew up around food because his family owns a Mexican restaurant in Athens, Ga. that has been around since 1982. His heritage informs many of the dishes, such as the churros, which remind him of growing up in Spain. The chocolate for dipping that comes with the churros is made from a chocolate tinged with hazelnut, which to him brings back childhood memories of Nutella spread.
He was also part of a recent CNN video featuring Red Pepper’s unique ‘tap tables’ concept.
“I was so tired...That was the first or second week after we opened,” he said about filming the interview. “I'm shy in front of the camera.”
The tap tables work like this: the restaurant has five tables mounted with beer taps and surrounded by the Mason jar-style glasses used for alcoholic drinks. After a server verifies the ages of patrons, the table is activated and the beer taps can be operated via an Android tablet. Each person at the table is allowed 16 ounces of beer and the tablet keeps track of how much has been used. On tap is a variety of domestic and craft beers, including the locally-brewed Sweetwater 420.
For those who don’t like beer or wine, mixologist Jonathan Billick creates a variety of infused tequilas, including hibiscus, sangria, hazelnut with vanilla bean, pecan with cinnamon and Serrano pepper. The hibiscus tequila is used in one of the restaurant’s margaritas. There are more than 300 different tequilas and three different tasting flights offered.
Alboumeh truly likes the neighborhood around Red Pepper. He's already seeing some familiar faces and repeat customers—and he loves it. He said he hasn't experienced anything like this neighborhood before.
“The people seem to enjoy your passion,” he said. “We want to support the community. I like to work with anything that's related in the community...I don't want to be famous. The customers coming back, that's what's going to make me famous.” He hasn't spent a dollar on advertising and instead relies on word of mouth. It seems to be working so far. Every week, he said, the sales numbers grow higher.
Red Pepper Taqueria, 2149 Briarcliff Road. 404-325-8151. www.eatredpepper.com.