La Bamba: Authentic Mexican Restaurant
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
STYLING BY TAYLOR BENNETT
To dance “la bamba,” sings Ritchie Valens, all you need is a little bit of grace. Taking a cue from this uptempo Mexican folk song is owner of Ruston’s La Bamba: Authentic Mexican Restaurant, Eduardo “Eddy” Barrientos who bought the eatery in 2014 thanks to a loan from his mother. On Thursday, May 5, 2022, while throngs of Americans rush to imbibe in Cinco de Mayo festivities, La Bamba will be celebrating two-fold, as the date of Mexico’s victory over the invading French Empire in 1862 is also the restaurant’s eight year anniversary. “I took the gamble and opened up on Cinco de Mayo,” says Eddy, also acknowledging the gamble first taken by his mother, one that has clearly paid off.
Originally from Guadalajara, Eddy moved to Ruston with his family when he was 11 years old, and has been in the restaurant business by way of his uncle’s restaurant. “I worked since I was very young at the restaurants, and I’ve always liked it,” he says. By the time he graduated high school, he was faced with the proverbial fork in the road—enroll in college or keep working. “I tried college; I didn’t really care for it,” he admits. Wanting to see if he could move up the restaurant ladder on his own, he worked at a few “big chain” restaurants in Shreveport and Minden until he reached management positions. Noting his work ethic, his mother stepped in wanting to know whether management was his ultimate endeavor. It wasn’t. Eddy eagerly explained his goal of ultimately owning his own restaurant, expressing his concern over accumulating the necessary capital before he took the leap of faith. Her response: “Well, I can invest this much. Can you make it work?” Eight years later, Eddy, alongside his brother, mother, and aunt, made it work, and then some.
Already named La Bamba, Eddy decided to keep the name, a practical decision based on their tight budget. Rebranding would naturally be costly. Instead, he focused on redesigning the space. “So, before I got this place, right, it was a big blue building,” he says, circling his gaze around the now textured, dark amber walls, accented with dark wood beadboarding. Wanting to make use of the open space, he lined two walls with booths, adding cobblestone columns and a wood-lined roofing. This cantina aesthetic begins in the entryway where lush palms greet customers alongside a proudly displayed “Louisiana Tech” banner. Rustic accents are placed throughout—dark brown pottery, string lights, and traditional mariachi hats. The bar area, another new addition, is marked by a shingled roof where two Louisiana Tech football helmets face away from each other. Despite the already cozy atmosphere, Eddy has even more redesign plans, especially with the restaurant’s anniversary looming on the calendar. “You have to do stuff. You have to keep it interesting,” he asserts lightheartedly, revealing that said changes may include revamping the booth columns, extending the bar, and changing the entrance.
Though Eddy did not make too many changes to the original La Bamba menu, what did change was the force of the kitchen. Led by his mother’s culinary traditions, many of the recipes for the menu items come from his family. The result is an evocative home cooked quality that so many restaurants struggle to achieve. Not only is his mother calling the shots, but his kitchen staff is currently 100% women. “They’re just much more reliable,” he says, referring to their work ethic and dedication to providing fresh and savory dishes each and every day. Not to mention, you can’t really replace the tender, loving care of a mother’s cooking.
While Mexican cuisine seems simple in that similar ingredients tend to be used in a plethora of dishes, the preparation is the heart of the widely adored food staple. Take La Bamba’s tamales, one of Eddy’s mom’s recipes and made from scratch. Made of masa (a dough made from nixtamalized corn), a ground beef or pork filling, steamed in a corn husk, this Mesoamerican favorite seems straightforward enough, but one critical element of a pristine tamale is in the preparation of the masa. La Bamba uses chicken broth for the masa, which elevates the taste, and the skilled cooks meticulously make sure that the masa is silky smooth before forming. “You have to get that masa right. People don’t realize that little detail,” says Eddy, adding, “We mix it for an hour, hour and a half, to make sure there are no grains. That makes a difference to us.” The beauty of Mexican food is how the preparation of some dishes carries over into other dishes. “We use the chicken broth to make green salsa, salsa tomatillo, salsa verde,” he adds. Some of his other favorites include the carnitas, marinated citrus pork tips served with rice, beans, and a side salad. “Eddy’s Enchiladas,” named after him, are a close second: two cheese enchiladas on flour tortillas, topped with cheese and grilled chicken with pico de gallo. “You can just mix it all and get all those flavors,” he says.
One of the more complex and picturesque dishes is listed under the fajita portion of the menu. Fajitas molcajete is La Bamba’s “special fajita.” It consists of steak, chicken, and shrimp fajitas served on a hot volcanic rock plate (molcajete) with their “very own sauce.” The sauce has a pepper-base, and uses about six varieties of peppers. Of course, traditional fajitas never disappoint, especially at La Bamba where outside skirt steak is used, a thicker and more tender cut, perfect for the sizzling goodness we expect from the grilled dish. Other popular menu items include “Burrito La Bamba,” a 10-inch flour tortilla filled with ground beef and shredded chicken, served with rice and beans, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, and tomatoes on the side. You can’t go wrong with the “Chile Relleno,” grilled then fried poblano pepper filled with your choice of beef or shredded chicken topped with white queso and shredded cheese. Another favorite can be found in the seafood or “Del Mar” section of the menu. “Camarones Diablo” is a shrimp dish where a “special homemade spicy sauce” is used to cook the shrimp and vegetables, served with rice and beans.
“I just really put everything into our food. We really take pride in what we make here,” emphasizes Eddy, adding, “You want that good home cooked Mexican food, you’re gonna come here.” This impassioned approach to his restaurant stems from another source of pride for the owner of La Bamba—his family. “That’s everything to me. And that’s everything to us,” he says. When reminiscing on the reasons his mother most likely took a chance on him, he returned to his own dedication. “She saw how zoned in I was. From the minute I decided not to go to college, I decided I wanted to have my own restaurant. And I worked and worked and worked… I was working six days a week, seven days a week, 12 hours, you know, for [four] years,” he exclaims.
Eddy was only 23 years old when he took over La Bamba. Now at 31, he still claims to feel the same sense of satisfaction when customers leave his establishment with a smile. As a self-proclaimed people person, he enjoys talking to his customers, getting to know them. “That’s what I live for, those little moments.” But behind the scenes, Eddy never ignores the grueling work it takes to run a successful restaurant, taking his role seriously and with intention: “If you want your restaurant to be successful, you have to be there. You cannot rely on anyone else to care for it like you would.”
Leading with care and love, Eddy wants his customers to know that there will always be someone from his family present to make them feel welcome; after all, any place with ready-to-serve margaritas is a place to immerse yourself in celebration. Eight years in, La Bamba has become a lively Ruston staple with plans to keep serving their community with a little bit of grace.
La Bamba is located at 207 North Service Rd E #207, Ruston, LA 71270 and is open Monday through Wednesday between 11AM to 10PM and Thursday through Sunday between 11AM to 11 PM. Follow them on Instagram or visit their website (https://www.labambaruston.com) to learn about their weekly specials, especially their crowd favorite, Thursday night karaoke.