Mexican American chef aims to challenge so-called ‘authentic Mexican food’

One Mexican American chef aims to change the way you think about authentic Mexican cuisine. 

Diana Davila, known to be a ‘Mexican-Marvel,’ is the owner of the Logan Square restaurant Mi Tocaya. 

The mission: to elevate Chicago’s Mexican dining experience by offering flavors like “Peanut butter y lengua” and “mussels pozoleros negros,” that are said to bring her childhood nostalgia.

Davila, who has been studying Mexican cuisine for more than fifteen years, said these dishes are not only a part of her childhood, but are also a representation of Mexico’s different regions. 

“People seem to think that if you’re at a Mexican restaurant, you always have to serve tacos,” she said. “I serve tacos, but that’s just one part of my menu.”

She said that unlike other restaurants in the city, she researched what Mexicans grew up eating, their origins, and their understanding of history on the table. 

“Just because my mother used to make Sopa de Lentejas, how do I know that other people’s houses are making this?” she said.

She mentioned that non-Mexicans are not the only ones who have misconceptions of what Mexican food is. 

“A lot of people say that they love Mexican food, but they really don’t know anything about it,” she said. “That’s not just people who are not Mexican. [It’s also] Mexican themselves.”

Davila contributes it to restaurant owners not doing the research before opening their doors. 

“Yes they’re ‘mom and pop,’ but they’re opening the business to be entrepreneurs,” she said. “Making food that is Americanized (…) it’s just catering as a business.”

She acknowledges that some people may see her modern dishes and question the authenticity of it. 

To that she asks “One, have you been here? Have you tried the food? Two, do you know about Mexican food? Just because you’re Mexican, like I kind of established before, does not mean you know Mexican food.”

She said that you can talk about what you grew up eating, but that does not make you an expert on the cuisine itself.

Davila takes a more personal relationship with her restaurant. Naming it ‘Mi Tocaya’, a term of endearment that represents how personal and important it is to her.

“I don’t own her, she’s her own person, and she is a place where I can combine all my goals and aspirations,” she said. “Where I get to be the professional cook, be a chef, be a mother, be a boss, be an owner. Mi Tocaya is my Sasha fierce.”

She said that she views herself as an artist and her medium of choice is food.

“As an artist, I think that when you have a desire and a passion to express yourself through the craft that you choose, you put yourself out there: your confidence, your vulnerability,” she said. “I think it’s a powerful thing.”

Davila has plans to expand her vision of Mi Tocaya in Logan Square, near the original restaurant. She said that she is early in her plans, but knows that it will not be a full-service restaurant.

What she does know is that “it would be adding value to Mi Tocaya and to the Latino neighborhood,” she said.

Diana Davila will be one of 13 chefs featured at the Pilsen Gourmet 2020 on February 29th. The festival will showcase celebrated Latinx chefs and their food. Davila is doing a demo but isn’t set on the menu items she will be featuring. 

“I’m preparing by thinking about what I’m going to make to showcase what it is that we do here,” she said. “Showcase our culture, our heritage, to honor it. Overall just really excited to be with the Latino community. It’s a celebration of our culture, our heritage, what everybody’s doing. Being a support system for each other in the network.”