Place at the Nayarit, A —How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community By Natalia Molina, 294 pgs.

Jul 20, 2022

If you’ve been to a show at the Echo, the music venue in Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, you may have noticed the cursively lettered sign “Nayarit” on the front of the building. The Nayarit was the Mexican restaurant in that space that Natalia Barraza ran from 1951 to 1976. Her granddaughter, University of Southern California professor Natalia Molina, has written a history of the Nayarit that’s really a history of Echo Park that’s really a history of Los Angeles.

The restaurant was named for Doña Barraza’s home state of Nayarit, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. She sponsored a lot of Nayaritians, employing them at her restaurant, encouraging them to live their lives as what Molina calls “placemakers,” people who “[assert] their place in a nation that often seems intent on pushing them to the margins.” Remarkably, Barraza even encouraged her employees “to step out of their usual routines at the Nayarit and explore different parts of Los Angeles, giving them time off work at least once a month for that express purpose.”

From the vantage point of the Nayarit, Molina is able to encapsulate Los Angeles’s history, from the Sleepy Lagoon trial to today’s housing costs, exploring race, ethnicity, economics, and gay life. She even touches upon Hollywood and show business: luminaries regularly took nights off from Beverly Hills and West Hollywood restaurants to dine in this East Hollywood restaurant, something no Hollywood history I’ve read has mentioned.

Molina writes well—I was going to add “for a professor,” but that’s not fair. I actually have a new appreciation for academic terms now—“translocal” is another one she uses; I won’t spoil it—suffice it to say, I realize that an academic term can open your mind much in the way a German word can. Though I have to mention: she refers to The Chicano Movement as “The Chicanx Movement,” choosing (or an editor chose) ahistorically not to use the word the movement chose for itself—if I thought that the women who belonged to the movement would welcome that choice, I might not have mentioned it.

Finally, the book’s price. The book does not have the price on it. Perhaps your reaction to this tidbit is the same as it would be to a menu with no prices on it. But that’s why librarians order books that cardholders request.

And while A Place at the Nayarit is 294 pages, 109 of them are notes, bibliography, and index—again, it’s very much not an academic slog. –Jim Woster (University of California Press,