How a family restaurant built a legacy in Echo Park

Natalia Molina is a professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. Also a gifted storyteller, Molina has a knack for evoking Los Angeles—its families and communities—as it once was. In his recent book,A Place in Nayarit – How a Mexican Restaurant Nurtured a Communityshe paints a picture of The Nayarit, an Echo Park restaurant opened in 1951 by her grandmother Doña Natalia Barraza.

Immigrating from Mexico in 1921, when many people fled the Mexican Revolution and found work in the southwest, Barraza worked as a cook, but with the dream of opening her own restaurant. She opened Little Nayarit near Olvera Street. When the lease expired, she moved a mile and a half west to Echo Park, which Molina calls a cultural and geographic crossroads. Nayarit food, named after the Mexican state, offers variations of shrimp and whole fish dishes. “She intended to offer authentic Mexican food, which I consider a political act,” says Molina. “She made no apologies for her dedication to Nayarit and her desire to share this regional cuisine.”

Listen to Molina’s interview with Evan Kleiman in full on KCRW’s Bookworm. Molina also joins Gustavo Arellano in a conversation next Saturday, July 16 at Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana.

A celebration in Nayarit in April 1968. Photo courtesy of Maria Perea Molina.

Natalia Molina stands in front of The Nayarit (now Echo nightclub), a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard opened in 1951 by her grandmother. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez.

“A Place in Nayarit – How a Mexican Restaurant Nurtured a Community” is the story of Doña Natalia Barraza, who used her cooking skills to attract immigrants to familiar foods and a taste of home. Photo courtesy of University of California Press.

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