“It’s food that represents culture,” said Chef Jean Paul LuVanVi of Mundos, the new “Latin American soul food” restaurant he recently opened in the original McConnell’s dairy plant on Milpas Street with his business partner, Emma Recher. With a fusion menu that puts a California spin on global specialties, LuVanVi explained, “We’re taking what is happening right now in people’s homes and bringing it to your door.”
A veteran of Santa Barbara kitchens for the past 29 years, including jobs at the FisHouse and Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, LuVanVi knows how to procure the freshest ingredients from fishers and farmers. “We buy day to day,” he said. “We don’t buy week to week.”
Mundos’ creative menu features more than 10 kinds of Chino-Latino tacos served on handmade blue or corn tortillas. There’s Jamaican jerk chicken with Thai cucumber slaw, Kobe skirt steak asada with salsa quemada and pico de gallo, and the ratatouille plantain cake with zingy chimichurri, guacamole, and fried kale. All pack powerful flavors and flashy presentation into impressive little tacos.
LuVanVi enjoys the skirt-steak-plantain sandwich, which pairs Kobe beef with grilled onions, lettuce tomatoes, and pico de gallo, all on a plantain bun (a breadless formula that fans of LuVanVi’s Le Bon and Dish cafés may recall fondly). “It’s a really nice way to us to give a gluten-free option,” said Recher.
There’s also breakfast on weekends, Native American burgers, salads, and rice-noodle and fried-rice bowls, including wild salmon with sweet peas, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, sweet shallots, capers, Asian cabbage, and a hint of rosemary. Daily specials include Guatemalan pupusas each Friday and happy hour on Wednesday from 4:30-6:30 p.m., when guests can enjoy two tacos and a draft beer for $10. There are also nonalcoholic aguas frescas, and it all can be enjoyed on a lovely patio surrounded by twinkling lights, mountain views, and, in the right season, a soundtrack from the nearby Santa Barbara Bowl.
Both originally from France, Recher and LuVanVi believe that their globe-spanning backgrounds help them to elevate this culturally blended cuisine. “It’s like brother and sister,” Recher said of their relationship. “I am a French registered dietician and Chef Jean Paul, an artist in the kitchen. We use our strengths to bring freshly cooked meals to people, taking care of their restrictions and their needs.”
In line with that compassion, Mundos will support a different nonprofit each month, including the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance this November and Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics in December. “We hope to raise as much as we can,” Recher said.
All is going well, said LuVanVi, explaining, “We’re blessed for the growth that we’re getting.” With that grateful attitude and an inventive concept, including a new menu of small plates and flatbreads to come, as well as future delivery options, Mundos shows that thoughtful bites can contain worlds of flavor.
Mundos is located at 901 North Milpas Street. Call (805) 562-1999 or visit mundos.us.