Kathleen and Joe Sciuto sit at the bar in their Tio Leoâ€™s Cantina & Mexican Restaurant, 12205 Scripps Poway Parkway, suite E 101. (photo by John Gregory)
Tio Leo’s remains as popular as ever
The much-anticipated opening of Tio Leo’s Cantina & Mexican Restaurant at 12205 Scripps Poway Parkway drew an abundance of customers with fond memories of other Tio Leo’s restaurants in San Diego, according to owners Joe and Kathleen Sciuto.
It’s no secret that locals were looking forward to visiting the restaurant and, once it opened in February, customers flooded through the door. Tio Leo’s is known as a casual restaurant with friendly service, good food and sizable portions.
“We have customers that are coming here that have been with us for 40 years,” Kathleen said. “I think our food and our reputation in relationship with our customers as well as our employees is what draws people in.”
She explained that some employees have been with the company for 30 years and their head chef, who is now working at the new location, has been with Tio Leo’s for nearly 35 years. Now, they have hired some high school students from Scripps Ranch and Poway to work at the new location to gain some employment experience.
While the new restaurant has a modern industrial look inside, Kathleen promised the food is exactly the same as the other restaurants. Favorites include enchiladas, fajitas, carnitas, fish tacos and the posole soup. The lunch weekday special offers any one item for $10, and a sit-down brunch is available on weekends.
Tio Leo’s full liquor license is pending, but the bar has 22 taps offering mostly local craft beers. There is also a decent, reasonably-priced wine selection. The wine margarita has been amazingly popular, Joe said, and customers have asked to keep it on the menu.
“It’s getting an incredible response. When they taste it, it’s most likely they’re going to order another one,” he said.
There is also a “refreshing, very light and crisp” beer margarita that has also been popular, Joe said.
Joe and Kathleen, former Scripps Ranch residents, might have something to do with their brand’s popularity. After all, the two met as teenagers when they were working at one of the restaurants. Joe was working his way up from dishwasher through the kitchen back then, and Kathleen was a waitress. Joe’s father, Leo Sciuto (now 89), actually made Joe a partner when he was only 16.
Leo was a nightclub owner who always wanted to open a Mexican restaurant. Although he was a full-blooded Italian, Leo liked the atmosphere at Mexican restaurants.
“My father loved Mexican food,” Joe recalled. “He would take us out every Saturday … He would take us to a different Mexican restaurant.”
Leo eventually found a location in Mission Gorge and had a friend draw up a design for the restaurant. That friend mailed the plans in a tube and jokingly addressed it to Tio Leo. Leo’s wife read the label and explained it meant “Uncle Leo” in Spanish, and the name stuck.
Today, the new Tio Leo’s is as popular as the established ones. There is something about these restaurants; perhaps it’s the good times. Laid-back San Diegans appreciate that sort of thing.
“I really wanted to just thank everybody that has been coming to Tio Leo’s for 39 years,” Joe said. “We do have a very, very large following. We’re so blessed to have those people who follow us no matter where we go and to welcome us into the neighborhood. I’m just very grateful for that.”