Nothing about the Murphy family’s new La Mexicana Cantina & Grill is ordinary

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(L-R) Dan and Abril Murphy are the owners of La Mexicana Cantina & Grill. It’s the place where Abril’s heritage comes alive and the fun and frivolity of Dan’s Irish roots elevates the vibe. Helping to run the Chesterland restaurant are cousins Veronica and Roberto. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Mary Malik

Abril and Dan Murphy met in Cancun 10 years ago. They fell in love, got married and Abril moved to Akron with her new husband. Working as a kindergarten teacher and interpreter, Abril was loving her new life but missing the foods of her native Monterrey. So, she stopped searching for the familiar flavors of home and opened her own restaurant, La Mexicana Cantina & Grill, in Tallmadge. That was seven years ago. In January, Abril opened a second La Mexicana in Chesterland.

“This entire journey has been the culmination of a dream and a true labor of love for me and my entire family,” says Abril. “This is such a family-oriented place and I knew that if we opened another one, it had to stay in the family. So, my cousin, Roberto, and his wife, Veronica, moved here from Mexico with their four children to run the Chesterland restaurant.”

Food has always been a huge part of Abril’s life. Her grandfather owned restaurants and had a catering business where he served homemade, fresh family recipes. Abril is continuing that tradition.

“I knew when I met some of the people here in Chesterland that the area matched perfectly with our family philosophy,” says Abril. “We have regular customers who have become like family to us. It’s a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere.”

Abril knows what it’s like to be new in town. Her goal with La Mexicana Cantina & Grill was to create a place to come alone, with family, or with a group of friends and always feel comfortable. Customers sit at the bar for a drink, some conversation, watch a game or spend time with family and friends relaxing over a delicious, authentic meal.

And speaking of the food, Abril serves many of her mother and grandfather’s recipes, which are inspired by the flavors of her home in Northern Mexico.

“The food is different there,” says Abril. “Meats are prepared with dry rubs and cooked in their own juices. There’s more steak and potatoes as a base for many of the recipes. All ingredients are fresh and every dish is made from scratch. My parents have also moved to the area and my mom, Mama Lili, checks on the kitchen crew to make sure they are preparing her recipes correctly. They shake just a little when Mama Lili comes around. These are her family recipes and she wants everything done right. Like I said, it’s all about family here.”

Abril’s husband, Dan Murphy, you may have guessed, is Irish. Abril says many refer to the family as the “the Mexican Murphys.”

“When I moved here I loved it but I missed the feeling of connection you only get from being home,” says Abril. “The restaurants have done that for me. They have become a gathering place for our own family and friends and now for others as well.”

And keeping things in the family with Veronica and Roberto at the Chesterland location was very important for Abril.

“We have that same passion for the food and are so grateful for our customers,” says Veronica. “Geauga County is our new home. We are thrilled to be here and helping Abril to introduce the flavors of Monterrey to the area.”

Abril travels back to Mexico twice each year to cook with chef friends she left behind and learn new recipes to bring back to La Mexicana. These trips result in the addition of eight new dishes to the menu twice a year.

“When I go back, I get inspired,” says Abril. “Chefs in Mexico are always introducing new flavors into their dishes. So, we do spring/summer and fall/winter menus each with eight inspired new items. We have our regular menu available each day, but there’s always something different to try with seasonal menus.”

The Monterrey Baked Potato is the number one dish on the menu. Abril says potatoes are very popular in Monterrey and there are potato stands throughout the city. La Mexicana serves them bowl style, with your choice of steak, chicken, pork, chorizo or shrimp and you add on your toppings from there.

“Since all of our food is fresh and made to order, we have the freedom to make a dish whatever you want it to be,” says Abril. “We’ll make you a platter, a bowl, or whatever you want. We can even serve our homemade guacamole in a cheese shell for the low carb diners. It’s one big happy, hungry family around here.”

La Mexicana Cantina & Grill has daily specials and Latin Night is once a month with live music.

La Mexicana Cantina & Grill is located at 8053 Mayfield Rd. in Chesterland. For more information call 440-729-9121, check the website for menus and specials or check them out on Facebook.

Categories: Eastside Food & Dining