By Grace Wood
The year is 1974. Richard Nixon resigns after the Watergate Scandal rocks the nation. Stephen King premieres his debut novel. The Soviet Union launches a space station, carrying on the space race with the United States. And, on May 20, Carmen and Gilberto Rodriguez open the best Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. Forty-five years later, we celebrate the resilience and community that Gilbert’s El Indio has both cultivated and gained since that first opening day.
Carmen had a dream to join the family business. Although already the mother to nine children and employed at La Cabana, Carmen knew she had the resources and know-how to start her own restaurant. After speaking with her husband Gilberto, the couple opened Gilbert’s El Indio–a product of love, perseverance and family.
The restaurant the Rodriguez’s purchased was called El Indio and Gilberto loved the name so much that he added his own to it. Gilbert’s El Indio was born. El Indio is a nod to the indigenous peoples of Latin America, including Gilberto’s own Native-Mexican heritage. He infused the restaurant with different aspects of native culture–including the iconic t-shirts with the Aztec warrior, Montezuma.
Besides the celebration of heritage through the food and decor, Gilbert’s El Indio is truly a family affair. All nine Rodriguez children have worked there since the beginning, sweeping the parking lot, washing windows, taking orders, accounting, managing, and more. Carmen, now 84, still comes in every morning and stuffs every taco for Taco Tuesdays.
Gilbert’s El Indio roots itself in Santa Monica. Each Rodriguez child attended Santa Monica Schools and participated on sports teams at the Santa Monica Parks and Recreation and SM schools. They grew up attending the local churches. Today, Gilbert’s El Indio actively gives back to the Santa Monica community as an acknowledgement of the city’s significance in their lives. Just look around your table and you’ll see this history unfold before your eyes. The restaurant wall depicts 45 years of memories from all types of customers who have traveled near and far to our city.
On our 45th anniversary, Gilbert’s El Indio hopes to continue the tradition of love and family that’s kept us going for so many years. To those who have been here consistently, we thank you for supporting such an impactful landmark. To those who are new, we hope you come back. And, most of all, we are grateful that so many have helped raise and grow the tenth Rodriguez sibling. You are truly part of the familia.