Tacos and terrific vibes

Lopez y Lopez, Man in front of counter
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“We want people to come not only for food but for the experience.”

Skeletons, colourful flowers and Jesus. Looking at the wall murals at Lopez y Lopez, you know right away what corner of the world this restaurant represents.

Lopez y Lopez is one of the reasons for the Mexican food and taco boom that has taken over Helsinki recently. The original concept has rapidly expanded into a small chain: Lopez y Lopez can now be found in Siltasaari, Kamppi, Punavuori and Teurastamo, where the story began.

Taquerias are local meeting places in Mexico, and Lopez y Lopez strives for the same. Each place is a natural part of its own neighbourhood, but at the same time the customer knows they are stepping into the world of Lopez y Lopez. Quality, relaxation, music and imagination – Lopez y Lopez wants to offer all of these to Helsinki locals.

Inside a Lopez y Lopez Mexican restaurant, a white, square tiled service counter can just be seen on the bottom right of the photo and a large blue, banner with the restaurant logo sits on the opposite wall. Between these and beneath rows of rope lights, are three, four-seater tables and six, two-seater tables.
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Manu Torchio, founder of the Taqueria chain, is a familiar name behind many Mexican restaurants in Helsinki. He moved to Helsinki from Barcelona, where he also worked in the restaurant industry. Manu himself is a qualified chef, but at Lopez y Lopez he is responsible for the functional side of the restaurants. “From my time in Spain I have good contacts with suppliers. The rest of the ingredients we can find easily here in Helsinki,” says Manu.

Manu’s long and varied experience in the industry can be seen in the Lopez y Lopez restaurants: just as important as the food is the atmosphere, which Manu and his team take seriously – but not always too seriously. “Communication with customers is important to us. When the corona restrictions started, we made memes on our social channels to brighten the mood. The same memes also inspire the look of our new menu.” The reactions on social media and on the faces of customers when reading the menus reinforce the message of the memes: there are very few things in the world that put you in such a good mood as tacos.

Smiles are also evoked by the decor of the restaurants, which is the design of Lopez y Lopez’s own staff. In addition to humour, Lopez y Lopez also prides itself on straightforward service. Ordering is reminiscent of a street food restaurant, and different groups can sit together at the same tables. “Sometimes we’ve had to explain a little why we don’t take table reservations. We really encourage people to just come here, with friends or by yourself.”

Tacos and churros in Lopez y Lopez
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Lopez y Lopez has quickly found its clientele, and more and more curious diners are coming through the door. At the same time, however, corona has posed big challenges also for this chain of restaurants. Manu's face reflects what adjusting to the constantly changing regulations has demanded of the entrepreneur.

Despite everything, all the tough decisions and long days have been conveyed to customers in terms of flexibility and ingenuity. In addition to offering take aways, Lopez y Lopez has partnered with grocery chains. “More and more people are getting to know our flavours in their own homes.”

Manu already has new plans in mind, and there is certainly a strong basis for their success. Lopez y Lopez may look like a concept made with a casual attitude, but in reality the business has been built to be sustainable from the start: both the locations and the number of seats in the restaurants have been carefully analysed.

“We are expanding as a chain, but in a good way: ownership and with it the concept is in our own hands. We get to play and experiment,” Manu says, crystalising what entrepreneurship can be at its best.

What to order at Lopez y Lopez?

“On your first visit, it’s worth ordering the fish tacos. Their freshness with a cocktail or beer immediately gets you into the holiday mood. Salsas are an integral part of tacos. We make them ourselves, and we also sell them in supermarkets. The meat is Finnish. We import some of the chilies and other ingredients ourselves to give our dishes an authentic taste. We are not a fine dining restaurant. During the day we see families around our tables and in the evenings we see more young people, but we don’t have actual target groups for whom we make our restaurants. Both children and dogs are welcome here.”

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Lopez y Lopez is one of the reasons for the Mexican food and taco boom that has taken over Helsinki recently.