January marked the grand opening of the first brick-and-mortar iteration of Nena’s Kitchen, located at the former site of The Hang Out on South Bradley Road.
When the food truck’s owners first toured the vacant space, they thought it’d be the perfect spot to open a new Mexican restaurant in town, said co-owner Octavio Lopez, who runs the business with some of his close family members.
“We just pulled the trigger and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go ahead and get it,’ and here we are now,” said Octavio, whose family named their company brand after his mother, Nena.
Fans of the Nena’s Kitchen food truck can expect to find most of the truck’s popular fare at the restaurant, along with a much wider menu of new offerings—all inspired by Nena’s recipes that Octavio and his siblings enjoyed growing up, and continue to enjoy.
“She was always busy in the kitchen,” recalled Octavio, who added that his mother’s enchiladas have long been his personal favorite of her dishes. As far as he knows, Octavio’s been eating them since he “was able to eat solid foods,” he said with a laugh.
“I would eat three plates back-to-back,” said Octavio, who loves sharing his mother’s unique take on enchiladas with patrons of Nena’s Kitchen. It’s been the company’s most popular dish since the Lopez family started the food truck in 2021.
“It’s a bit different than your normal enchiladas,” Octavio said, before describing how the family grill-fries their enchiladas and listing off several toppings.
An order of Nena’s enchiladas comes with five Michoacán red enchiladas, topped with lettuce, sour cream, queso, and tomatoes, along with ample sides of grilled chicken and crispy potatoes.
“Ever since we started doing events, the enchiladas would just capture everybody’s scent, and it would bring them straight to the food truck,” said Octavio, whose family still runs the food truck—often catering for weddings and other events and appearing frequently in front of breweries, tasting rooms, and other venues in Old Orcutt.
Octavio’s sister-in-law, Maria Lopez, vividly remembers the first time that Nena’s Kitchen food truck worked for an event—the 2021 Chalk Festival in Old Town Orcutt.
“We were nervous because we got a big line right away,” Maria said. “But it was great. People really liked it, and that motivated us to keep going.”
Octavio said he and his family members felt similar feelings of nervousness and excitement just before opening the restaurant in January. Over the past five months, the restaurant has periodically expanded its ever growing menu, which includes burritos, tacos, nachos, tostadas, flautas, quesadillas, and much more.
One of Octavio’s personal favorite dishes at Nena’s Kitchen is the pozole verde, a Mexican stew with chicken and several toppings.
“A lot of people don’t know about it, and they’re a little scared to try it,” Octavio said. “But once they try it, they come back for more.”
During the last week of April, the restaurant introduced a new weekly promotion—Wing Wednesday. The new combo was Octavio’s idea and comes with spicy chicken wings and zesty seasoned fries. While almost everything else on the restaurant’s menu is customizable, Octavio said that he’s not letting customers alter this one.
“They’re really spicy, and I’m not going to take any modifications on it. If you want them, you’ve got to get them this way,” he said with a laugh. “People’s noses were dripping after trying them but [they] also said that the flavors were so good.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood devoured both the wings and enchiladas. Send comments to [email protected].