For 16 years La Lupita, 6539 Cermak Rd., has been a celebration of the hard work and grit it takes to succeed in the restaurant industry.
“The restaurant is named after my mother, Lupita Figueroa, and you can still find her in the kitchen,” said Salvador “Sal” Figueroa, the manager. “Our dishes are all homemade with her recipes, her seasonings, and her special touch.”
For as long as Sal can remember his mother has been involved in the food industry. Though the origin-story of the Cermak Road mainstay takes us far from the Berwyn thoroughfare. Though Sal is American born he and his family returned to Cuernavaca in Morelos, Mexico when he was just two years old.
As he and his sisters grew up, Sal watched his mother set up a dining table in their front yard. Friends and strangers would take a seat and Lupita would bring out an array of homemade dishes like pozole blanco and a deep dark mole with origins in her hometown located in the Guerrero region of Mexico. The money she earned helped the family, but more importantly she was honing the recipes that would eventually form the spine of La Lupita’s menu.
In 1992 the Figueroa family returned to the United States and settled in Chicago. While Lupita took factory jobs, she proved to be an insatiable cook and quickly started offering her culinary services to local businesses and neighbors.
“We could not keep her out of the kitchen,” laughed Sal. “I would come home and there would be strangers eating in our kitchen. Before long she had cooked for so many friends and neighbors that she had good business catering parties.”
Then, in 2004 Sal drove past a vacant restaurant on Cermak Road. More kitchen than dining room, the diminutive space held just four tables and offered the perfect steppingstone for Lupita to take her culinary career to the next level.
Thanks to her loyal customer base the transition to restaurant ownership went smoothly for the scrappy cook — by the time Lupita opened her namesake restaurant she had built enough relationships to sustain the business well beyond its infancy.
“Looking back, now I can see my mother is a true example of an entrepreneur,” said Sal proudly. “She passed along that mindset to all three of her children.”
Today Lupita and her children all have distinct roles at the restaurant, but her passion to keep home-style Mexican food front and center on Cermak remains unwavering. Today La Lupita serves both yellow and blue corn tortillas made from scratch and continues to offer her complex mole and three variations of pozole daily. Served with flautas, La Lupita’s pozole blanco features hominy with pork meat, pork rinds and avocado, topped with a flavorful white mole sauce.
White, green and red pozole have been the “icons of La Lupita” for years, but the dish has become more popular since Lupita was invited by acclaimed chef, Rick Bayless, to serve her pozole verde at the after-party for the James Beard Awards last year.
“What an experience,” said Sal. “When Chef Bayless introduced himself to my mom and shook her hand I just stood there watching. I was so proud.”