Last Taco Night–Recipe Included

Tragic. The end of an era. Along with the hiatus of Brothers Restaurant in the fabled Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, comes the end of Taco Night.

Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos CA.
Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, California. The parking lot is JAMMED by 5:30 on Taco Nights. Seriously. Even more on this last night.

Gaining steadily in popularity since its instigation on Thursdays many moons ago, Taco Night had arguably become a center of social life in the Valley, right up there with… Well I can’t think of… Okay right up there with the Tales From the Tavern concert series at the Maverick saloon in Santa Ynez. And that is saying something. Why one couple even came last night all dressed up–she in a long dress and he in a suit–and took pictures of each other. I took one of His Grace, who was obviously not very into it. He was probably thinking he should have dressed up too.

His Grace reads the menu at Mattei's Tavern.
His Grace reads the menu at Mattei's, but only for the photo. He already knows he's gettin' the Caesar salad and the tacos. And he said if an extra one fell on the plate, he wouldn't mind.

Los Olivos and surrounding communities are in Santa Barbara County and had their 15 minutes of fame as locations for the indie hit movie Sideways. The storied Mattei’s began in 1886 as a stagecoach stop, a restaurant and a small inn.

We hear that brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols will re-open their restaurant in the form of the old Red Barn in Santa Ynez, and it can’t be too soon. We don’t have that many choices around here. The historic Mattei’s will be closed for a two-year renovation. Meanwhile here is the recipe for Mattei’s famed Filet Mignon Crispy Tacos. And click here to get a copy of Brothers Cuisine–Recipes from Santa Barbara, California, wine country. It’s a beaut.

Matt and Jeff Nichols's Filet Mignon Crispy Tacos
Matt and Jeff Nichols's Filet Mignon Crispy Tacos. We will miss them, but we
Filet Mignon Tacos
Yields 10
Chipotle Puree
  1. 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles
  2. ½ cup water
Taco meat
  1. 1 ½ pounds filet mignon, cut into ¼-inch dice
  2. 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  3. 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  5. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  6. 2 tablespoons corn oil
  7. 2 tablespoons chipotle puree
  8. ½ medium yellow onion, diced
  9. 1 jalapeño, diced
Fresh tomato salsa
  1. 8 Roma tomatoes, diced
  2. ½ yellow onion, diced
  3. 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  4. Juice of 1 lemon
  5. Juice of 3 limes
  6. Kosher salt
  7. White pepper
Taco slaw
  1. ½ head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
  2. 1 bunch green onions, finely sliced on a bias
  3. Whole leaves from 1 bunch cilantro
  4. 12 crisp taco shells or soft corn tortillas
  5. Grated aged white Cheddar cheese, about 1/2 pound
  6. Bottled hot sauce
  1. To make the chipotle puree: In a blender, puree the chiles with the water until smooth.
  2. To make the taco meat: Combine the filet mignon, salt, coriander, cumin and pepper in a bowl and mix well to coat the beef. Heat the corn oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, spread the seasoned beef in the pan and do not move. This will sear one side of the meat. After 1 minute, toss the meat to brown and cook the other sides. Mix in 2 tablespoons or more of the chipotle puree and toss to coat. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl.
  3. In the same pan over medium heat, sauté the onion and jalapeño until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the meat and mix until well combined. Set aside.
  4. To make the tomato salsa, mix the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lemon juice and lime juice in a bowl. Season with salt and white pepper. Refrigerate.
  5. To make the taco slaw, mix the cabbage, green onions and cilantro leaves in a bowl. Set aside.
  6. To serve, reheat the taco meat. Spoon the meat into warm crisp taco shells or warm soft corn tortillas. Sprinkle the grated white cheddar over the beef. Top with the cabbage slaw and tomato salsa. Serve with your favorite hot sauce.
Frances Schultz


  1. As a native Texan born with salsa verde running through my veins, I would take to the bed if any of my favorite Mexican or TexMex places closed. Makes me want to light a candle for the folks in Los Olivos who must be in mourning. I will try the recipe.

    1. Clint, thank you for feeling our pain. As for the recipe, it’s very good – though I tend to lighten up a bit on the beef and wetten up a bit on the salsa and hot sauce. I don’t think “wetten” is exactly a very, but I liked the parallel construction. Vaya con Dios, Frances

  2. The photo of His Grace is priceless… who would think any form of the word “shy” (as in “camera-shy”) would ever apply to him?!

    I was just speaking with Jeff Nichols who stopped by with an invitation to the Sunday farewell extravaganza and I told him what a huge success they have been, not just in providing excellent food but in providing hospitality that has enriched the lives of thousands of people in the years he and Matt have presided over Mattei’s. The only reason people are sad at their closing is the enormous number of important human experiences people have had in that place and at their table – birthdays, weddings, Valentine’s Days, meals after baptisms, funerals and on and on. Also, the number of times people just looked forward to walking through the doors into that warmth with all sorts of expectations that were consistently met. It has clearly been much more than a restaurant, much more than a business — and much more than a historic site.

    Partner (now Husband) and I had our first meal “out” at the Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern as a gift of the group of people introducing us to the Santa Ynez Valley. We’ll never forget realizing what a special place this is through the lens of what the Nichols brothers offered (and will again!).

  3. You have made my night! I was just in Austin for my goddaughter’s christening and whining about the sad lack of Mex or Tex-Mex in my town. Think this will do it for my home use….

  4. Thanks for the recipe, and such a nice tribute. Can’t wait for Matt and Jeff’s new incarnation. Mom and I started work on our new shop in the gas station, and headed to Mattei’s for a beverage…”Armadillo Eggs” on the menu. Fresh from Manhattan, wearing my new boots in spite of the blisters. Mom whispers, “well maybe it is, cowboys eat all sorts of funny things! Let’s try’em anyway.” It’s been 21 years for me, and I will miss the real, authentic Mattei’s dearly. Oh if those walls could talk, whooeee!!

  5. I’m sorry for your loss but glad you scored the recipe! I have purchased the ingredients and will be making these for dinner tonight. Before landing in the NE for the past 20 years, we previously enjoyed Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex. Hard to come by the good stuff in these parts, so this will help fill an empty niche! Thanks-a-million for sharing this.

  6. Frances thank you for sharing all this yumminess. I can just feel all the flavors on my tongue. I’m going to make the tacos with fresh Blue Corn Tortillas. Uhhh Stephanie’s pasta my mouth is watering. TaTa JuneBug

  7. In a word, these are scrumptious! The use of chipotle paste and Napa cabbage are brilliant! Just looking at the picture, my husband had said I’ll take four… and he did! I had to constrain myself to stop at two. Guess what, it’s still great the second time. Thank you for a lovely and inventive recipe for a sure-fire pleaser!

  8. I echo the sentiments of Randall and will only add that when my husband and I moved to the valley we knew only two people. One night in the Tavern I met a very nice couple who invited me to their home for a religious service and I have made many friends because of it. Our valley “life” began at Two Brothers. Deeply grateful for all the wonderful meals we shared there. Looking forward to your new adventures and will be there and look forward to supporting all that you do.

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