Little Mexico long ago became a Fan favorite spot for jumbo margaritas and fajita nachos, but the sisters behind that business always wanted to open a second restaurant that would offer the kind of authentic, provocative flavors only found in Mexico. With the debut of Lolita’s in Carytown, Karina and Rosio Garcia have finally done it. Since their grand opening two months ago, business has been booming and the two Latina ladies have just gotten started.
Naming the new restaurant after their mother set the stakes high for the Garcia sisters, but there is no other role model they would rather aim to live up to.
“For us, as minority female entrepreneurs, our mother paved the way for us to be in the position of being business owners,” explains Rosio. “We’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 11 years old. I feel really honored to have a mother who immigrated here with nothing and built so many amazing things just by working hard and showing dedication.”
Named after the Catholic holiday in remembrance of the Virgin Mary — “El Viernes de Dolores” (the Friday of Sorrows) — their grandmother went by the common Mexican nickname for Dolores: Lola. When she named her daughter after herself for the same pious reasons, Karina and Rosio’s mom naturally came to be known as Lolita, the “little Lola.” The choice to brand their business with their mother’s name is also an attempt to anchor their offerings in the authentic Mexican dishes and flavors she cooked when they were kids.
“We opened this restaurant in hopes of bridging our Mexican and American cultures without losing the soul of Mexican cuisine -- which is corn,” adds Karina. “We did this in honor of our mom who has always emphasized how important it is to stay true to our roots.”
Corn functions as something of a culinary North Star south of the border. Used in everything from tortillas to cakes and soups, the centrality of corn to Mexican cuisine dates back before the Spanish colonization. To bring such authentic flavors to Richmond, the duo decided they must bring all the corn used at Lolita’s from Mexico as well. Sourcing their corn from a company which emphasizes heirloom varieties and supports smaller rural villages, each bite at Lolita’s nourishes not only the customers but also the communities and culture to which the sisters owe their strong sense of identity. It’s also a sign of their dedication to the flavors.
“If you eat a fresh corn tortilla at Lolita’s, it’s going to be different than you may be used to,” Rosio says. “This is us trying to open up the door to true Mexican culture to people. This is what tortillas really taste like if you go to Mexico.”
The Garcia sisters also imported Lolita’s head chef Alex Castro, who studied in Puebla, Mexico and worked in multiple Michelin star restaurants across Spain before moving recently to Richmond. Lolita’s menu reflects his extensive experience with curing, fermentation, and smoking techniques he’s garnered from his travels. Castro’s knowledge of fine dining across cultures allows him to easily emphasize food’s naturally fresh flavors, blessing their menu with far more vegetarian and vegan options than the typical Mexican restaurant.
One of the dishes Castro is most proud of is the herbal crudo — similar to a ceviche but made with shrimp, leche de tigre, calabaza, tomatillos, lime juice, and garnishes with shaved cucumbers and radishes. For those looking for more familiar fare, Rosio recommends the tacos: “Our pork belly taco is very unique. Alex came up with the mixture of innovative flavors and newer techniques to make it in house. The top is crunchy like a chicharrón and the rest is tender.”
If you love a Mexican style street taco but don’t eat meat, the sisters have their mushroom tempura tacos, inspired by Castro’s time traveling in East Asia. Battered with chili powder and umami, fried in Cerveza de Modelo, and topped with fermented red cabbage, honey apple cider vinegar and housemade mayo, this dish packs a powerful punch of robust flavors and textures. The queso fundido [melted cheese] nopales — a commonly consumed cactus in Mexico — also is not to be missed.
Those who would rather drink their dinner won’t be disappointed by Lolita’s cocktail menu either. The house signature beverage, Lolita my love, features fermented pineapple, star anise, and cinnamon over a base of bourbon and rum which gives it a spiced, spirit-forward profile. If you prefer to sip on something sweeter, try la dolorosa — a concoction of Espolòn tequila, prickly pear, St. Germain, and Belle Isle Moonshine.
From the drink list made with love to the carefully curated decor, it’s clear that Lolita’s is a labor of love.
“During a pandemic is probably the scariest time to be opening up a restaurant,” says Karina. “There were a lot of moments of uncertainty, but here we are today showing off our culture. These are the roots we want to keep alive for the next generation so we can teach our customers that this is the way.”