As long as it’s existed, Don Luis Mexican Restaurant has been a family business. Formerly owned by Chef and Owner Cuahtemoc (Cuate) Rivera’s in-laws (who also own Casa Flores), Cuate took over in 2004. Since then, he’s made a lot of changes, but about 30 percent of the menu stays true to the original, inspired by the Mercado-Herrera and Flores families he married into.
Cuate’s wife, Alexandra, however, isn’t the only one who grew up in a culture of food. In Mexico City, a young Cuate—the last of nine children—was a mama’s boy and used to stick close to her in the kitchen while his siblings were at work and school. Between her influence, visits from his grandparents, and a woman down the street who recruited him to help food prep for her taqueria in exchange for sweet bread his family couldn’t afford, Cuate quickly became enthralled with cooking.
As a result, much of the cuisine is inspired by Cuate’s Mexico City roots. He says the biggest difference between his restaurant and others is there isn’t one flavor that permeates all dishes. While chain restaurants use the same spices and bases for multiple meals, Cuate cooks everything from scratch and takes time to develop each recipe individually. This technique also allows him to control portions and customize food as needed to meet customer’s preferences and dietary restrictions.
At Don Luis, you will taste influence from Tex-Mex, a nod to Cuate’s beginnings in food at Senor Frogs (where he and his wife met in 1996) and Angelo’s Mexican Restaurant in Lodi. You will, however, also notice the complexities of the fare that comes from his experiences in Mexico City where with 40-50 taquerias within a few blocks, the ones that offered something unusual were the ones that stood out. Lastly, Cuate’s own education adds the final touch to all of his dishes. After discovering his love for the food industry stateside, Cuate graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and traveled to Europe to work on the Almalfi Coast to hone his craft and learn better techniques for prepping and cooking meals. Small changes such as using chicken stock instead of chicken broth in his gravies and the way he marinates meats with a French flair, helped develop the menu beyond what he originally inherited, adding dishes such as Chile relleno and Alhambre. The menudo is elevated with Cuate’s own style and the corn beef hash is fresh, not like the canned stuff you find at the store. Even the American brunch staple Chicken-Fried Steak emulates the breading techniques Cuate learned in school.
Cuate inherited much of his knowledge from his ancestors—from the slow cooking his grandparents taught him to the taco preparation learned in Mexico City—and he plans to pass that knowledge along to his own children. “I want my kids to have their own [lifestyle],” Cuate says. However, “When they come to the restaurant they look like they are made to work in the restaurant… they see how passionate I am for what I do.” And. all five of Cuate’s kids have a role at Don Luis. His 15-year-old—born on Cinco de Mayo—is bubbly and enjoys interacting with guests, while his six-year-old cleans tables and plays restaurant at home with her dad. “It’s in their genes,” Cuate says.
While Cuate has certainly taken liberties with the family’s menu, he says the way the business operates is the same. From the kitchen setup to the work atmosphere, Cuate says these are the attributes he admired most about his in-laws’ businesses, and will continue at both Don Luis and future ventures, carrying on the Flores legacy.
Don Luis Mexican Restaurant
5940 CA-99, Stockton