Lucia’s Cocina Mexicana Athens: For The Love Of Food And Family

The Martinez family has become well known in the Tennessee Valley as a classic American success story, having started out in Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico. They are the owners of the highly successful Casa Blanca Mexican restaurant chain. They have restaurants on Hwy 72 in Athens in the Lindsay Center, and other locations have included Pulaski, Madison, Browns Ferry, Bailey Cove, University Drive and Rogersville. They have purchased land in Decatur to build a new restaurant, which hopefully will be their next project. In addition, once Lucia’s Athens is up and humming, they are going to temporarily close the Athens Hwy 72 Casa Blanca for extensive remodeling.

In the downtown Athens area, the Casa Blanca outlet which was located on the north side of the Square was one of my favorite places to eat, day or night, especially when the weather was good enough to eat outside on the patio. That particular Casa Blanca opened in the spring of 2013, was nearly always busy. Then disaster struck, something that can happen all too often in a historical building. A pipe burst in the kitchen, causing extensive damage, and the floor began to sink. The kitchen floor nearly collapsed, and Casa Blanca was closed for almost 13 months.

Undaunted, the family joined together as they always do to get everything repaired, and found that the “messing turned into a blessing,” as they came up with a new name and a new concept for a restaurant. They decided to call it Lucia’s Cocina Mexicana, in honor of their mother, Maria Lucia Aguilar Lopez. She is a cancer survivor, and thankfully is still with us. There is a picture of the beautiful Lucia that you can’t miss as you enter the door and wait to be seated.

Here is what her sons Gabriel, Hector and Elias have to say about her:

“Our Mom, Maria Lucia Aguilar Lopez, has always been the matriarch of the family. Growing up, she always taught us to work hard, believe in our dreams and to take care of each other. Raising 11 kids, our Mom sacrificed a lot, so in return we opened Lucia’s Cocina Mexicana to honor her and to give thanks for all her sacrifices. And dedicated to all those who’ve lost the fight to cancer and to those who won’t quit the fight.”

As I sat with eldest brother Gabriel listening to his tales of this new chapter in their lives, I was so glad that they prevailed, and once again we have a charming place to eat in Athens that was birthed out of love and honor. The “Lucia’s Concept” is basically “less is more.” The décor is elegant and understated, with a warm two color scheme, and on the walls there are several classic black and white glossy photos of famous female Mexican movie stars back from Lucia’s day. The play of light as a result of the gorgeous mirrors throughout makes for an inviting ambience day or night. The menu has been scaled back, and there are now two menus: one that features food one would most often expect in a Mexican restaurant, and a smaller one that is at once painstakingly authentic as well as a bit more sophisticated.

There will be a cóctel de camaron, (shrimp cocktail), carne en su jugo, (steak in its own juices), tacos de carnitas, (tacos with seasoned shredded pork), tostados de ceviches, (made from small pieces of shrimp, marinated in lime juice, with onions, spices and chilis), tacos, and other dishes made with chorizo, (Spanish sausage), and a full bar. Hector and Elias are in charge of the bar, which will feature homemade sangria, (a chilled red wine with fruit in it, most often citrus wheels), as well as other classics such as margaritas and cheladas. Gabriel told me there will be daily drink specials, as well as daily lunch and dinner specials that will be posted either on a chalkboard outside or on a fresh sheet at the table.

Lunch is served from 11am to 3pm daily, and has very reasonably priced offerings such as quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, nachos topped with chicken or steak, chicken dishes seasoned with orange juice and spices, burritos, and several salad choices. There is a kids’ menu for children 11 and under that has American as well as Mexican fare, and the price includes a soft drink, tea or milk.

The desserts are big enough to share and include: flan, (a rich egg custard topped with caramel), sopapillas, (a deep fried puffy taco served hot, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon), chocolate chimichangas, (a deep fried tortilla stuffed with chocolate), and deep fried ice cream.

Come and taste delicious, authentic food served in an inviting atmosphere at Lucia’s Cocina Mexicana, a restaurant reborn, dedicated to a loving mother, Lucia preciosa.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner