For Agustin Juarez, his journey back to Mexico was packed with the rich experiences that writers draw sustenance from in their pursuit of creative expression. Now firmly rooted in Guadalajara, Juarez is the author who found the life he always wanted in Mexico.
A self-described foodie, his culinary roots were tended by his mother in Guadalajara when he just a boy.
“If you wanted to be with my mother,” the 66-year-old Juarez said, “you had to be in the kitchen. Basically, I grew up in the kitchen next to my mother. She taught me.”
His knowledge and passion for food has led him to the far corners of Mexico to find the hidden gems of the restaurant world.
“I’ve always wanted to do restaurant reviews because I’ve always loved the kitchen and I’ve always loved food,” he said. “I’ve been to Michelin-star restaurants in Paris, Italy and many other places in the world because I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Juarez was born in Corpus Christi, Texas to a father who was an architect and a homemaker mother. At age 5, the family hopped on a train to Guadalajara and returned to the home his father grew up in.
“We were Protestants in a land of Catholics,” he told us. “Neighbors used to throw tomatoes and beer cans at us. I learned to fight and box during that time.”
At age 11, the family moved to Fountain Valley, California in Orange County where Juarez had his first success as an author with a published article in the Orange County Register. His mother told him that he was the “family writer and family historian.”
Just before his final semester in high school, his father received a job offer in the San Francisco Bay Area and the family moved to Los Gatos, an upscale town just west of San Jose.
Following graduation from Westmont High School in 1971, Juarez was accepted at prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto based on his strong academic record, sports participation and extracurricular activities. He first earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature at Stanford and then a master’s in Cultural and Social Anthropology, a calling that he traces back to his mother.
“When we lived in Guadalajara, the indigenous Huichol people would knock on our door because they were hungry,” he explained. “My mother would always invite them inside and make them something. I remember sitting at the table and the Huichols would look at me, laugh and speak to me in their language. I think it was then that I decided to become a cultural anthropologist.”
Based at the time in New Mexico and California, Juarez worked for years with indigenous tribes throughout the Americas. He started a mentoring and retention non-profit organization for high school students who wanted to go to college. The Mentors Group was a first-of-its-kind organization that helped Native American students get scholarships. Later, he worked with College Horizons to prepare them for university life.
“I personally helped 232 students achieve their dreams of attending schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other leading institutions,” he said.
His eclectic life also had room for years in New York City as an actor and a brief period before he retired as a school teacher in Oakland, California.
“I taught high school social studies in Oakland,” he said, “one of the toughest school districts in the country. But when I reached 60, I knew it was time to take early retirement and return to Mexico. It’s the land I love. I came back and Mexico welcomed me.”
He first moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2013 and rented a beat-up, two-level house to make his own.
“In Mexico, if you rent a house you can do whatever you want with it,” he said. “I painted the whole house, put in new floors, new bathrooms and remodeled the terrace. At last I had created a paradise for me, a real work of art. When I left my doors open, people used to wander in and think it was an art gallery.”
But San Miguel was not his kind of place. Guadalajara was. He returned to the city of his formative years to hear the echoes of his mother in her kitchen and continue his life as a writer.
“I’m a novelist who has six published books,” he said. “My first novel was “The Solitude of Destiny,” which was published in 2014. That same year I wrote my first book in Spanish, ‘La Luna de Llamas.’ I’ve also completed work on the Mariachi opera ‘Traición,’ which is a libretto written in Spanish with a score by well-known composer Christian Paris of Mexico City.”
But his true passion, nurtured in his mother’s kitchen, remains food and his search for the best Mexico has to offer the world.
“I was in Puerto Vallarta recently for the holidays and revisited a restaurant that I have been going to for over 30 years,” he said. “It’s hidden away in the city’s Mercado Libertad in Centro. Meme is on the second floor of the Mercado and is run by a family. I had the plantain filled with seafood on a bed of rice. The sweetness of the plantain combined with the flavor of the assorted fish in the dish and a stunning sauce made the taste absolutely wonderful. And the really good news is that Meme is very inexpensive.”
Juarez constantly travels throughout Mexico looking for culinary discoveries he can tell the world about. He said several cities have exceptional food.
“San Miguel de Allende is wonderful and has some of the best restaurants in Mexico,” he said. “And of course, Mexico City and Oaxaca are also at the top of my list. But something is happening in Guadalajara. It’s almost as if the restaurateurs have a a collective consciousness to be the best. For example, Distrito Aguacate serves 42 different dishes with avocado, but none of them taste the same. The cuisine in Guadalajara is very distinctive. You won’t find it in Veracruz, Paris or anywhere in Europe. It’s very unique to Guadalajara.”
Juarez began blogging his restaurant reviews on Expats In Mexico a few months ago and has already developed a large following. Look for “The Fantastic Food of Mexico” several times each month.