Eduardo Galindo, owner of Luchita's Mexican Restaurant (3456 West 117th St., 216-252-1169, luchitas.net), has never had to travel far to get a good home-cooked meal. The family-run establishment was opened in February 1982 by his grandmother Maria de la Luz Galindo Muñoz and his father Jorge Galindo. At the time, it was one of very few Mexican restaurants in the city. Fast forward 35 years and Luchita's still manages to stand out for its history, hospitality and affordable cuisine.
Luchita, the matriarch and namesake of the restaurant, worked in the kitchen until she was 87 years old. After living in Mexico City and raising 11 children, her dream was to open a business in her new home, and thus the quaint eatery on Cleveland's west side was born. The late 1980s and early '90s found the business in its heyday, as a friendly corner bar. Luchita quickly became a fixture in the community and served many generations of locals their first taste of authentic Mexican cooking. Luchita passed away last spring.
For the past 10 years, grandson Eduardo has been the sole owner, purchasing the business from an uncle and picking up where his grandmother left off. "We try to keep it original and slowly evolving at the same time," he explains. "We're plugging along. There might be more competition, but we're fortunate to have as many supporters as we have. We have a staff where some people have been working here for 20 years."
Luchita's is well known for its signature mole sauce, served atop enchiladas, burritos and the classic pollo en mole poblano. The eatery excels at incorporating the rich flavors of ancho, chipotle and poblano peppers into various entrees, showcasing a complexity often lost at other Mexican restaurants. The tinga de pollo, with shredded chicken, chorizo, chipotle salsa, queso panela, avocado and sour cream, is one of Luchita's signature dishes.
"A lot of the menu has continued the same recipes my grandmother came up with 35 years ago, especially our salsa," notes Galindo. "People come from miles around just for the salsa." The original recipes are informed by the Galindos' roots in central Mexico, which blend indigenous ancient cuisine and colonial European tastes. "First and foremost, it's always fresh; that's never changed. But as the years go, we try to adapt the menu to the season, adding and subtracting different items."
In addition to the wildly popular Taco Tuesdays, the weekday happy hour menu will soon be expanding. Enchilada Wednesdays are another themed evening, when a selection of variously filled and sauced items cost just $2 each after 4 p.m.
Other locations have come and gone over the years, including those at Shaker Square, Rocky River, Mentor and a Luchita's Express in University Circle. But it's hard to duplicate the true original, with its post-Prohibition art deco-era bar and long-tenured staff.
Through it all, Galindo has learned to be patient. "You have to be able to change with the times, because new restaurants come and go, and we just have to be evolving with them; otherwise, we'll be left behind very quickly."