By Cheryl Mandell
Photos by Autumn Gates
At Malinche Mexican Cuisine, brothers Jorge and Antonio Lopez invite you to learn the history of their Mexican hometown, Tlaxcala, through a culinary journey. The Lopez family, including Jorge’s wife Mara, serves up delicious, authentic Mexican food that honors their Aztec and Mayan culture from central and southern Mexico.
In 2003, at the age of 21, Jorge Salazar Lopez came to the United States, working in fast food and eventually other restaurants, while his passion for food began simmering. He dreamed of a restaurant with food from his homeland that truly represented Mexico. In 2012, Jorge met Mara, who inspired him to pursue his dreams.
Antonio, Jorge and Mara opened a successful Mexican restaurant, Dos Reyes (Two Kings) in St. Louis in 2017. Five years later, they sold it and moved to Southwest Florida, where they opened Malinche in June 2022. Jorge cooks while Antonio handles the front end of the restaurant.
The restaurant pays homage to La Malinche, a volcano near Tlaxcala named after an indigenous Nahua woman from the early 1500s who was enslaved by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Malinche served as interpreter and advisor to Cortes, later giving birth to his first son, Martin, who was one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry).
When speaking of Tlaxcala, Jorge looks pensive. He and his family hold a lot of memories steeped in comfort food made right on their farm in the mountains. Many of the dishes on the menu are originally from Tlaxcala, with ingredients purchased directly from Mexico for true authenticity. The Molcajete Azteca, one of “abuela’s most popular dishes” served on volcanic rock, is one example of how the Lopez family infuses history with cuisine.
“We spend the money on authentic ingredients so people can enjoy,” said Jorge. “It’s a place where you come to experience something unique.”
The restaurant contains artifacts and decor honoring the history of Mexico. A generous crowd can be found on any given evening, many with pitchers of margaritas and exotic plates of Pipian Con Pollo and Cochinita Pibil, which Antonio said is one of their most popular dishes. The plate features pulled pork shoulder marinated in achiote paste (ground annatto seeds widely used in traditional dishes from Central and South America) and citrus juice, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed, served with beans, Aztec pickled onions and homemade tortillas.
Less adventurous guests can choose from more familiar menu items, including various Tex-Mex options such as enchiladas or chimichangas. The list of tacos is extensive. What sets Malinche apart are their Clasicos de la Casa (House Classics), such as Tlacoyo Pre-Hispanico, and Especiales (Specials) like Entomatadas, a main dish from Central Mexico.
Not to be overshadowed by the delicious cuisine are the drinks at Malinche – margaritas by the glass or pitcher and unique house specials such as Sangre Azteca, with fresh pineapple juice, house tequila and grenadine, and Tlaxcalteca de Mi Vida, made from Oaxaca Mezcal, orange squeeze, fresh lime juice, grenadine and Tajin. Tajin is a Mexican seasoning made of dried and ground red chilies, sea salt and dehydrated lime juice. It combines the tastes of salty, sweet, sour and heat that punches up raw fruit and vegetables. There is also an ample beer and wine list consisting of both domestic and Mexican options.
Malinche is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with $12 weekday lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy hour occurs Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m., when guests can enjoy $3 bottled beer, $6 cocktails and $7 appetizers.
Jorge Salazar Lopez and his family have spent years working to make their culinary dreams come true, but now Lopez has a new dream – to be the number one authentic Mexican restaurant in all of Southwest Florida. He may be well on his way.
Street Corn Dip — Sweet roasted corn in a creamy sauce with a hint of lime and traditional Mexican spices, queso fresco and cilantro, served with fresh chips. This simple but outstanding starter is a must-have!
Chipotle Tinga Tacos – These traditional tacos from Tlaxcala, Mexico, are packed with shredded chicken in a spicy chipotle sauce with tomatoes, onions and “gramma’s seasonings,” adorned with fresh avocado slices drizzled with crema and queso fresco.
Grilled Chile Relleno — This house favorite did not disappoint. A large poblano pepper (which originates from Puebla, Mexico) is sliced in half, grilled and stuffed with roasted sweet corn, onions, tomatoes, crema, rice and melted pepper jack cheese, drizzled with salsa avocado. It’s served with grilled vegetables and a choice of steak, chicken or pork (at extra cost).
Maya Tamal — This dish hails from Oaxaca, Mexico, and is made with corn masa (dough), salsa roja with pork or chicken and green salsa, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It’s served with Mexican rice, salsa and frijoles de la olla (“beans from the pot”). A delicious, authentic selection.
Molcajete Azteca — Another hugely popular dish, according to Antonio, this is a sight to behold. Served in traditional molcajete volcanic rock, honoring the volcano Malinche, this dish is a combination of flavors and a feast for the senses! Served with Mexican rice, homemade frijoles de la olla, guacamole, pico de gallo, fresh tortillas, queso fresco, grilled onions, grilled nopal (cactus), toreado grilled jalapeno, Mexican chorizo and salsa. A choice of marinated chicken, steak or blackened shrimp rounds out this exquisite, unique dish.
Fried Ice Cream — Quite possibly the most interesting and delectable version of fried vanilla ice cream, complete with chocolate drizzle and a cherry on top.
3250 Bonita Beach Rd. SW, suite 202
Bonita Springs, FL 34134