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A chef adds the finishing garnish to a plate of tacos.

4 Names You Need to Know: Celebrating Some of the Best Central American Chefs in the US

Latino chefs are bringing innovation and creativity to the US culinary scene, helping to shape its future for the better.

It’s no secret that the culinary world is competitive. And nowhere is this competition fiercer than in the US, where many of the world’s best restaurants can be found.

Working at a restaurant in the US can be a cut-throat profession in which only the best survive. Yet in this landscape, a number of Latinos are not only thriving but getting their names in the culinary history books thanks to the flair, style, and creative ideas they’ve brought to the table.

Indeed, over the last few years, countless Latino chefs have emerged as leading names in the industry, introducing dishes that have transformed out-of-home dining, from street food carts to Michelin starred restaurants.

Many of the best draw on their experiences and heritage from Latin America to create unique dishes with genuine stories behind them. On that note, here are some of our favorite Latino chefs in the US today.

Adriana Robleto (Nicaragua)

Even as a child, Adriana was something of a culinary prodigy.

Drawn to cooking from the age of seven, she was inspired by her abuela’s recipes which harnessed the unique flavors of Nicaraguan cuisine, including bitter orange, garlic, and mint, among others.

Recognizing her eagerness to become a chef, her parents sent her to summer school in the US, at Rhode Island University’s Culinary Arts School. Her experience there only confirmed what she already knew from the time she was little: she was destined for culinary success.

Having seen the vibrant gastronomy scene developing in the US and the opportunities it presented to Latinos, she got a job at The Brixton, a gastropub in one of California’s most exclusive, expensive, and iconic coastal cities. She began as a hostess, but quickly marked herself out as a talented chef.

Now, with a platform to showcase her skills, she began introducing the local community to authentic Nicaraguan dishes, which included the most cherished flavors from her childhood.

Today, alongside her job at The Brixton, she runs Pinto, a mail-order food service which delivers deliciously prepared Nicaraguan meals to homes in Texas, New York, Miami, and Ohio.

Javier Álvarez (Nicaragua)

While Adriana Robleto is trailblazing in California, her compatriot, Javier Álvarez, is doing the same over in New York.

At just 31 years old, the chef, who was born in the mountainous region of Estelí, made headlines when he became the youngest chef to ever receive recognition from Gastro Marca Iberoamérica.

The prestigious magazine declared Javier as one of the most influential chefs in the country. And it is well deserved.

Inspired, like so many others, by the culinary legacy of his abuela, this talented chef has captivated the taste buds of New York City with a fusion of traditional Nicaraguan cuisine and a contemporary twist. In the fiercely competitive realm of the city's restaurants, his innovative approach has become synonymous with vibrancy and flavor.

Currently, he’s the culinary maestro behind the renowned Graffiti Earth, helmed by Chef Jehangir Meth. But his culinary influence extends far beyond the serving pass. With the ambitious Radicem project under his guidance, he embarks on a mission to merge the essence of American and Nicaraguan gastronomy via food "pop-ups" around the world.

Through this venture, he’s become a champion for small-scale producers, artisans, and emerging artists hailing from his native land.

gastronomic creations not only tantalize the senses but also serve as a powerful force for promoting the beauty and diversity of his homeland to the world.

A colorful table of Mexican ingedients in traditional ceramic bowls, including: avocado, nacho chips, limes, green salsa and red rice

Alfonso Verdis (Mexico)

Born in Copanatoyac, a Nahua municipality in La Montaña, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, Alfonso Verdis is a young man with strong indigenous roots.

His childhood was unconventional: splitting his time between going to school, working at his father's carpentry shop, and planting corn, beans, cilantro, and squash that he later sold on the sidewalks of Tlapa. Little did he know that such a strongly cultivated work ethic would serve him so well in the future.

At a nascent 15 years old, Alfonso came to the US. He arrived with nothing and slowly built his career from the bottom up.

Amidst the many jobs that filled his journey, there was one which opened an unexpected culinary gateway to the talented young man. It was at the esteemed Viceroy restaurant where he crossed paths with Chef Gregory Baumel, a figure who would forever shape his culinary destiny. Serving as both mentor and unwavering advocate, Baumel recognized Alfonso's potential and provided invaluable guidance.

Alfonso steadily climbed the culinary ladder, leaving an indelible mark of excellence across five distinctive restaurants. Recognition of his exceptional talent soon arrived, and he received the opportunity to take command of his own kitchen.

Today, Alfonso is a visionary executive chef at Sanfords, an award-winning restaurant in New York, where he manages 60 employees and delights the palates of diners with his creations daily. 

Alfonso’s dedication to the restaurant scene spans two decades and his exceptional skills have even earned him the privilege of cooking for iconic figures such as pop superstar Michael Jackson and former US President George W. Bush.

Karla Alonzo (Guatemala)

Karl Alonzo wasn’t always a chef. In fact, she originally trained as a teacher in San Lorenzo, Suchitepéquez, in the southwestern region of Guatemala.

Fueled by a longing for personal growth and the desire to fully embrace her identity as a valued member of the LGBT+ community, Karla left her previous profession behind and set her sights on the United States.

Like countless other migrants, Karla's journey began at the humblest of positions—washing dishes. However, armed with an unwavering work ethic and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she transcended the barriers of language and culture. Karla emerged triumphant, becoming a certified kitchen manager and eventually a proud small-business owner.

Based in Washington, D.C., Karla Alonzo has found her place as the proud owner and operator of Nim Ali Guatemalan Shukos & Antojitos. Nestled within the heart of the city, her restaurant stands as a true representation of Guatemalan urban cuisine, showcasing the distinctive flavors of her homeland. At the forefront of her culinary offerings are the renowned shucos, a sinful delight that has garnered widespread acclaim.

What exactly are shucos, you may ask? Imagine a cosmic explosion of flavors within a hot dog bun: succulent chorizo, steak, savory sausage, cabbage, creamy avocado, chimichurri, fiery jalapeños, and an array of tantalizing toppings. In the eyes of any who has tried them, nobody makes them quite like Karla Alonzo.

Latinos have revolutionized the US culinary landscape, infusing it with creativity and inspiring a new wave of boundary-breaking chefs. And this is just a glimpse of the remarkable talent within the Latino culinary community! Stay tuned, as their impact reverberates across generations to come

José Guillermo Perez

José is a food, coffee, and travel writer. He has lived in three different Latin American countries, where he worked as a barista and sociologist, among other things. He has written for Orgullo Latino since 2022.

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