On the walls of Fiesta Cancún, a family-owned Mexican restaurant that opened in Lawrence last week, hang larger-than-life photos of icons: wearing his signature fedora, Carlos Santana smirks at restaurant guests; Selena grins; and an immortalized Elvis gazes forlornly.
The art is intended to pay homage to significant figures who have influenced Mexican and American cultures.
Carlos Mendez, who co-owns the restaurant with his uncle, Miguel Perez, said he wanted to display elements that reflect their family’s “cultural duality,” highlighting their Mexican heritage and American influence.
“(It’s) a canvas for us to paint a vivid picture of who we are,” Mendez said.
Fiesta Cancún is in the heart of downtown Lawrence, at 740 Massachusetts St., and Mendez hopes the ambiance exudes a sense of warmth and familial spirit that he believes is integral to Mexican culture.
The restaurant fills a space that has been vacant for a year and a half, since Wa Sushi closed in December 2021.
Having worked as a dishwasher, chef and restaurant manager, Mendez said he, his father and his grandfather have worked in restaurants for decades, and they’ve honed their ability to work as a team.
“The dream has always been to be in business together,” Mendez said. “We’ve all been at the game so long, so that consistency is there. … There’s something profoundly rewarding about seeing years of hard work culminate into this restaurant.”
The Mendez family started Fajitas Mexican Cuisine in Oskaloosa in July 2022, and they recently set their sights on Lawrence.
“Lawrence seemed very open … and it still had the diversity in terms of having a healthy Hispanic community, but also the openness of the majority community as well,” Mendez said.
It’s important to Mendez to get to know his patrons, he said — it’s his passion to connect with people in the community, not just sell them food.
“We truly want to just integrate with the community, to get to know them, and for them to get to know us,” he said. “I think that’s what really differentiates us — wanting to create an environment that’s like home.”
The restaurant is not a chain, though it shares its name with other Mexican restaurants across the country.
“I think it’s just a common name,” Mendez said.
The menu consists of traditional Mexican food, including street tacos, fajitas, chimichangas, burritos, enchiladas and traditional flan.
Mendez recommends the Lawrence Steak Towers: steak and cream cheese rolled inside a flour tortilla and then grilled.
“It’s not traditional but for us, Mexican culture is very much, you know, kind of adapting to your guest,” Mendez said. “And so of course we offer traditional dishes, but we also (ask) what are people’s preferred cuisine and how can we use that and make it with our own flair to it?”
Though the food is the core attraction, Mendez hopes people will enjoy the ambiance and the social atmosphere just as much.
“Our vision for Fiesta Cancún extends beyond just serving authentic Mexican food,” Mendez said. “It’s like we’re bringing people into our home.”
Fiesta Cancún is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Find more info and their menu via their Facebook page, facebook.com/FiestaCancunLawrence.
If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters
Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.