For Rebeca Lopez, Mexican cuisine is far more than beans, rice and cheese tortillas.
With a background in international business and several years of experience in the restaurant industry, the Mexico City native arrived in Lincoln to pursue a master’s degree in economics. While living in Lincoln, she observed that most area Mexican restaurants were serving dishes similar to those found in U.S./Mexico border eateries – TexMex.
Seeing an opportunity to introduce the heritage and taste with which she was familiar, Lopez utilized her business and economic expertise, and in July 2015 she opened Copal Progressive Mexican Cuisine with a menu featuring dishes in a traditional Mexico City style.
While Copal has been received well by its customer base, Lopez realized that some tweaking of her menu was necessary. Noting that everything is made from scratch – including the restaurant’s signature mole, which is Lopez’s grandmother’s guarded recipe – Lopez has adapted Copal’s menu to the Lincoln market.
The menu offerings have been streamlined and the portions increased. However, Lopez emphasizes that the traditional ingredients and heritage of the dishes remain.
“The manner in which we serve the dishes is in a more modern style, but the taste is authentic,” she says.
The restaurant now offers a Dish of the Month, and every few months one or two new offerings such as duck tamales are substituted for others on the menu.
Lopez has also utilized social media to promote the restaurant. Copal’s Instagram account features an array of menu items as well as a video of food preparation in its kitchen.
Copal stocks 43 different tequilas (ranging from $6 to $10, with Extra Anejo being more expensive) and 13 mezcal choices (ranging from $6 to $14). Special Happy Hour tequila shots are offered from 3-6 p.m. The restaurant’s bar also serves cocktails, spirits, wine, and domestic and Mexican beer.
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Most of Copal’s lunch business comes from the surrounding neighborhood, according to Lopez, while the dinner crowd is varied. “A little bit of everything … couples, families,” she says.
Four salsas and dips can be purchased to accompany complementary chips – Green Tomatillo Salsa ($2), Super-Hot Chili Oil ($3), Guac This Way ($3.50) and Cheese Dip ($6).
Seven taco choices include Charbroiled Chicken ($9), Ground Beef Copal Style ($9), Pastor (pork street taco with grilled pineapple, $9), Charbroiled Angus Beef ($11), Crispy Shrimp ($12), Fish & Shrimp Baja Style ($12) and Vegan ($8.50).
Enchilada offerings include Las Verdes-Creamy (braised chicken, ground beef or Copal style ratatouille, topped with green sauce, queso fresco, fresh cream, onions and cilantro, $9.50); Creamy Tomato Style (braised chicken, ground beef or Copal style ratatouille, topped with creamy special sauce, fresh cream and mozzarella-parmesan gratin, $10); and Las de Mole (homemade mole sauce prepared with more than 15 ingredients, served with Cotija cheese, sour cream and onion, $10).
Listed under The Other Mexico are six options: Artichoke Fettuccine ($10/add charbroiled chicken breast, $3 or grilled shrimp, $5); Arepa (one pork in Mayan spices, second chorizo and cheese, $10); Authentic Chilaquiles (tortillas smothered in rich red or green salsa, $10/add fried egg, $1.50; charbroiled chicken breast, $3; charbroiled Angus beef, $5); Carne Asada (thin-cut Angus beef steak served with guacamole, breakfast potatoes, jalapeno pepper, $18); Premium Fajitas (choice of Angus beef, chicken breast, shrimp or mixed, sautéed in Epazote butter with red peppers, mushrooms, spring onions, red onion and served in a hot molcajete, topped with melted Monterey cheese, $19); and Beef Short Rib ($20).
According to Lopez, customer favorites are the Creamy Tomato Style Enchiladas and the Fish & Shrimp Baja Style Tacos.
For Lopez, Copal and its traditional fare represent her culture and heritage, and her family and roots. Lopez learned many of the restaurant’s recipes from her grandmother – a 76-year-old woman who visits Lincoln often and frequently can be found at Copal – supervising the kitchen, talking to customers or sharing shots of mezcal.
“I want to bring a bit of Mexico to Lincoln – authentic, real flavors,” Lopez says. “After Copal customers have tasted its food … the quality and flavors, they are more than happy to come back.”