La Mexicana is a New Mexican restaurant and tortilla company located a stone’s throw from Homewise’s Orpheum Community Hub on Coal Avenue. It’s full of regulars with servers asking questions like, “Do you want your usual?” La Mexicana is small and tucked away from the street, however don’t be fooled by the unassuming building! They have great food and a long history in the Duke City. After meeting with owner, Margy Hernandez, I learned how far back their history goes in the Barelas neighborhood and many other interesting tidbits too.
How long has La Mexicana been in business and what made you decide to open a restaurant?
The business started on this property in 1932. It was the first tortilla company in Albuquerque and my husband’s family owned it. There used to be a house in front of the building where the parking lot is now and there was a tortilla machine in there. My husband’s father, Manuel, was a genius with corn tortillas and he also made tamales and tacos to sell too. He eventually passed it on to my husband (Anthony Hernandez). It eventually grew into our current building, and then we outgrew this space too. In 1980, we moved to 5th and Atlantic (where Working Classroom is now located) and we were there until the early 90’s. We then moved to 4th and Bridge where the McDonald’s is located. In 2001 there was a fire at that location so we moved back to the 5th and Atlantic location. Then we closed it. We always made a pure product with no additives and preservatives, which meant the tortillas had to be refrigerated. We lost refrigeration space in distributor locations so we pulled the product from everywhere except Costco because we didn’t want to change the product. That Costco location sold the most tortillas in the world, with the exception of Mexico. After that, we closed for a few years, but people would stop us in public saying they wanted the same tortillas their grandmas bought. A lady stopped me at the mall one time and told me her last two Christmases were ruined because she couldn’t get masa for her tamales! We decided to reopen in 2010 at our current location (the original location). We started out slow and got some of our wholesale business back. It was a time where restaurants were paying attention to quality of products and people were demanding quality.
What makes La Mexicana stand out from other New Mexican restaurants?
All of our corn that we use for our tortillas is grown in New Mexico. We use 14 local farmers and all of them are non-GMO. We are very old school and you’re not going to get any more old school than this.
What is your favorite part of owning a restaurant?
Feeding people. It’s an honor when people like your food. It makes you feel good. You can make the grumpiest people happy. Rarely there is a day that someone doesn’t say, it’s just like my grandma’s. There are a lot of senior citizens that come in here and they are always the pickiest, so they are the truest test!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
When we were expanding we decided we would never move out of Barelas. The tortilla factory allows us to not change as much as other restaurants. We want to be affordable for the neighborhood. We also remain active in the neighborhood. We are active in the schools, in particular Coronado school, which is where my husband went.
La Mexicana has gone back to humble origins and has scaled back their tortilla making business over the years. They have one locally owned distributor and only distribute throughout New Mexico. If you are in the area, stop in and taste some of Albuquerque’s history, and while you’re at it, try the chicharrones. Trust me on this one.
Find La Mexicana on their website, www.lamexicananm.com or on their Facebook page.