A Mexican restaurant without rice? Welcome to Mesoamerican cuisine in Boyle Heights

Deysi Serrano of Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights

Deysi Serrano of Milpa Grille | Photo courtesy USC Photo/Ron Mackovich

Boyle Heights — Stop by Milpa Grille on Cesar Chavez Avenue and you will find some staples of Mexican food — like tamales and sopas — as well as new takes on old favorites, like a taco made with a cactus tortilla. But if you are looking for a side of rice or a burrito, better look someplace else.

That’s because Milpa Grille is devoted to a pre-Columbian version of Mexican food before rice was introduced by the Spaniards from Asia.

“Our concept goes back to Mesoamerican times, when corn, squash and beans were staple foods,” co-owner Deysi Serrano told USC News. “Hernán Cortés brought rice and wheat to Mesoamerica. We go back much farther than that, thousands of years, when milpa sustained the people of Mesoamerica.”

Serrano —  who took a USC small business program for women, minorities and veterans — and her partners opened Milpa Grille on a stretch of Cesar Chavez where a Jack-in-the-Box and more traditional Mexican-American restaurants compete for customers.

The restaurant’s menu features three ingredients often referred to as the “three sisters”: corn, squash and beans.   The goal is to create tasty and nutritious dishes.

Menu items feature beans, squash and corn

Photo courtesy USC Photo/Ron Mackovich

“We’re part of a new pathway, and we want to grow this beyond Boyle Heights, into East and South L.A., to provide more healthful food options,” Serrano told USC News. I’d like to see a health trend in our neighborhoods, more restaurants that move away from that stereotype that Mexican food isn’t healthful.”

Milpa Grille is at 2633 Cesar Chavez Ave. near Mott Street.


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  1. While I’ve enjoyed the meals I’ve had at Milpa Grille and, indeed they have eschewed wheat and rice from the menu, it can’ t really be said their menu is truly indigenous or pre-Columbian as there are many items they do serve that reflect the Columbian Exchange and the resulting consequence which has been the fusion and ever increasing hybridization of global cuisine since the 1500’s.

  2. What is the name or link for the USC small business program mentioned in the story?

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