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La Mo hits mark with new twist on Mexican fare, friendly service

La Mo hits mark with new twist on Mexican fare, friendly service

La Mo was voted by Turlock Journal readers as best Mexican restaurant, best restaurant service and friendliest restaurant.


POSTED February 4, 2014 12:27 p.m.

To call the owners of La Mo Cafe “foodies” would be an understatement. When this mother and her two daughters get together and start talking about food and their restaurant, they start bubbling with an enthusiasm that is purely authentic.

“Can you tell that we love this place?” Hillary Smith asks as her sister and mother simultaneously tell the story of how the eatery came to be. “This is more than just a restaurant for us. This is where our heart is.”

When mother Gloria Smallwood and daughters Brityn Butrick and Hillary Smith got the notion to open a Mexican café in Turlock, they wanted to do something that would set them apart from all the others.

“We wanted a menu that would be different from the others around here. Health is important to us, so we wanted to bring that into our menu,” said Smith, who also works as a registered nurse. “We just decided to take the risk and see how people responded to it.”

“Luckily, it seems to be that what we like is also what our customers like,” Smallwood said.

La Mo’s menu features a variety of traditional Mexican dishes with a twist. They focus on using locally grown produce and products and like to throw in the unexpected.

“We have farmers that will bring us different ingredients all the time and we like to mix those into our dishes,” Butrick said.

Aside from the food, the trio wanted to create a place that would be welcoming and comfortable and move beyond the idea of being just a place to come and have a meal.

“We want this to be a place that brings the community together, where they can come and enjoy the food and leave feeling like they are appreciated and valued,” Smallwood said.

Their concepts have been embraced by the Turlock community. Not only are they a bustling place every lunch and dinner, they were voted by Turlock Journal readers as best Mexican restaurant, best restaurant service and friendliest restaurant.

“When we opened this place, we hoped people would like it, and they have, which is very gratifying,” Smallwood said.

That the trio would initiate a change in local Mexican cuisine is no surprise. It’s somewhat of a family tradition. Smallwood’s mother and her daughter’s grandmother Lupe Cordoba was the mastermind behind the successful La Morenita’s restaurant that changed the way Mexican fare is prepared in the area.

“She really changed the scope of Mexican food here,” said Butrick. “She’s also the person from whom our love of cooking comes from.”

The atmosphere of family and food were tightly linked in Cordoba’s establishments and it is an aspect the women have strived to replicate in La Mo, especially with their staff.

“We love our employees,” Smith said. “We want them to know we value them and that creates an atmosphere of hospitality that will transfer over to our guests.”

La Mo Café is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. It is located at 310 E. Main St.

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