Bricia Lopez operates Guelaguetza, a restaurant her father Fernando opened in Koreatown in 1994. The restaurant serves traditional Oaxacan fare, from spicy entomatadas to the popular Michelada, a drink made with beer, lime juice, spices, and assorted sauces. Over the years, Guelaguetza has become so much more than a restaurant.
Bricia says her father opened the restaurant with a vision to provide a place for Oaxacan families to escape Los Angeles and feel, if only for just a moment, like they were back home in Mexico. The restaurant's stunning popularity—among Latinos and non-Latino Angelenos alike—proves that he succeeded.
As Guelaguetza grew over the years, it began to feature live music on weekends, and started selling some of its food for customers to take home and prepare themselves. The restaurant was a place for people to relax and experience a taste of home. It was also a place for parents to bring their children to connect with a culture they couldn't fully experience themselves because, Lopez explains, many families couldn't travel back home due to their immigration status. Today, Guelaguetza has live music every night, features a Mezcal bar, and sells mole, michelada mix, and other items, like shoes and bags, made in an Oaxacan style
Guelaguetza won a James Beard Award in 2015 due to its contributions to and reflection of the Oaxacan community. In fact, the word "guelaguetza" means "reciprocity." Lopez feels the restaurant is a part of her; she calls it her guelaguetza to Los Angeles, a way she can give back to a city she says has been nothing but welcoming to her family.
Lopez says the existence of restaurants like Guelaguetza is vital to a developing Los Angeles, country, and world. Hubs where people can learn about other cultures are more important now than ever, Lopez says, "in the times that our country is going through right now." She says Guelaguetza can help patrons learn about another culture and embrace it rather than push it away.
As for the future of Guelaguetza, Lopez hopes to evolve their store both physically and online—she hopes mole will become a common food in homes all over America and that micheladas will become a standard accompaniment to Saturday brunch.
Restaurants like Guelaguetza can open people's hearts and minds—as Lopez says, "there's no better way to get to someone's heart than through their stomach."