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Latinx Heritage Month: Mercado Luna and Mezcaleria Oaxaca

In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we have invited founders of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery Jake Prendez and Judy Avitia-Gonzalez to curate a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to Seattle’s Latinx community.

Executive Chef and Kitchen Manager, Rudy Riveron first arrived in Washington state after emigrating from Mexico in the late ’90s. Prior to coming to the United States, he worked as a musician, tattoo artist, and body piecer. After he arrived in Seattle, he worked as a dishwasher, prep cook, cook, manager, and eventually worked his way up to chef. Riveron has worked for local haunts like The Saint (Tequila Salvation), Linda’s Tavern, Rose Temple, and most recently Mercado Luna.

Mezcaleria Oaxaca is a restaurant within Mercado Luna a food emporium that also hosts Patio Cielo, an outdoor, upstairs patio with a food truck and bar, Vinaterita, a wine bar with over 100 of Mexico’s finest wines, and Lado a Lado, a taco take-out setup that sells Chonchos Churros. The conjunction of all these elements is a way to transport visitors to Mexico to experience the culture firsthand.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Mercado Luna has undergone a reinvention and they continue to evolve. To celebrate his one-year anniversary at Mercado Luna, we sat down with Chef Riveron, and the executive team which includes General Manager Blanca Benítez, and Assistant and Social Media Manager Rachel Vega, to learn more about what they are doing and why.

Can you share a bit on your work, and inspiration for dishes you’ve created?

Chef Riveron: I am in charge of the quality, the seasoning, and the preparation of dishes… [which are] always based in the traditional Mexican food that I grew up with, which I continue to explore because Mexican food has continued to grow. Lately, more fusions with new dishes, new flavors, which is incredible and the variety of dishes that you can find in Mexico City, and throughout Mexico.

Always maintaining traditional Mexican food, [where] we focus a lot on Oaxaca because it was the first objective when the owner opened; Oaxacan food which is very diverse and very versatile.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the restaurant?

Riveron: One of the first obstacles was the fear created when people would go out. To contact, to be close to people, sitting inside a closed restaurant, that’s why [we created] Patio Cielo. It was very valuable for us because it is where we could have people, it is an open space, [and] people [felt] safer.

Another obstacle has also been finding products, many stores stopped carrying products that were easy to find, [and] it took longer for [them] to arrive. So we had to adapt and make changes to some things to replace products that no longer even existed, that no longer come from mainly importing them from Mexico.

What do you hope to present to the Greater Seattle community?

Riveron: We want to present something well done. What matters most to me as a chef are the flavors, the freshness of the food, and cleanliness. [Also] the atmosphere, that’s why this place is so beautiful, that sometimes I feel that people are impacted as they enter, they are [somewhat] intimidated because they see it big, lots of decorations, and mezcals everywhere. Simply, we are Mexicans with our traditions trying to do the best we can.

How do you work to differentiate your restaurant?

Riveron: My [goal] is to be unique which is very difficult in this industry. I really specific about my seasoning, and I always learn from others. Our team in the kitchen has several expert women from Oaxaca and Puebla, which are two of the most important cities for me in the food industry in Mexico. We try to merge our ideas, and I [finish] with a touch of seasoning. It is well made and always with something original.

We are a large team, and there always has to be organization and respect. Always open to ideas, and teamwork. We are all equal, have respect [for each other], and try to provide  opportunities to stand out.

 Benítez: The environment is also something very different, [how we relate to each other]. Starting with us [the executive team], the waiters, the entire team, our customers, our service is great, we are very friendly and look very happy, and express all while we work. Even the customers themselves tell us, ‘are you family, are you related?’ No, we are not family. ‘You can see that everyone has a smile on their face’ and they realize that we are all [genuinely enjoying our work].

What would you like to share about the Latinx Community?

Riveron: I am very proud because I am not ashamed to say it, that they say that we are in the shadows, but because it’s not true. We are not in the shadows. Our community helps influence the economy of this country, and everyone knows it. It’s an open secret, we all have cars, we all buy, we all contribute to the economy in some way or another. I believe the Latinx community deserves more credit and respect than it is given.

In this past year, what has helped you flourish?

Riveron: [Our owner] has supported the Latinx Community for many, many years, and he trusts and believes in us.

 Benítez: The trust he has in us as an owner is very important. He knows that it is working, he knows that he can leave and that his restaurant is doing well. As the owner, he gives us the keys, and our mission. It is very important to have a boss who supports, listens, and trusts you in the way you manage.

[Additionally], we are being very productive, very creative, and as we say, it’s a team effort. There is not a single person running everything. I don’t think we could have evolved the way we have if only one person was in charge. The work is too big of a responsibility, and we have very good communication [among us].

What does it mean to be Latinx?

Vega: I am so lucky to be raised in a culture so rich, and beautiful. I am very grateful that I get to challenge peoples’ notions of what is to be Latina. I feel a huge part of being Latina is no matter what you face in adversity, you can find growth in it.

To learn more about Mezcaleria Oaxaca visit or follow them on Instagram at @mezcaleriaoaxaca.

Photo credit: Chef Riveron & Rachel Vega.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.