During a merciful break in the rain a couple Saturdays ago, the sun appeared in a blue sky as my husband and I made our way to White Rock beach for date night. The theme of the evening? Mini-Mexican escape! Who in the Lower Mainland hasn’t been dreaming of a tropical vacation during this not-quite-Spring Spring?
When we arrived at the Marine Drive location, we took in the view of the famous pier, the happy couples and families milling about, and the gorgeous stretch of sand exposed by the low tide. Directly across from this perfect scene was our destination restaurant: Primo’s Mexican Grill.
We were promptly greeted and seated per our request at a cute table for 2 on the patio with a great view of the ocean. The sun still had a couple hours left before it would set over the Pacific but the breeze was a little cool; I gratefully accepted the invitation to throw a Mexican blanket over my lap while I ate. The beautiful threads matched the décor and feel of the restaurant perfectly, and the courtesy added a ‘welcome to our casa’ vibe. Once the outdoor heaters were turned on, I could almost imagine I really was somewhere more tropical.
Primo’s Mexican Grill is owned by Joel and Jaclynn Villanueva, who live in White Rock with their two sons. We had an opportunity to sit down with owner Jaclynn and hear the nostalgic story of one man’s dream in the 1960’s. Joel’s grandfather, Primo Villanueva, a football player for UCLA, was drafted by the BC Lions in the 1960’s. When he and his wife made the move north, they discovered there wasn’t much of a Mexican community here. In fact, there wasn’t even a single Mexican restaurant in the province! So they opened Primo’s Mexican Grill to bring a little Latin flavour to the Vancouver neighbourhood of W. 12th and Granville. Primo’s wife, affectionately known as Nana Zina, developed the recipes and the restaurant thrived under their ownership for 25 years. After that, his son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Doreen, took the reins for another 25 years. In keeping with tradition, the restaurant was passed down to their children. For several reasons including a change in the feel of the neighbourhood, Joel and his brother decided to close the doors to Primo’s but never gave up on their family’s legacy. Five years later, Primo’s is alive and projected to do very well on Marine Drive, right across the pier where Cielo’s stood for 20 years. In addition to the new location, the Villanueva family is celebrating Grandfather Primo being inducted into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame as a pioneer in the industry.
So, what’s changed? Not Nana Zina’s recipes! However, Jaclynn excitedly told me that there will be some additions to the menu as well as an expansion in the way people are able to order food combinations. Alongside the extensive choice in Tex-Mex meals, tequila-lovers will rejoice at the options at the tequila bar. Aged from blanco to extra anejo, patrons can select their tequila and then choose to sip it straight or add it to a favourite margarita.
During the soft launch, tables are available by reservation only as the staff prepares for an anticipated mid-June opening. The current menu is a teaser of what is to come. Here’s what we ate and loved:
Primo’s has teamed up with Laura’s Bakery, a favourite of locals in the 5 Corners area of White Rock, to serve up some exclusive desserts just for Primo’s menu. In fact, partnering with local businesses and artists is high on the priority list as Primo’s settles in to its new neighbourhood.
Surrey604 would like to extend a big felicitaciones and welcome to the Villanueva family!