The Biz Beat: Authenticity is the signature dish at San Jose’s Luna
Luna Mexican Kitchen co-owner Jo Lerma-Lopez at the San Jose location. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Generations of just-seated children at Mexican restaurants have gotten the same stern warning from their parents: “Don’t fill up on chips! You’ll spoil your dinner.” But at Luna Mexican Kitchen in San Jose, even adults will have a hard time not wolfing down the thick, crisp house-made tortilla chips matched with vibrant red salsa and green cilantro sauce.

    “There is no fast way to make our chips,” said Jo Lerma-Lopez, who, along with her husband John Lopez, owns Luna. “We use the ancient process of nixtamalization, taking non-GMO corn and soaking overnight in an alkaline solution, which releases all the nutrients, then grinding it with stone. We hand press them and then fry them in rice bran oil, a very clean oil. So those chips are pure.”

    That same cornmeal flour is used to make exquisite handmade tortillas served with some dishes and used in menu items like Enchiladas Suizas. The tortillas, wrapped around shredded free-range chicken, become melt-in-your-mouth tender after being simmered in the tart green tomatillo salsa, with the pure flavor of the corn elevating a fairly simple dish.

    The same amount of care that goes into the making of the masa for the chips and tortillas is apparent in every other aspect of Luna’s farm-to-table menu. You won’t find a can or a microwave in the kitchen—the sauces, salsas and stocks are made fresh daily. Luna uses only Niman Ranch meats, Mary’s Free Range Chickens, sustainable seafood and local produce, cooking with no additives or preservatives.

    Lerma-Lopez’s interest in nutrition began in culinary school as a means of trying to improve her father’s health.

    “My father was on a lot of medications at the time,” she said. “I started to dive into food and how it could be used as medicine to heal him. I was also a mother of three at the time and it was important to me to provide them with a balanced lifestyle. Once you make the connection that food can hurt you or heal you, you just can’t go back from that.”

    Luna’s focus on nutritious meals is a far cry from the record company she previously ran with her husband. But like her foray into music, Lerma-Lopez wants the restaurant to connect with people and provide a great experience.

    “It’s all about making memories,” she told San José Spotlight. ”We want to create something that people don’t really realize that they want. But when they get it, it’s just a beautiful feeling. What I love about our restaurants is people come here and they feel something, and then we become the keepers of their memories.”

    Enchiladas Suizas at Luna Mexican Kitchen. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Authentic Mexican food

    When the restaurant opened in 2017, Lerma-Lopez said that there was an immediate line of people that has not relented over the years.

    Lerma-Lopez said business was so successful that within four months, she and her husband signed a lease for another location in Campbell. With both restaurants, they hope to combat misconceptions about Mexican food.

    “If you travel through Mexico, there are such beautiful ingredients, especially in the Yucatan or Oaxaca,” she said. “And there are still areas where there’s only very traditional cooking, all healing foods, with all the spices and the herbs. That’s why we have to do everything we do, like making everything from scratch. We want to bring the very best to your table.”

    The tradition and care can be seen in breakfast dishes like Steak with Huevos, made with cage-free eggs, fresh-made refried pinto beans and grilled nopales—cactus—or dinner fare such as the Mole Poblano Enchiladas, filled with shredded chicken and a house-made mole built from dried chilis, chocolate, cinnamon, nuts and aromatic seasonings.

    Steak with Huevos. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    The portions are also bountiful, and you should consider bringing hungry friends along if you plan to order the Parrilladas Mixed Grill, which can be prepared in two to eight portions. A mountain of food, it includes a cheese chile relleno, sweet potatoes, carnitas and ribs, chicken, bacon-wrapped shrimp, garlic butter shrimp and chicken jalapeño sausage topped with wild lobster tail.

    Parrilladas Mixed Grill. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    If you want to taste one of Lerma-Lopez’s own memories, there’s the dish her grandmother used to make for her father: Tacos Dorados de Papa, taquitos made with pureed potatoes and topped with tomatillo salsa.

    “I wanted to bring things like that back,” she said. “Sourcing the best ingredients and creating a menu is a lot like writing a song: it all has to make sense. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. We are just trying to honor and stay true to what our ancestors gave us.”

    Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

    Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected]

    Luna Mexican Kitchen

    Luna San Jose:

    1495 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126

    (408) 320-2654

    Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Luna Campbell:

    1875 S. Bascom Ave. Suite #570, Campbell, CA 95008

    (408) 963-6681

    Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.





    Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.