Jose Pepe Rodriguez, who founded the acclaimed Boyle Heights Mexican restaurant in 1985, died Monday at age 77. The news comes from the office of State Senator Gilbert Cedillo, which issued a press release today. Rodriguez and his wife, Aurora, opened the first La Serenata de Garibaldi in the 1800 block of First Street in Boyle Heights near Mariachi Plaza. Later, the couple added outlets on the Westside and Santa Monica. There was no information about the cause of death.
“I ate at their home frequently, which was a gathering place for community leaders and neighbors,” said Cedillo in a statement. “He will be truly missed.”
The restaurant had often been ranked by food critics as serving some of the best Mexican food in Los Angeles, with Rodriguez hailed as the “Maestro de Salsas.” While La Serenta’s ranking had slipped in recent years, the restaurant and Rodriguez remain well regarded. In September, Los Angeles Times restaurant reviewer S. Irene Virbila recalled her first visit.
“After I flew in to interview for a job at The Times in the mid-’90s, I was taken to lunch at La Serenata to be introduced to one of L.A.’s best Mexican restaurants. I remember the warm, freshly made tortillas and soft tacos piled with chunks of fresh mahi mahi drizzled with gently smoldering salsa. I enjoyed the happy buzz of talk and laughter, the easy grace of the waiters and how cool it seemed inside compared with the sun beating down mercilessly outside. We scooped chunky guacamole onto warm chips, feasted on chicken enchiladas and shrimp in cilantro sauce. For me, it was love at first bite. And I felt that way for a long time despite the occasional disappointing meal. Now I don’t expect any culinary revelations but enjoy the restaurant more for its tradition and history. After that first encounter, I came to appreciate Rodriguez’s arsenal of more than 30 sauces, some traditional, some his own invention. And when he and his family opened the more casual Serenata in West Los Angeles and later a Serenata in Santa Monica, I reviewed those as well, though neither, for me, ever quite lived up to the original.”
Photo from La Serenata de Garibaldi