If you’re driving east on Tulsa’s 41st Street, you’ll see – in the middle of a not-particularly-memorable stretch of road just past Mingo – a gleaming building. Modern, trimmed with glass, wood and polished stone. That’s El Patron, and people drive from as far away as Texas just to dine here.

David Aguilera, general manager of the restaurant, will tell you that – and a lot more. Young and energetic, Aguilera has been working at El Patron for most of his adult life. He’s their most enthusiastic supporter. He was there on opening day in 2019, a big ceremony involving city officials and politicians watching as the ribbon was cut. 

“Senators and governors have been here since,” he says.

But the Tulsa branch isn’t the first. 

The pulpo a la parrilla comes with charcoal grilled octopus, topped with special sauce. Sides include deep fried potato slices, grilled onions, tomato and jalapeno. Photos by Stephanie Phillips

“We’ve been in the restaurant business forever,” says Aguilera. “We wanted to take a modern twist on Mexican cuisine.” 

And so they opened in Sand Springs in 2017. After that came Tulsa; they put $800,000 into the building and decor – and it shows in the restaurant’s eye catching, sleek and modern look. They wanted to show the world, Aguilera says, that Mexican restaurants can be upscale. 

Once you enter, you see a big dining hall with floor-to-ceiling windows, a polished floor and big, white light fixtures that look like domino tiles. At one end is a long, inviting bar, finished with shining stone. 

Guests can enjoy the torre de mariscos, which includes a seafood mix layered with cucumbers, onions and avocado slices. The meal is served with savory soy sauce.

“We have all kinds of margaritas in every color of the rainbow, every flavor you can imagine,” enthuses Aguilera. “Mango, banana, peach, guava, apple – and one of the largest tequila selections around.”

But you’ll want to look at the other side of the restaurant, too. Behind plate glass walls is a shiny, bustling kitchen. On one side, you’ll see tortillas being made. There are four veteran chefs in the kitchen, and a lot of line cooks. In that kitchen, it’s not just the tortillas that are carefully made fresh by hand. Just about everything is, including four kinds of ceviche, rich hearty traditional pozole and fiery menudo. 

There are almost a hundred different dishes on the huge menu – but quantity and quality equate here. There is torre de mariscos, a carefully layered stack of seafood with cucumbers, onions, avocado and soy sauce mixed in. 

“All our seafood is fresh and freshly prepared,” says Aguilera, and that includes spicy shrimp preparations, seafood soups, several kinds of grilled fish and even a whole grilled octopus. They have molcajetes – a Spanish equivalent to a mortar and pestle. They have three grills, so there are lots of meat entrees, such as the namesake Patron steak, a ribeye topped with six grilled shrimp, onions and peppers, with an enchilada in red sauce on the side. (All that for just $18!) 

And of course, you can find all the usual (and delicious) suspects: nachos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas and more. As Aguilera says: “To make so many dishes is something special. There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hands, a lot of people working together.” 

And leadership takes care of those people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was laid off. They paid all their employees’ wages, even when the restaurant was locked down. Now, the team is building a new midtown location near 51st and Harvard. It should be open, or nearly open, by the time you read this. 

“It will be something marvelous,” Aguilera says. “We’re very passionate about what we do.”

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