Photo by: Rachel Benavides
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we chatted with a few local restaurant owners on the role their culture plays in creating food for their businesses, their favorite traditional food items, how Hispanic traditions have shaped food culture in the Coastal Bend, and more. Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing these conversations with you all! First up, we have Marcus Barrera from Kiko’s Mexican Food Restaurant & Cantina and Yvonne Venegas from Southside Tacos.
Kiko’s Mexican Food Restaurant & Cantina, Marcus Barrera
Marcus Barrera: It all started with my grandmother and her restaurant back in the ’60s, who passed her cooking traditions to my mother. Then my mother took those recipes, and when we opened up in 1977, she expanded on those recipes. When I bought the restaurant in 2012, the things I grew up with taught me how to run the restaurant. I took what my mother took from her grandmother, and I kept that tradition going.
JC: How have Hispanic traditions helped shape the food culture in our community?
MB: We’ve become a staple in the community, and we’ve been in business now for almost 44 years. For me, I don’t see Kiko’s Mexican Food Restaurant & Cantina as just Mexican food; I see it as part of Corpus Christi. I talk to many customers from out of town and who say, “We came to Corpus just to eat at your restaurant.”
JC: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean for you and the restaurant?
MB: I think for me here at the restaurant, [it means that] I’m proud to be American. I’m proud that with the land of opportunity, regardless of what race you are, you can start from nothing, or even start from something and continue to grow a business and make it even more successful. My parents started from nothing and made it a success. I bought the company and took a success and made it even more successful as a Hispanic [individual]. As an American, what countries give you those kinds of opportunities?
MB: My favorite meal at Kiko’s is our cheese enchilada plate. That is one of the dishes that my mother took from my grandmother and added more meat to the chili gravy. More garlic, Comino, and other spices to the chili gravy make it even more flavorful.
Kiko’s Mexican Food Restaurant & Cantina: 5514 Everhart Rd • (361) 991-1211
Southside Tacos, Yvonne Venegas
Jessie Chrobocinski: How have Hispanic traditions helped shape the food culture in our community?
Yvonne Venegas: Our recipes come from most of our family and back home. We’re originally from California, my husband’s mom is from Guadalajara, Mexico, and I’m from Colombia. After we got older, we didn’t have that same flavor that we were getting from home when we moved around. We tried to replicate it out here in Corpus; that flavor, the cumin, the pineapple, cloves, salt, and pepper.
JC: How does Southside Tacos restaurant help you stay connected to your roots?
YV: Coming up with some of the recipes, we asked a lot of his [my husband’s] family. They gave us suggestions on what to do and how to cook it. We were like, “What do we do with this? It’s not coming out exactly as we would like.” They gave us pointers and helped us out with that. They came in our opening day like, everybody came out, flew out and ran the plate, took orders, organized the table, set up all of the dining area and the event because we had a massive event in the parking lot. And without them, it would not have happened.
JC: What do you hope your business provides to the community in terms of culture and food?
YV: We love that there are so many Hispanic people [here] and that the beach is right down the street. We love that everyone is out during the weekdays, late at night, still going out to eat. It just [seems like] a very active community. When we started the business, we loved that everyone was willing to come out and support us. I hope our restaurant gives people here a job and helps the culture succeed and thrive. And once they leave, they have something to build from.
YV: Definitely the Carne guisada fries! We kept trying to make those over and over again while we were moving around. It’s tough to find the ingredients, but we started trying to make them out [in California]. I feel like we perfected it once we got the Corpus!