Chef Dionicio Jimenez opens first solo restaurant, Cantina La Martina
A nearly 25-year journey from Mexico to the United States has led the chef to realize his long-time dream.
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Since he was a child in San Mateo Ozolco Calpan in Puebla, México, Dionicio Jimenez has always loved to cook.
He’d often spend time with his mother and other family members, making food, experimenting and familiarizing himself with traditional Mexican cuisine.
A career in the food and culinary industry seemed inevitable for Jimenez, even if at times, he’d often deny it with desires to pursue something else.
“But I always ended up back to [working at] restaurants,” he told AL DÍA.
Jimenez began working in restaurants in Mexico at 14. Starting at the bottom, he began by washing dishes and gradually worked his way up the ladder as a line cook, prep cook, and chef.
In 1998, he began a new journey. Upon emigrating to the United States and arriving in Philadelphia, Jimenez worked hard to become a U.S. citizen and continued to improve his culinary skills.
It was an endeavor he found to be very tough early on.
“When I came here, I think the city had few immigrants coming from Latin America or were Spanish speaking,” said Jimenez. “It was hard to find somebody who speaks Spanish on the streets or anywhere.”
During his earlier years in the city, Jimenez was often one of two or fewer people working at the restaurant who spoke Spanish.
Throughout his journey, Jimenez worked at some of the top restaurants in the city, including Italian restaurant Vetri Cucina and Mexican restaurant Xochitl.
More recently, he was the executive chef at the popular Mexican restaurant El Rey, before leaving earlier this month.
In each restaurant, Jimenez continued improving his craft. He did so while bringing his Mexican heritage to Philly, fusing new flavors and cuisines, keeping his family traditions alive, and sharing Mexican culture to the community.
On Tuesday, Feb. 22, Chef Jimenez put it all together and saw its culmination.
In a culinary journey that has been more than 20 years in the making, he officially opened the doors to his first restaurant, Cantina La Martina.
As he thinks about all the work he put in to get to this point, Jimenez revealed he has some mixed feelings.
“I’m happy and proud of myself and my family and friends who helped me,” he said, “but also scared because it’s my first solo restaurant.”
Cantina La Martina is a cuisine-style restaurant with a menu filled with authentic home-made Mexican food and beverages for brunch, lunch and dinner, that aims to reveal the diversity of flavor that exists throughout Mexico.
Jimenez said that visitors and customers can expect Mexican dishes and flavors from both sides of Mexico.
“You have the traditional food from Mexico: tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, nachos. But you also have nice, fine dining and good quality food,” he said.
Despite the fears, the Chef is eager to see where this new journey as an entrepreneur will lead him.
Cantina La Martina is located at 2800 D Street, and is open seven days a week. To check out the restaurant’s menu, visit here.