During the midday bustle at Lindo Mexico Restaurante, Gricelda Mata curates her finest show, intersecting art, cuisine, music and spirits — the lubricating kind and the wandering sort with deep Mayan and Aztec roots.
“I’m not telling a story,” said restaurateur Mata, who often pulls a hostess shift, while managing the intricacies of running a restaurant. “I’m welcoming you to my story, to my journey to the heart of Lindo Mexico that means ‘beautiful Mexico.’”
The business of feeding one and all is something Mata learned from her father Cristo Campos and paternal grandmother Josefina Gallegos Garcia in Michoacán, Mexico, where they “made their living cooking food.”
“We arrived in the USA when I was in seventh grade. It was a great change for our whole family (because) we are from a very small town called Punta de Agua, by Apatzingán,” said Mata, CEO and president of both Lindo Mexico Restaurante Mexicano and Lindo Mexico Gallery.
Mata and her brother, Chris Campos, who is Lindo Mexico’s head chef, took all that good comfort cooking they learned from their papa and shared it with West Michigan.
“My dad was simply the best cook. We didn’t wait for holidays to eat the special stuff. One day, he might say let’s make mole. Tomorrow it might be tamales or carnitas,” said Mata, whose dad passed away last year. “He loved it here.”
Lindo Mexico’s menu is inspired by Mata’s sun-dappled heritage. The whole tilapia is fried either in butter and fresh garlic (mojarra al mojo de ajo) or smothered with spicy chile red árbol sauce (mojarra a la diabla) until it collapses at the touch of a fork. It is served with a pile of Mexican rice, refried beans, guacamole, limes and tortillas.
“In Mexico, we used to go fishing and we would catch little tilapia, smaller than we serve here,” Mata said. “And fry up the whole thing — head, eyeballs, everything.”
The sopes (a traditional Mexican dish consisting of a fried masa base with savory toppings) is evidence of her brother’s commitment to authenticity: three small homemade thick, round corn cakes towering with ground beef, chicken, steak or marinated pork, and topped with lettuce, sour cream, tomato and Mexican cheese.
The chiles rellenos are made with two plump poblano peppers roasted and then stuffed with cheese and deep-fried in egg batter. Afterwards, they’re slicked with sauce and presented on a white plate with Mexican rice, refried beans, sour cream and tortillas.
“Everything is fresh, and it goes beyond food, our goal is to create a dining experience unlike any other,” Mata said.
The interior of Lindo Mexico is reminiscent of a rambling mission-style villa with expansive spaces and tucked-away cubbyholes that provide an intimate dining experience. Lindo Mexico is decorated with art and religious and cultural icons that cover every nook and cranny.
Located at 1742 28th St. SW in Wyoming, this is Mata’s third iteration of her beloved Lindo Mexico, which got its start on Clyde Park Avenue in December 2000.
Lindo Mexico’s febrile atmosphere encourages a Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila-inspired salute or two. Mata recommends the margarita de mango con chile with mango puree and tajin with a salt/tajin rim, or the margarita de tamarindo con chile of tamarind syrup and tajin with a tajin and salt rim.
“I love mangos and we had mango and tamarind trees in our backyard in Mexico, so these are special for me,” Mata said.
A while ago, Mata wanted to share her good fortune and reward her loyal customers with a bit of good cheer. She combined giving back and celebration by introducing Children’s Day (“Día del Niño”), which is celebrated on April 30 in Mexico. Mata and her team organized fun games, music and favorite foods.
“In Mexico, Children’s Day is a day dedicated to children. We give away bikes, scooters, meals — all free. And that became our thing — we let people know who we are and about our culture so they can get to know us, our beliefs, our lives, what we celebrate,” Mata said.
Celebrating Mexico through art
As you wait for your meal, have a little wander to see eye-catching murals of Mexican icons and pastimes, wooden tables fitted with Mexican tiles and bright banners of papel picado (punched paper) flags.
One mural, by Elton Monroy Duran, a Mexican visual artist from Hidalgo, Mexico, shows the stylized moves of a lucha libre bout, and another is of Mexico’s most famous comedian, the late Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes, known as Cantinflas.
A stunning painting by Erick Picardo, a Dominican-born artist and Grand Rapids resident with a passion for Latino painting, mixed media, music and dance, is the kind of storytelling image that Mata commissioned or hand-selected to fill the restaurant.
Another wall displays a self-portrait of the international legend Frida Kahlo and a sweet painting of Gricelda Mata when she was a toddler. It’s adjoined by a painting of calla lilies that symbolize purity, holiness and faithfulness in Mexican folklore.
“I wanted to give you what you didn’t expect — the full-on color of Mexico that you see everywhere — not just in the food, but the bright and the happy in the houses, pottery, murals, art, textiles,” said Mata as she sweeps her arm around the restaurant. “(I) wanted to share our culture, who we are.”
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.