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Omaha Magazine

La Mesa Celebrates 30th Anniversary in Style

Dec 21, 2023 10:53AM ● By Julius Fredrick
la mesa 30th anniversary

Photo Provided by La Mesa.

La Mesa 30th Anniversary [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
"At the beginning, there’s no way that I could imagine something like this,” said La Mesa founder and owner Francisco Oñate at the conclusion of the restaurant’s farm to table dinner and tequila tasting event. “Not how many restaurants [we have], but how things are working…this nice event, the chefs that want to be part of this, the loyal customers that come to these events. There are some customers that come to every tequila dinner we do.”

Two event dinners held in November at La Mesa’s flagship location in Bellevue, celebrity chefs Esdras Ochoa and Chito Arreola conceptualized, prepared, and served a six-course meal that included Midwestern spins on traditional Mexican fare. 

The farm in question? Chef Arreola’s father’s, in Akron, Iowa. 

The occasion? La Mesa’s 30th Anniversary celebration.

“We collaborated, we got together, and we started talking about what can we do? What could dad grow? What does he have in stock?” Arreola recalled, noting that the majority of the dinner’s ingredients were sourced directly from his father’s Akron farm. “He’s been saving all the stuff so that we can just talk about the menu. I was like, ‘Hey, can you grow this, can you grow that?’ With greenhouses, it’s a little easier to grow veggies. So yeah, that’s how we came up with the menu.”

With 20 years of culinary skills and leadership, Executive Chef Arreola has overseen high-end service at the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, and most recently, the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. His friend and collaborator, Chef Ochoa, has four restaurants under his belt around the globe and appeared on Netflix’s The Final Table.

“I was pleasantly very, very surprised in a good way,” Ochoa said. “When I went to  x Chito's family for the first time, they treated me like they’re my aunts and uncles; they treated me like family. And when you go to a place like that, then you can’t help but enjoy yourself and really give the best of yourself, and that’s really what happened here…so really happy to be here and just loving it, really.”

Menu highlights included a “Ceviche de Chayote” appetizer (citrus-picked chayote, avocado mousse, tomatillo coulis, shaved epazote), “Barbacoa Hidalguense” main course (pit-braised lamb barbacoa in roasted blue agave planks, chickpea consommé served with frijoles peurcos), and the “Xocolatl Azteca” dessert (edible cacao pod, sweet corn mousse, caramel popcorn, vanilla bean ice cream, amaranth seeds). Naturally, these inspired plates were paired with fine tequila and margaritas. 

Co-owner and General Manager Jose “Chuy” Salazar was both delighted and impressed with the culinary duos’ creativity and delivery and humbled by the event’s remarkable turnout. 

“Coming from Jalisco, Mexico, to here in Omaha, Nebraska, when I first got here, I always got the sense that this is a family, community town, and I always said that, ‘You know? I wouldn’t mind putting roots and growing a family here,” Salazar said, now 25 years later. “So, every single time that somebody comes in [to La Mesa], we have an opportunity to showcase our amazing people, the gratitude [for the community], and hospitality that comes along with that.”

From unassuming beginnings, La Mesa has gone onto open six area locations throughout the Omaha metro, enjoying 30 years of satisfied customers. In fact, the La Mesa Mexican Restaurant family has been voted Omaha’s #1 Mexican Restaurant for its 19th year in a row. 

Oñate remains stunned and grateful for the outpouring of support.

“It’s been 30 years, and time flies…but it’s been a great source of pride for me,” Oñate said. “Sometimes, at the beginning, it was tough…but there is nothing to regret. I learned a lot, I enjoyed it. Sometimes, I got really tired physically, but never mentally…and without the support of our customers, these 30 years wouldn’t be possible. 

“If there’s anything I’d like to say, is thank you everybody—thank you, Omaha and the Omaha area, for these 30 years. Because without them, where would we be?” 

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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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