Courtesy of Nicholas Stinson
The enticing smell of authentic Southern Mexican food floats through the quaint, cozy and charming restaurant. With only ten tables, three waitstaff and one cook, Gato ensures that each customer has an intimate dining experience.
The restaurant was opened in 2012 by Nicholas Stinson and has flourished, exceeding expectations as to what the ideal customer experience should be. Gato has integrated itself into the Candler Park community, creating a unique reputation as a flexible yet reliable place to grab a meal.
“The menu is seasonal,” Stinson said. “I improvise with what I have while also listening to what the community wants. When people are collectively done with a certain dish, I switch it out, and do something new.”
With menu items constantly changing, no two visits are the same for Candler Park residents.
“I think the rotating menu is smart and a great way to bring in not only new customers, but keep the old ones entertained and intrigued about what’s coming next,” junior and Candler Park resident Ava Likins said. “I won’t get bored. It makes me want to come back and see what’s changed.”
Gato serves breakfast and dinner, both heavily inspired by Southern Mexican cuisine. Stinson emphasizes the use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients when making each dish. As the only cook in the establishment, Stinson’s word is final.
“Before Covid-19 I had an entire crew helping me in the kitchen, right now it’s just me. It’s more elemental, even more enjoyable,” Stinson said. “My kitchen is laid back and fun, now more than ever.”
The layout of the space allows customers to watch the preparation of their food while enjoying their dining experience.
“The best way to describe the environment is by comparing it to a restaurant you would go to in South America: small, sort of intimate, a little sparse,” Kelly Land, a Virginia Highlands resident, said. “It has a neighborhood feel but an international flare.”
Candler Park serves as a safe, vibrant and community-oriented location, an ideal location for a restaurant.
“One of the benefits of the job is just being in Candler Park,” server Cody Bishop said. “The area is almost suspiciously quaint compared to where it is positioned. I see the same people walking by everyday. It makes the community seem connected.”
Over the years, Gato has gathered an abundance of loyal customers. During the pandemic, the restaurant was forced to only serve take-out orders. Thanks to the immense support from locals, Gato was able to thrive and remain in business.
“During Covid, people would come and we would get incredibly backed up,” Bishop said. “They would be waiting thirty minutes on their food just to pick it up and take it home. What was amazing was how they were always appreciative. People were just grateful that we were still open.”
As the concept of pop-up and rotating menus spread throughout Atlanta, Gato remains one of the most loved and respected names in the industry.
“What makes Gato special is the fact that we don’t have a parallel in the city,” said Bishop. “Even restaurants at our capacity aren’t making food with the same amount of personal involvement at the caliber that we are.”
Gato isn’t only special for its distinct food selection, charming atmosphere and intimate experience, but also the role it plays in the lives of many Candler Park residents.
“Having lived here for my whole life, I got bored of the restaurants near me pretty quickly,” eighth-grader Tyler Bliss said. “What’s cool is that Gato changes, it keeps me wanting to come back. That’s not something you see often.”