The flavors of Spain and Mexico share the same plate at Chef Sergio Monleón’s quasi-pop-up, Ibéxico. Monleón, or Chef Serg for short, runs La Marcha tapas bar in Berkeley with his business partner and co-chef, Emily Sarlatte.
In October, they celebrated the restaurant’s eighth year of serving tapas and large pots of paella. Both chefs have ties to Spain. Chef Serg is half Mexican and half Spanish, while Sarlatte lived in Spain for a time.
Ibéxico is a side project that opened earlier this year. It operates out of the same kitchen, but the food is only available for pick-up at La Marcha or via delivery, with an occasional pop-up elsewhere. Chef Serg said that because of his dual heritage, he’d been thinking about combining Mexican and Spanish cuisines for a while.
A couple of years ago he had an opportunity to experiment with the idea at a friend’s bar in Oakland. “I was there for about six months working on the menu,” he said. “We gained a cult following.”
Afterwards, he continued to receive requests for the unique fusion of flavors. To keep the momentum going, he decided to offer the menu as a takeout-only option.
“I’m a firm believer that food is better in the restaurant,” Chef Serg said. But the pandemic changed the way diners thought about food-to-go. “For now, it’s just a way to keep Ibéxico on folks’ radar as we look for that next step.”
The chef said there’s significant overlap of ingredients between Mexico and Spain.
“The Spaniards brought things over to Mexico and then took things back from the New World to Spain,” he said. “It can be challenging to have something that uniquely represents both cuisines. Spain uses a lot of squid and octopus in their dishes. Calamares en su tinta or the pulpo gallego are popular tapas.”
The chef combined them to make one dish—tacos de pulpo gallego. He added squid ink to handmade tortillas and filled them with octopus, coleslaw, a raw oyster aioli and cilantro. He described them as “a play on fish tacos.”
Before Ibéxico finds a brick-and-mortar home, Chef Serg and Sarlatte will open Mile Limit Wine Shop two doors down from La Marcha in early 2024. “It’s going to be small dishes and a big retail component for wine,” he said. “There’ll be some limited seating, with in-house pâtés and terrines and things like that.”
When Chef Serg and Sarlatte first met, they both worked at an Italian restaurant in Berkeley and bonded over their shared love of Spanish cuisine and culture.
“My grandparents are from Valencia, so paella is in my blood,” he said. “Paella can take several hours to make. As you’re cooking, it brings a community together with friends and family.”
La Marcha started as backyard events that Chef Serg would host. “Paella is a really great party food,” he said.
Those paella parties led to making food for a street festival and then catered events. After moving through several different kitchen arrangements, the chefs realized they needed to find their own space to continue the business.
“We found the space in Berkeley and really liked the neighborhood,” Chef Serg said. “There was a lot of storage for our large pans and equipment.”
The restaurant itself was an afterthought—at the time, he and Sarlatte thought it was nice enough to open a little tapas bar in front. “We thought maybe one or two people working, and just serving a couple of tapas while we continued with our catering operations,” he said.
Chef Serg believes La Marcha has succeeded because of the kitchen’s creative approach to making tapas. “You see a lot of things [on the menu] that you might not necessarily find in Spain, but it’s still very reminiscent of Spanish cuisine,” he said.
Over the next couple of months, he’s going to concentrate his attention on launching the wine bar. “I’d like to get that open and then start thinking about looking for a place for Ibéxico,” he said.
Ibéxico, open daily 4-10pm, 2026 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. 510.214.3103. ibexico.com.