Phoenix man opens restaurant to showcase his Mexican roots
PHOENIX — There are about half a million small businesses in Arizona and a quarter of those are Hispanic-owned.
Fernando Hernandez is one of those Hispanic business owners, coming to the United States from Mexico when he was 10 years old and growing up undocumented in Arizona.
The 36-year-old recently became a legal permanent resident and was able to visit Chihuahua, where he was born, for the first time in 23 years.
“I just fell in love completely,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “It’s almost like it was a journey where I reestablished my roots.”
“I reconnected with aspects of my culture that I had a notion of but for the first time, I was able to experience, to explore, to live through all that. It just fulfilled me.”
His trips to Chihuahua sparked an idea to start his own restaurant.
He not only wanted to provide people a taste of Chihuahua as he reconnects with his culture but give his birthplace “its proper name.”
Hernandez explained for years the U.S. State Department has warned against traveling to Chihuahua. The agency currently advises travelers to reconsider visiting the state due to crime and kidnapping.
He said that has not been his experience at all.
Instead, he said he feels warmth from the people there and has seen stunning landscapes and waterfalls, including Cascada de Basaseachi.
The grand opening for Hernandez’s restaurant – Testal Mexican Kitchen – was last October on Grand Avenue just southeast of Roosevelt Street.
“Testal is the little ball of dough that you first make, and then you flatten to make a tortilla,” Hernandez explained.
The restaurant mainly serves burritos and gorditas, which are traditional dishes in Chihuahua and the food his mom, Ana, made for him and his sister when they were kids. She’s behind the recipes and all the cooking that goes on in the restaurant.
“It’s the food my kids ate growing up, and it means a lot to me that people who eat here like it,” she said.
Hernandez described his mom as “the backbone” of the restaurant.
“You’re getting to eat at my mom’s kitchen when you come here,” he said.
The restaurant also offers aguas frescas made with a roasted corn powder called pinole, and the bar serves drinks with sotol liquor. Both are common in Chihuahua.
In addition to the food, the restaurant also has murals of the beautiful landscapes in Chihuahua and a small market with indigenous jewelry, clothes and other items Hernandez brings back when he visits.
It’s his way of making customers feel like they’re in Chihuahua when they visit Testal.