El Porton Azul Offers Italian & American Fare, Plus A Bit of Art & Culture

Julio and Connie Garcia recently opened El Porton Azul at 317 E. 18th Street in Antioch.

By Teresa A. Klein

Imagine moving to a new town not knowing a single person. It is a daunting and stressful experience for anyone. Now add in the factor of opening a restaurant – an endeavor you have always dreamt of but never reached – in a part of town that is known as “not the best.” Pretty brave.

In March 2011 that’s just what Julio and Connie Garcia accomplished. They followed their dream, took a leap of faith and opened El Porton Azul, an Italian restaurant at 317 E. 18th Street in Antioch.

“I believe dreams can come true and now we are here,” said Connie. “We moved here not knowing anyone and opened our first restaurant.”

Julio is a trained chef and does all the cooking while Connie runs the front end and shops for supplies, including fresh vegetables daily. “Sometimes I drive all the way to San Jose so we can have things fresh,” said Connie. “You can tell the difference in the taste of our dishes.”

All the meals are created when ordered and made from scratch. It is a classic Italian menu that includes pasta dishes, calzones, sandwiches, pizza and more. They also serve breakfast, opening at 8 a.m. daily. Monday-Thursday they close at 11 p.m.; Friday-Sunday they close at 1:30 a.m.

For about 15 years Julio worked in New York in Italian restaurants, then moved to California, where he met and married Connie. Now, five years later, they have reached a goal a longtime in the planning – opening a place of their own.

But Julio and Connie do want to be clear they are an Italian establishment, not Mexican. The history behind the name is that the business has been owned by Connie’s brother for a few years and was formerly a Mexican restaurant. Since they already had a license and permit they just decided to keep the name. “But we are Italian food,” Connie emphasized.

While Julio is proud of his 20 years of experience as a chef, the Garcias want their place to be more than just a stop-off to eat. “We want to help change the neighborhood with activities and fundraising,” said Julio. “We want to help give back to Antioch, such as raising money to bring back the Fourth of July fireworks.”

“We want El Porton to be a family place where people can come, especially the teenagers to keep them off the streets,” said Connie. “We want it to feel like home.”

The restaurant is decorated with photographs, paintings and other original artwork. Connie and Julio are open to people in the community bringing their artwork to the restaurant. The have set up a corner for poetry readings and karaoke on Sunday night. On Fridays there is live music and Saturdays are Salsa nights. Kids eat free on Tuesdays, and every night from 5-8 p.m. is happy hour in the bar. The Garcias are open to other events as well, so if you have a community idea let them know.

“We have a nice patio too,” said Connie. “I would like to set up free tutoring for the kids after school. We would need volunteers to do that.”

While Julio and Connie did not know anyone when they moved to Antioch just three short months ago, they already have regular customers who know their names. They have big plans to be a cornerstone in the community and making what some consider a not-so-great area of Antioch a bit better. “Antioch is beautiful,” said Connie. “Someone has to be the change, so we will.”

To contact El Porton Azul about catering, events, reservations or activity ideas, call 925-753-1715 or e-mail elportonazul@live.com.

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