Comedian and former Chandler resident George Lopez calls his grandmother, Benita Gutierrez, his muse.
She was his inspiration and love of his life.
“My grandmother worked hard until she was in her 70s,” Lopez explains during a visit to Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Resort. “It’s unfortunate I can’t go back and persuade her to enjoy life.”
Early this year, Lopez is honoring his grandmother by opening his second Chingon Kitchen, this one at Gila River Hotels & Casinos – Vee Quiva, 15091 S. Komatke Lane, Laveen. Chingon is a colloquial term from Mexico meaning “someone who is very smart.”
The fast-casual restaurant features authentic Mexican cuisine in a vibrant, urban-inspired setting with hand-painted graffiti murals influenced by Mexican history, folklore and culture.
“My grandmother raised me and cooked for me,” he says wistfully. “When people go on, you think they take their recipes. She never wrote anything down. She didn’t want to tell my wife, when I was married. If my wife could make it, why would I go to her house, she thought.
“Chingon Kitchen is me missing my grandmother and wanting to feel her around.”
The menu stays true to Lopez’s Mexican roots, with a menu of dishes made from scratch including tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads loaded with wood-fired carne asada, herb crusted rotisserie chicken and spit-fired al pastor. Guests can expect Mexican favorites like handmade guacamole, churros, street corn, horchata and more. Tequila fans will love the restaurant’s large selection of the agave-based spirits and extensive margarita offerings.
Gila River Hotels & Casinos executives are looking forward to the partnership as well.
“We are proud to partner with a beloved comedian and personality like George Lopez and introduce his exciting dining concept to Arizona,” says Kenneth Manuel, Gila River Hotels & Casinos chief executive officer. “We are constantly working to give our guests the best in dining, entertainment and gaming, and George Lopez’s Chingon Kitchen will fit in perfectly with that goal at Vee Quiva.”
Chingon Kitchen’s first location is at San Manuel Casino in Highland, California.
“When people come to you with ideas, usually they go away as fast as they present the ideas to you,” Lopez says. “When (San Manuel) came to me, they said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about doing a restaurant?’ The question was as funny as someone asking me once – at a concert I was doing outside – ‘Have you ever worked outside?’ I told them, ‘I’m Mexican. Of course I’ve worked outside. I think I was born outside.’”
The idea was a gem. Lopez is a hands-on proprietor who has visited his first restaurant 10 times since it opened.
“I don’t open these restaurants and disappear,” he says. “I’m here whenever people need me. The restaurant is very Chicano. The portions and price points are incredible as well.”
Lopez admits he defies his grandmother’s wishes at Chingon Kitchen.
“I was never allowed to eat more than one churro,” he says. “Having my own restaurant, I can have as many as I like. She would tell me to break it in half and then I can have two.
“Seriously, I don’t think I can go a day without thinking of her. You can’t reinvent Mexican food, but I can give it its own place.”