There’s a couple firing up the backyard grill in Concord in the deep East Bay, and rolling out paellas that are a special mix of their family traditions. Mestizo Paella relies on traditional Spanish ingredients and techniques, and adds a Filipino appetite for big flavor, extra protein, and none of these teeny tiny portions, hell no. And while the paella started out as a party spectacle, these days it’s just as delicious shoveled into takeout containers — that sofrito only sinks in and gets more flavorful on the second day. So even though paella feels like a special occasion — at a restaurant it might take 45 minutes to hit the table — you can reheat it in a minute or two, and dig into plump shrimp and smoked chorizo from the comforts of home.
Angee and Christian Saiz grew up in Hayward and Hercules and met as freshman at Cal State East Bay. Neither has restaurant experience: Christian is a nurse, while Angee comes from other areas of hospitality, working management roles from Disney World to Vegas. But growing up, food was a cross-cultural tradition in their families. Christian’s father Jose Ramon is both Spanish and Filipino and partially grew up in Madrid, where he worked in restaurants as a teenager. “Their family has always done Sunday dinner … ” Angee says. “One week it would be Filipino food, the next week it would be Spanish, you would never know. But it would always be amazing and delicious.”
“But [Mestizo] came out of nowhere,” Angee says. “We had absolutely no intention of starting this business.” They were just trying to throw a party to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday. They didn’t want to do lechon, the traditional pig roast, with all of the usual Filipino sides that show up at baptisms, birthdays, and showers. “We wanted to showcase foods from both sides of our families.” Angee and Christian rolled out two big pans of paella, which the family “devoured” in 45 minutes. Ramon made five plates of his Spanish tortilla, the potato-and-egg omelet, which would have been demolished, if the family hadn’t hidden two to savor the leftovers later. It was such a success, Angee and Christian started throwing paella parties for friends, then friends of friends, then total strangers. At which point, they realized, “this could be a thing.”
Mestizo catered a dozen parties in 2019, and had a full lineup booked for 2020, when COVID hit. Angee refunded everyone. She got laid off from her job at WeWork. Right after hanging up the HR call, she posted Mestizo’s first pop-up. “The thought of being a stay-at-home mom,” Angee pauses. “I was like, we need to do something. I’ll go crazy.” They popped up on Angee’s mom’s driveway in Hayward and sold out. They drove to Christian’s best friend’s house in SF and realized, “We need a bigger van.” Angee had her second baby in the fall, and they served holiday trays through the winter. But by spring 2021, when the city was reopening, and people were both ordering takeout and excited for outdoor dining, the paella blew up. Mestizo would roll into events, without taking preorders, and still sell out. “People would say, ‘This is better than the paella we’ve had at restaurants or in Spain,’” Angee says. “The feedback is always raving.”
What makes the paella unique simmers down to a few details: The Spanish ingredients are imported, specifically the smoky paprika, earthy-sweet saffron, and short-grain rice, which soaks in all that flavor. The sofrito, that base sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic, exclusively uses fresh ingredients, which take a long time to cook down into a thick puree. For their “Filipino portions,” what a tapas restaurant might say is two to four small servings, they call an entree for one. They also pack in protein, so it’s not one or two skimpy shrimp, but a meaty mix of chicken, pork, shrimp, and chorizo. And rather than precooking proteins, a common shortcut, “We want bolder flavors … ” Angee says. “We cook everything in the pan and mix it all in. So even the rice is cooking in the shells.”
The menu is meant to have “something for everyone,” so in addition to the Signature Paella, the Pollo y Pollo has both chicken and chicken sausage, pescaterians can go all in on seafood, and vegans have a veggie-loaded option. Sometimes they top the Meat Lover’s variation with pork belly as an extra treat, and the most striking is the Paella Negra, which is jet black with squid ink. They also offer Ramon’s special tortilla, and he’s a man that measures garlic by the head, not the clove, so it comes with a garlic aioli that breathes fire. (Back in his restaurant days, the aioli was his secret menu item, hidden behind the bar.) And Christian’s favorite is his dad’s Pollo al Ajillo, which he serves as wings sunk in garlic and saffron.
“Paella isn’t regular food — it’s a full on show,” Angee emphasizes. At events, people love to see and smell the whole process from start to finish. “It’s like going to Benihana to have a paella cooked in front of you,” she laughs. But they cook it according to the same method whether they’re serving 100 people at a winery or boxing up individual portions, and they say the flavors only sink in and get better the second day. They now have nine burners and 20 paella pans, and the grills are never broken down in the backyard. The largest pan is more than 3 feet across and takes two people to mix everything in with those long-handled spoons that resemble shovels. Cleaning it is a big job, too, as it doesn’t even fit in the kitchen sink.
Angee the hospitality pro runs the biz full time, posting pop-ups, taking preorders, shopping for ingredients, prepping the sofrito, and chatting with party people (usually across a bubbling pan). Christian is the grill whisperer, who first of all still works as a nurse, and mans the fire and pans on the weekends — the flame can be sensitive to wind, but he has the touch for exactly when to adjust. They’re still busy with their two kids: daughter Kailani is four years old and son CJ is one and a half. Angee works through naptime, otherwise she’s making sofrito with a toddler on her hip. But thankfully, the garlic grandpa and grandma love to babysit. It’s still a family paella party: Ramon gives his approval and Kailani loves to taste test. She refers to the signature paella as “my favorite paella.” Fair enough — it was her birthday and her paella to begin with.
And while Pastel has the privilege of introducing Mestizo to the broader Bay Area, they already have an international reputation. Mestizo has been proudly featured on the Filipino Channel, aired in Tagalog and English, with family cheering from the Philippines. Angee isn’t sure what the future might hold for the business, and they’re currently debating a brick-and-mortar restaurant or a food truck, but either way, the paella party must go on. “I don’t know where this is going to take us,” she says. “But we can’t stop.”
Mestizo Paella is available through Pastel, so the paella can come to your neighborhood. Angee and Christian are rotating through their favorite menu items, and in addition to their generous entree portion, yes okay, they did create a smaller tapas size, if you want to try a couple or pair with a slice of tortilla. If you’ve never used Pastel before, sign up for access below.