Los Angeles is a mixing pot of people much like the feast of foods that can be found throughout the city.
So it was fitting that, in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, members of the Los Angeles City Council presented commendations to the entrepreneurs behind their favorite immigrant-run eateries. The council honored not only the restaurants but the hard work of the immigrants who have carved out a living in L.A.
As the commendations were presented, the council members noted the diverse culinary map of the city that these restaurants offer to L.A.’s culinary scene, which included Mazatlan style seafood, Oaxacan cuisine, Persian-style Mediterranean food and North African-influenced tacos.
The variety of cuisines prompted Councilmember Nury Martinez to quip, “I will eat my way through the city.”
While each councilmember shared the stories that demonstrated the strong work ethic to succeed, each honoree also had their own unique stories to share.
The Sun Valley-based seafood restaurant Centro Botanero Mazatlan literally rose out of the ashes after the popular Mexican mole’ restaurant was hit by an arson fire, noted Martinez. Knowing that reconstruction could take months and knowing their employees needed to get back to work, owner Alonso Arellano and his wife Elsa created a pop up restaurant right next door.
Arellano, who also works as a medical physicist in the field of cancer, has married his work in the health business with his restaurant businesses, embracing the philosophy of going back to native ancestral Mexico cuisine that offers good whole food ingredients and the cooking methods of indigenous people.
He traveled back to Mexico to research importing nopal [cactus] and has created a healthy green tortilla. And there is never a microwave in his restaurants.
Arellano will be reopening his Mole’ restaurant soon but will be opening a restaurant on historic Olvera Street, he is callling Chiguacle Sabor y Ancestral which will focus on the cuisine of Southern Mexico.
The Arellanos have been active with local community organizations where they believe it’s important to share their path from Michoacan, Mexico and El Salvador.
“I was one of those people who sold oranges and fruit on L.A.’s city streets,” Alonso said. “People are surprised to know that I actually dropped out of high school but I later joined the military and took myself back to school. And while it wasn’t easy, I went to UCLA and USC, studied and worked hard, and began my work in the field of cancer research. I am proud to call myself an immigrant and share my story.”
Some of the business owners attributed their success to their ability to give their customers a taste of their homeland.
Omar Limon, who co-owns Raspado Xpress in the Northeast San Fernando Valley with his brother Oscar, said their use of real fruit in their Mexican snow cones appeals “to the Latinos who actually know what to expect, and they expect fresh stuff.”
They set up their first Raspado cart in 2001 in Pacoima and quickly saw their lines grow to 35-minute waits, prompting the Limon family to open a permanent location across the street. But because they arrived in the country illegally, and had no credit, they could not obtain a business loan. Instead they spent all of their savings — and borrowed from family, friends and neighbors — to open their brick-and-mortar shop, said Limon, 32.
The stories shared also came from some very recent immigrants.
Saeid Malek, 36, who is a waiter at Safir Mediterranean Cuisine, accepted the commendation for his employer, Matt Barani. Malek said he came to the United States three years ago, leaving behind his print shop business.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t continue that shop here,” he said, but added he has come to love his job at the restaurant, where he frequently interacts with people from different cultures.
The establishments recognized by the council included many that have donated to local causes and are active in their communities, as well as some that appear to be regularly frequented by the council members themselves.
Council President Herb Wesson featured Jenee Kim, owner of Park’s BBQ, a Korean barbecue restaurant he said is his “go-to” for staff lunches and holiday parties. Wesson gave Kim’s restaurant high praise, calling it “one of the best Korean restaurants west of the Mississippi.”
Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who hosted the Immigrant Heritage Month presentation, said it was “poignant” to see Wesson, a black Los Angeles City Council president, introducing a “Korean entrepreneur,” given the fraught relationship between the two cultural groups that had once been on display during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Cedillo said he hopes the stories of immigrant business people — who he described as “risk-takers” — will provide a “sharp and realistic” contrast to the “bigotry and racism and hatred that is being espoused by Donald Trump.”
Other favorite restaurants throughout L.A. that received commendations were:
— Las Cazuelas Restaurant & Pupuseria, a Highland Park restaurant owned by El Salvadoran immigrants from Cedillo’s 1st Council District;
— Salsa and Beer, a Jerez Zacatecas-style Mexican restaurant in Councilman Paul Krekorian’s 2nd District;
— Safir Mediterranean Cuisine, in Councilmember Bob Blumenfield’s 3rd District;
— Igloo Parlor, an ice cream shop in Sherman Oaks owned by an Armenian immigrant, from Councilmember David Ryu’s 4th District;
— Delphi Greek, a restaurant owned by an Iranian immigrant, from Councilman Paul Koretz’s 5th District;
— Raspado Xpress, which has a dozen locations but started in Councilmember Felipe Fuentes’ 7th District;
— Revolutionario, a taco shop operated by Algerian-American chef Farid Zadi, who blends North African and Mexican cooking methods, from Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s 8th District;
— A business specializing in tlayudas and other Oaxacan cooking, operated by Alfonso Martinez, in Councilman Curren Price’s 9th District;
— Park’s BBQ, in Wesson’s 10th District;
— Yuca’s, a Mexican restaurant that has been widely featured, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s 13th District;
— La Parrilla, a Mexican restaurant in Boyle Heights from Councilmember Jose Huizar’s 14th District and;
— Joseph’s Bakery, an Italian-American pastry shop in Councilman Joe’s Buscaino’s 15th District.