By Jasmine Jones
This story was first published in the September 2023 issue of The Best Years.
Gracie Aguirre grew up in Durango, Mexico, where she says everyone knew everyone. As a child, Aguirre enjoyed “rolling all over town” on her bicycle and playing volleyball, but she spent most of her after-school hours working at her mother Fernanda Cortez’s grocery store with her six siblings.
Aguirre describes her family as “very close” growing up. She says they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day — all dishes made from scratch by her mother.
“It was a rule in my house we had to eat all together at the table, and [my siblings and I] used to make my dad mad. We used to laugh a lot and talk a lot. He’d say, ‘Eat!’ But you know, [eating together was] very important,” Aguirre says.
As the youngest in the family, Aguirre says she learned to cook from her older sisters and mother. When she was a little girl, they’d sit on chairs in the kitchen and make tamales together or sopa de fideo, a Mexican noodle soup.
“[My mother] was scared, ‘cause I had to boil the water [for soup]. … She let me do everything by myself, but she was watching me make it,” Aguirre says. “As a matter of fact, she bought me a blender, I remember that, and little dishes to cook with.”
Ceviche is a dish Aguirre makes in the summer when it’s hot outside. She says it’s simple, refreshing and easy, which makes it one of her favorite dishes for this time of year.
When Aguirre was 18 years old, she moved to California for a few months before joining her sister in Chicago. Aguirre spent a few years in Chicago, moved to Orange County, Calif., and eventually found herself in Anna, Ill., with her two sisters, Lola and Julia.
Aguirre and her sisters started making and selling tamales at fairs before they opened their brick-and-mortar restaurant in Cape Girardeau in 2007. She says they thought about naming the restaurant The Three Sisters, but eventually settled on the name Muy Bueno — which it is still known as today.
“It’s good, you know, because my sisters and I get along so well. It’s a pleasure working together, you know,” Aguirre says.
Now, Aguirre runs Muy Bueno with her daughters, and although running a restaurant is a lot of work, she says it’s worth it. She loves to see their regular customers, some whom she remembers as children who have since grown up, graduated high school or college, gotten married and had children of their own.
Aguirre says it took time to get used to living in Cape Girardeau, because at first, it was “too small” for her; now, Aguirre loves the area and says she “would not move anywhere else.”
“It’s so quiet. People are so friendly. You know, everybody knows everybody here, too. I mean, back in California, I didn’t even know my neighbor’s name, my next door neighbor’s,” Aguirre says. “Here, everybody is so friendly. They try to help you. I had a flat tire, and people stopped to help me. … I love it here.”
Moving to Cape Girardeau and establishing her restaurant all began with those memories of making tamales with her mother and sisters in Durango. Aguirre believes in the sentiment of food bringing people together, as it’s brought her family together — both in work and at home.
“What’s best than food? I mean, nothing is best than food, right? And food makes you happy, right? That’s what it makes you,” Aguirre says. “If people know you have food, they come over.”
Recipe by Gracie Aguirre
Cook shrimp in water until pink and opaque. Season shrimp with salt and garlic to taste. Cut each individual shrimp into three pieces. Cut jalapeño peppers, tomato, onion and cilantro finely. Add all ingredients to a bowl. Season with salt. Squeeze two or three limes into the mixture. Mix well. Serve on a plate with sliced avocado. Enjoy!