Well, it’s official.
After 25 years in business in downtown San Juan Capistrano, Cedar Creek Inn changed its name Friday, June 30 to Tavern at the Mission. In addition to the new name and signage, owners David Wilhelm and Gregg Solomon have revamped the menu, with plans for an extensive renovation set to take place next year.
“It’s an iconic location that’s only going to get better,” said Wilhelm, who purchased Cedar Creek Inn in May. After taking ownership, the chef/restaurateur added new items to the menu, including some of his signature dishes, like his buttermilk fried chicken with thyme gravy and his Comté cheese-topped French onion soup that uses beef and veal stocks. While “90 percent” of Cedar Creek Inn’s menu will change under his tutelage — “we will feature some of my greatest hits, which are classic comfort foods with my own twist,” he said — Wilhelm smartly kept intact such Cedar Creek Inn staples as the Monte Cristo sandwich and coconut cake.
The new Tavern at the Mission, the second iteration of Wilhelm’s Tavern brand, will remain open throughout the year until a major indoor and outdoor renovation happens at a tentative date in early 2024 during the slow months of the winter season. Wilhelm and Solomon plan on transforming the space with a new vibe that will blur the lines between the interior and exterior seating areas. “I would describe the upcoming décor as a contemporary Santa Barbara Mission,” he said. Guests can look forward to open and airy interiors with cream colored walls and new flooring, decorative lighting, seating arrangements. “It’s going to be understated but very sophisticated,” Wilhelm added.
The restaurant’s bar theme will lean into the city’s cowboy history with the addition of dark leather buckskin booths and bar seats.
More importantly, the entire restaurant, which measures a whopping 5,000 square feet, will open up to provide a more cohesive flow. “Right now there are three different physical components: there’s the bar, the patio, and the other side is the dining room,” he explained. “We’re going to open up the bar and we’re going to open up all the doors in the dining room so that you could be sitting at the bar and you’ll be able to literally look all the way across the patio and into the dining room.”
The roughly 3,000-square-foot patio will also undergo a facelift, including new seating, up-lighting for the ash trees and landscaping.
“We’re going to clean everything up and make it very simple, very contemporary,” Wilhelm said.
This is Wilhelm’s latest restaurant in his impressive portfolio, which includes Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern in Dana Point and Tavern House Kitchen and Bar in Newport Beach, as well as a stable of other notable restaurants, past and present, like Kachina, Chimayo Grill, Chat Noir, and Savannah Chop House. It’s also a more personal restaurant because it’s located in the city that he also calls home.
Tavern at the Mission is the latest concept to come to San Juan Capistrano’s downtown area, south county’s budding culinary epicenter. Since 2020, the historic center has seen an uptick in chef-driven eateries, most most notable Heritage Barbecue (which ranked No. 1 in The Register’s 75 best places to eat list), Breezy, artisanal bakery FKN Bread, Mission-adjacent Bloom Restaurant and Bar, and JD Flannel Donuts. These new eateries join a slew of long-standing taquerias, like El Campeon Carniceria and Las Golondrinas, and other established restaurants. Adding to the city’s growing food pedigree is the Ecology Center, a sustainable and organic 28-acre farm that sells homegrown produce and features recurring family-style dining events that teach diners about sustainable, local farming.
Find it: Tavern at the Mission, 26860 Old Mission Road (at El Camino Real), San Juan Capistrano; open for lunch and dinner