Melas on Daly St. in Lincoln Heights is worth a visit for the food, the company, the music | Photo: Christopher Nyerges

Melas Cocina Mexicana: The food is great, but it’s about more than that

2022 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists Editions Food More News October

By Christopher Nyerges

I was famished and needed lunch. I was on Daly Street in Lincoln Heights and ducked into a nearby Mexican restaurant I’d never noticed before – Melas Cocina Mexicana. Small benches were out on the sidewalk. A lone guitarist played for the passersby.

The owner of Melas, Daniel Diaz, (left) and his brother, Samuel, inside the restaurant named after their mother | Photo: Christopher Nyerges

Once inside, I met the friendly and gregarious owner, Daniel Diaz, and his brother, Samuel, who also works at the restaurant. I felt as if I’d come back to my family home. 

Pointing to the simple menu on the wall, Daniel said: “We like to keep the menu simple because this is all a tribute to our beloved mother, Mela.” He told me that his mother came to the United States with her mother in the 1950s from the mountainous Zacatecas region in Mexico. “They fed the silver miners who came out of the mines in the mountains,” he said. “Melas is our way to memorialize our mother and her traditional cooking. We do this to honor her memory.”

“Wow,” I thought, “that’s beautiful.” I felt that this tidy restaurant was a window to the past, with the walls full of the family pictures, many of Mela.

And the food is really good, too.

The basic menu is only a start. Customers can ask for any dish they want and the chef, Junior Calderon, may be able to conjure it up.

I asked Daniel what he suggested I order for lunch and he brought me a steaming bowl of “Carne en su jugo,” a delicious fresh stew of beef and beans flavored with cilantro. As I sat at the table gazing out the window onto Daly Street, listening to the traditional Mexican music in the background, savoring each bite, I thought that Mela must have been a wonderful person.

“You’ve got to try the potato taco,” said Daniel, putting the attractive plate in front of me. Fit for vegans and vegetarians, it was delicious to both the eyes and mouth.

Between helping other customers who came in for lunch, Daniel told me that he’s a musician who plays both guitar and keyboards. Melas started having musical performances in the summer to give local artists a place to play and have an audience. (The inside seating area is tight, but the back patio that can seat about 75 patrons.)

“You can talk to anyone here,” said Daniel. “Leave your laptop at home.”

Melas is located at 2423 Daly St. | Tues. thru Sat. 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.| Parking in the rear of building for patio entry is thru Daly St. next to the Water and Power building

Christopher Nyerges is an educator and author of “Extreme Simplicity,”“Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. For more about his classes and publications, visit:


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