Fernando Lopez Mateos opened the original Guelaguetza restaurant on 8th Street in Koreatown in August 1994, a restaurant that would become a Los Angeles institution serving the moles, tlayudas and banana-leaf-wrapped tamales of Oaxaca.
When Lopez Mateos first moved to Los Angeles from Mexico, he sold food to Oaxacans who missed a taste of home. In a recent turn of events, he moved back to Mexico and opened a burger joint called Pink Burger to offer those who once lived in the U.S. something they might be missing in Oaxaca.
But he was in Los Angeles again Monday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Guelaguetza, which continues to be operated by his family, including his wife, Maria, who travels back and forth between Oaxaca and Los Angeles, and their four children, Paulina, Bricia, Fernando and Elizabeth.
To help Lopez Mateos celebrate at the flagship Guelaguetza on Olympic Boulevard (the original closed in 2011) were three generations of Lopezes and chefs such as Jimmy Shaw of Loteria Grill, Jaime Martin Del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of La Casita Mexicana, and Octavio Olivas of Ceviche Project. Twenty years of operating a restaurant in Los Angeles is no small feat, after all.
Dinner, prepared by Oaxacan chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen, was accompanied by plenty of mezcal, served in jicaras, small gourds that are also traditional drinking cups, these emblazoned with the the words "Guelaguetza Restaurante" in red.
On the menu was quail escabeche, scallop ceviche, bass con tinga, sous vide pork loin wrapped in hoja santa with a salsa of peach and mezcal, and chocolate and chile truffle crujiente. At the end of which, all stood and raised their jicaras of mezcal to a restaurateur-patriarch whose legacy has been not just a restaurant but a cultural nexus.
"This is very special, I'm so glad to be here," Shaw said. "What an amazing family."