October 1, 2022

The 40-year history of Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio

This month Lisa’s Restaurant celebrated 40 years of service to the San Antonio community. Lisa’s is a place for family celebrations (you may have already been), casual or sophisticated lunches and dinners with dishes inspired by Mexican interiors and freshly squeezed margaritas. This is a restaurant that is not only a notable star in the constellation of local cuisine, but a staple in the community on the northwest side of town.

To celebrate its anniversary last week, the restaurant donated more than 400 breakfasts to James Madison Elementary and Brentwood STEAM School of Innovation. It’s not an uncommon occurrence, Lisa will often do gestures like this for local schools, churches and even St. Mary’s University.

Before making big donations, Lisa had humble beginnings.

Here’s how Lisa’s Restaurant came to be, becoming the beloved institution it is today.

History: From Chanel n°5 to Table n°5

If you’ve never feasted on Lisa’s tacos al pastor, tortilla soup, enchiladas, or chicken breast chipotle (or even have any), you might be wondering who Lisa is. Is she a real person? A culinary symbol? Is she the current owner? If not, who runs the show?

The woman in question is Lisa Wong, a now locally famous restaurateur known for her favorite haunts like Rosario’s in Southtown and Acenar on the River Walk. However, before all that, she was just an 18-year-old girl and a recent graduate of Jefferson High School who used her college money to open her first restaurant as a teenager. The year was 1982.

Lisa’s original Mexican restaurant was a small joint, easy to find on Commerce Street. It quickly proved to be a popular neighborhood destination, known for its food and atmosphere.

Several years after opening, Wong hired Alicia Cendejas as a restaurant manager in 1988. At the time, Cendejas had no restaurant experience, but she had a knack for people, coming from the world of sales. luxury retail. For 18 years, she worked as a sales assistant for Chanel, selling high-end handbags, makeup and accessories.

A year after joining the team as a single mother, she bought a share of the restaurant, quickly turning her career around and getting involved in the community.

“This industry, the restaurant industry is a personal thing, you know, and Chanel was a huge company, shares Cendejas. “You have to have more passion to work in the restaurant industry. The operation of the restaurant is something that belongs to you.”

By 2003, Wong had invested in other business ventures and Cendejas bought the restaurant’s entire share

Hailing from Mexico City, Cendejas brought many elements of his hometown cuisine to the menu and continued to favor fresh ingredients.

Shrimp at Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant.

Courtesy of Carla Ruiz

Fajitas at Lisa's Mexican Restaurant.

Fajitas at Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant.

Courtesy of Carla Ruiz

His daughter, Carla Ruiz, began serving there part-time while a student at St. Mary’s University. Soon after, Cendejas’ sister, Rosie Carriell, became a full-time server and eventually moved into a management role. According to Cendejas, she is essentially a keystone of the restaurant team.

“She does an amazing job. Having someone you can trust every day is amazing. Believe it or not, I can’t have this place without her,” Cendejas shares.

In 2007 little Lisa’s restaurant moved to a much larger location on the northwest side on Bandera Road. Private dining rooms began operating, hosting all kinds of celebrations, from Quinceañeras to birthdays and wedding parties.

Like his mother did in years past, Ruiz eventually bought a piece of the family business and became the owner.

“I’m extremely proud to see Lisa turn 40. I saw how my mom made Lisa a fixture in San Antonio, especially with our Westside community,” Ruiz shares, reflecting on the big birthday and success of his mother. “Her passion and love for every customer who walks through her doors is the reason Lisa continues to thrive.”

Though she enjoyed her time with French society, Cendejas doesn’t regret swapping Chanel No. 5 to say hello to Table No. 5 nearly 35 years ago (after all, she still wears the perfume). .

Thanks to Lisa, she found something with a more indescribable price.

“Having communication with my customers is what I really, really, really love. I go to all the tables, I talk to the kids, I talk to people. I love my customers. I love my community basically,” she said.

She never stopped wearing Chanel.

Lisa looks ahead

Located on the same stretch of Bandera for nearly 16 years, Lisa’s isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Forty years after its inception, it’s still a wildly popular restaurant, often found donating tacos to local schools and churches. However, like most restaurants, they’ve experienced a culture shift resulting from the pandemic, felt mostly in higher-priced produce and a shortage of servers.

In 2019, Cendejas, Ruiz and their team were also set to open a second location near UTSA Boulevard and I-10, but the plan was stymied by industry shake-up, and they decided to focus on taking care of the customers they already had. have.

“We now have three generations who go to the restaurant, grandparents, parents and grandchildren. We will continue to not only do the best quality, but also the best service and love our customers,” says Cendejas. “We have to be careful now and be ready to continue doing business with new generations, it’s important.”

Find it: 815 Bandera Rd, San Antonio, TX 78228

Lisa Mexican restaurant staff.

Lisa Mexican restaurant staff.

Courtesy of Carla Ruiz