By Robert Waldner
Photos by Tammy Harrow
Milagro translated from Spanish to English means miracle. It is also the title of St. Augustine’s newest culinary hub featuring the freshest Latin and Caribbean flavors. If you ask owner Cesar E. Diaz, you will understand why Milagro On 12 truly is a miracle of sorts.
“Milagro On 12 was a concept conceived in the middle of struggle and hardship,” explains Diaz. After taking over the property at 12 Avenida Menendez, Diaz and his partners, Azdrubal Martinez and Shane Mcfarland had just finished renovations on what had previously been Acapulco Restaurant, and opened Damiana Elixirs and Love Potions in September 2016. “After our first renovation, we were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Eleven months later, after our second renovation, we were hit by Hurricane Irma,” says Diaz.
This time, the partners used the downtime to not only rebuild Damiana, but to develop their concept for the rest of the property. Diaz explains, “We knew that St. Augustine could not afford another tourist trap. We needed to come up with a cutting-edge concept and a plan to bring in the very best talent.” So, Diaz traveled to Colombia and met with celebrity chef John Herrera who is known for creating some of the most eclectic dishes in the country. “John was willing to help us create a unique concept for Milagro on 12,” says Diaz. “We wanted to showcase the most iconic Latin American and Caribbean dishes and put a modern twist on them. We knew we had to have the right formula: fresh ingredients, unique dishes, and great talent.”
Charmingly backdropped by the Castillo De San Marcos, Milagro showcases multiple dining styles under one main roof, kind of like a food court in a mall… but much, much better. El Nombre De Dios, named after the shrine on San Marco Blvd, is a craft cocktail bar featuring caribbean flavors infused with classic Hispanic cocktail culture. The Rabbit and The Moon is a taqueria named after a Mayan legend, while Casa Don Juancho features a Venezuelan flair. There is even an American/ Latin infusion as well as a concept showcasing popular Central and South American fish dishes. Thirsty market-goers can pull up a seat at The Fountain of Brew which features locally crafted beers. “Our setup is an upscale indoor food market with different alternatives to please all palates,” explains Diaz. “Our concept offers a different dynamic where patrons can enjoy dishes from different cultures created by the most qualified and passionate staff all in one location.”
In a sixteen-year-career that has taken him to Orlando, Puerto Rico, Miami, and finally here, Diaz says, “I moved to St. Augustine as a part of the opening team at The Ice Plant. After three years, I wanted to jump on the opportunity to start my own project.” Since opening Odd Birds as a pop up turned permanent bar, Diaz has served the community in multiple philanthropic efforts through his businesses. This year, Diaz and his team will host a 40- mile bike ride to support the Helen David Relief Fund, an organization that helped his own family after the loss of his wife to breast cancer in 2016. Now the owner of multiple Ancient City bars and eateries as well as his own consulting business, Cocktail Capital, LLC, Diaz has found a way to bring the flavor to St. Augustine. Milagro on 12 may be the only culinary miracle that St. Augustine hasn’t had a taste of…. until now.