RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It’s very easy to get a taste of another culture, especially in the eclectic palate of Richmond. International cuisine can be found anywhere you look in virtually any city. Whatever you’d like- Greek food, Indian food, Italian, etc.
But one Mexican restaurant in Richmond aims to share its culture way beyond the dinner plate.
When you step inside La Milpa you realize the term ‘Mexican restaurant’ doesn’t solely apply here.
Owner Martin Gonzalez prides himself on being his authentic self. When we met him, he was hovering near a spit grill, carefully carving off chunks of marinated pork for tacos al pastor.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get this meat ready to serve some tacos,” he said. “This is authentic Mexican… When you go to Mexico City, you can see everywhere on the streets, in the restaurant, whatever you go.”
That authenticity is found in everything he does. Decades ago, Gonzalez came to America with a dream and his mom’s recipes.
Now, he uses authentic ingredients and traditions to provide a taste of home. Sure, he’ll make carnitas — but if you’d like you can eat beef tongue, too. It’s definitely popular.
“When it comes to the end of the weekend, [the beef tongue] is gone,” Gonzalez said with a smile. “This is the knowledge you get from home. And you had to keep it because that’s your identity.”
That Hispanic identity is not only tasted, but seen.
La Milpa has a market, filled with crafts and comida-the same kinds of goods you’ll find in his home country.
“Starts a relationship between you and the community. It’s a matter of teaching or opening your mind about what’s around the world,” he said.
But there’s only so much space inside this market. So he’s expanding his mission outside.
Over the past few years, Gonzalez has slowly started turning a small plot of land in Chesterfield into a farm. During the pandemic, he ramped up efforts and now he grows a variety of Mexican crops and even employs Mexican farmers who are here on visas.
This farm provides roughly 25% of the vegetables used in his restaurant. And there are plans to expand — not only to share the vegetables with customers but to share the customs with the community.
“These are places where I believe we can teach the community how to do farming and to encourage others to start their own farming.”
Why should only Latinos enjoy these traditions? He takes joy in giving others the opportunity to expand their horizons.
“Doing this stuff you really love… that gives you a lot of happiness in your heart,” he said.
But some people have never visited La Milpa and may not want to learn farming so Gonzalez brings the culture to them.
He has a massive, brand new RV that is a classroom on wheels. He takes it to schools, museums and public events.
Inside you’ll find authentic, hand crafted Mexican art. Yes, he sells some, but he’s more interested in sharing them. Wherever he goes with his RV, he teaches the art of his ancestors to visitors.
“We [have] to come into doing things together and to understand each other better,” he explains. “At the same time, it’s going to open your mind about what’s going on around the world. So, it’s important.”
If you ever go to La Milpa, Gonzalez will gladly sell you tacos to take with you — but he’d rather leave you with something far more satisfying and enriching: a deeper understanding of a beautiful culture that’s far away and yet still close to home.
La Milpa is located at 6925 Hull Street Rd, Richmond, VA 23224.