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He Sold Ceviche Out His Car, Now He Has Two Family-Run Restaurants in Hawthorne

2:22 PM PST on March 1, 2021

Welcome to Local Gems, our new monthly restaurant column presented by White Claw, the official hard seltzer of L.A. TACO. Each month we’ll honor neighborhood institutions that make delicious food and have stood the test of time all over Los Angeles. Read, order, share, and don’t be afraid to rep your community’s local gem in the comments.

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n the corner of Hawthorne and 116th lies the intersection of authentic mariscos de Sinaloa and the Mexican American Dream. Mariscos El Chuy, a restaurant with a history as rich as the variety on its menu, is the culmination of one family’s grit, perseverance, and shared aspiration of bringing great food to their community.

Jesus ‘Chuy’ Lopez was feeding Hawthorne’s proud residents long before he owned two restaurants in the city. He started in his backyard in the 1990s, making food for his friends and family. Chuy then took the business to the back of his car, selling his homemade ceviche at local bars.

With his family’s help and his newly dedicated clientele’s motivations, Chuy decided to go all-in when he opened the first Mariscos El Chuy on South Inglewood avenue in 2000. “My dad has worked every day for like twenty-something years,” said Chuy’s eldest daughter, Mindy, who manages the business with her three siblings.

The Lopez Family behind Mariscos El Chuy. Photo by Daniel Suarez for L.A. Taco.

“I started helping my dad at the house when I was like ten years old,” she said, “We have customers that tell me, ‘You’re that little girl? You were so mean!’ because I would slam the chips. But that’s because I didn’t want to do it; I wanted to play!”

To the Lopez family, Mariscos El Chuy isn’t just their livelihood. It’s the product of decades of hard work and sacrifice. Chuy left behind his hometown of Gato de Lara, Sinaloa, to raise his family in the United States, and after starting his business, he missed out on some of his children’s big moments.

“To me, there’s no ‘throwing in the towel,’ because he never did. He believed in this business.”

“He left his roots to give us a better life,” Mindy said, recalling some of the hard times that fell on her father and the business. “When the 2008 recession hit, he had to let go of all his employees, and it was just us and my mom.” Despite her family’s struggles, Mindy said her father’s will to keep working was embedded in her. “To me, there’s no ‘throwing in the towel,’ because he never did. He believed in this business.”

Taco de Marlin at Mariscos El Chuy. Photo by Daniel Suarez.

Chuy's decades-long pursuit of the Mexican American dream speaks to the mindset of millions of Latinos who immigrate to the U.S. looking for sanctuary and opportunity. 

Lucky for the Lopez’s, their dedication was not in vain.

About 15 years after opening their first restaurant, the Lopez family opened Mariscos El Chuy #2 on Hawthorne Boulevard. It currently fulfills all takeout and delivery orders since #1 shut down last year for renovations. You can find Chuy and at least a handful of the Lopez clan members working in the kitchen or taking orders on the phone. 

A ceviche de camarón and a White Claw at Mariscos El Chuy. Photo by Daniel Suarez for L.A. Taco.

Mariscos El Chuy is open every day except Tuesday for takeout and delivery, and locals don’t have to worry about downloading rideshare apps since they hire their own drivers.

Authentic isn’t just a word to Chuy, which is why Mindy regularly makes the trip to Sinaloa to stock up on fresh smoked marlin for their meaty tacos de marlin. They also serve familiar staples such as aguachiles, ceviche, mojarra frita and… sushi?

Camarones a La Pimienta. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.

Mariscos El Chuy offers a variety of handmade sushi and sashimi made by the Lopez boys. You can try the deep-fried “Medusa Roll” with spicy crab and cream cheese, the La Hija de Chuy roll made with shrimp and aguachile, or the Dodger roll with spicy crab, mango, and eel sauce.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the rules to limit the spread, forced restaurateurs to figure out how to operate in times without large gatherings and indoor dining. Unfortunately for Mariscos El Chuy #2, outdoor dining at their location isn’t an option. While they can’t host Canelo fights or Dodgers games, they still sell mariscos and sushi combo platters to cater to your home viewing. Fill up on micheladas and tacos de marlin on Chuy’s Taco Thursdays.

Mariscos El Chuy sushi station. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.

Angelinos know that Hawthorne is one of several cities along the 105 freeway. Running from Norwalk to El Segundo, the interstate slices through some of California’s most diverse neighborhoods, and that was no accident. 

Hundreds of Latino- owned businesses like Mariscos El Chuy are passed by commuters every day, small businesses that are crucial to the communities they serve. In unprecedented hard times, it’s important that they get the support and recognition they deserve.

So if you find yourself taking the 105, the Metro Green Line, or Imperial Highway, find Mariscos El Chuy #2 located right by the Hawthorne exit. Grab a plate of ceviche and say hello to Chuy and Guadalupe or chat with Osvaldo, Jesus Jr., and Jasslyn Lopez.

After all, life is better with mariscos. 

11602 Hawthorne Blvd Hawthorne CA 90250 

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