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Jose Rodriguez, owner of La Serenata de Garibaldi restaurants, dies at 76

It wasn't all that long ago that La Serenata De Garibaldi in Boyle Heights was the place to get Mexican food in L.A. -- and restaurateur Jose "Pepe" Rodriguez presided over it all.

Rodriguez, 76, died Monday night at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, according to a statement issued on behalf of the family. We are currently working on a proper obituary for Rodriguez. Please click here later for the obituary, as well as any available funeral information.

State Sen. Gil Cedillo, who grew up in Boyle Heights, also issued a statement offering condolences to the family. Cedillo said Rodriguez was known as much for his cuisine as his dedication to community.

"Jose Rodriguez is a man with an exquisite taste memory. He has been called the 'Maestro de Salsas' in Los Angeles, particularly of sauces for seafood. His exquisite slightly sweet mole (best with chicken) is so delicious it is almost like dessert. He is also known for his excellent sopas."

The Rodriguez home and restaurant was "a gathering place for community leaders and neighbors," Cedillo said. "When I had meetings with Jose to discuss business and how to improve the community, I was impressed with how supportive he was. In fact, Jose hosted Police Chief Bill Bratton when he first came to Los Angeles. Jose would not settle with appetizers, but created a full gourmet meal for Mayor [James] Hahn and the Latino political leadership. He will be truly missed."

After the success of their Boyle Heights restaurant, Rodriguez and his wife, Aurora, opened additional restaurants in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. If you dined at any of his restaurants, or knew Rodriguez, please share your memories and condolences in the comments section below.

In September, L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila revisited the Boyle Heights restaurant for a review, and recalled her very first visit there:  

In Los Angeles, 25 years entitles a restaurant to, if not a medal, then at the very least the title of institution. And this year (how time flies) marks the 25th anniversary for La Serenata de Garibaldi in Boyle Heights. Way back in 1985, Jose Rodriguez and his wife, Aurora, opened a little place on East 1st Street specializing in Mexican seafood. A short jaunt down 1st from downtown, La Serenata soon became a favorite spot for politicos, lawyers, police chiefs and downtown office workers.

After I flew in to interview for a job at The Times in the mid-'90s, I was taken to lunch at La Serenata to be introduced to one of L.A.'s best Mexican restaurants. I remember the warm, freshly made tortillas and soft tacos piled with chunks of fresh mahi mahi drizzled with gently smoldering salsa. I enjoyed the happy buzz of talk and laughter, the easy grace of the waiters and how cool it seemed inside compared with the sun beating down mercilessly outside. We scooped chunky guacamole onto warm chips, feasted on chicken enchiladas and shrimp in cilantro sauce.

For me, it was love at first bite.

Read the rest of her review here.

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: La Serenata di Girabaldi in Boyle Heights. Credit: Los Angeles Times

[For the record, 11:07 a.m. Nov. 24: An earlier version of this post said Rodriguez was 77 when he died. In fact, he was 76.]

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Jose Rodriguez was my mothers uncle he was a very loved by our family and my grandfather misses him and loves him very much! We will all love and miss him!<3

The owner always sat in the corner of his restaurant. I shared a glass of wine with him one time and he sat with us talking about all of those beautiful sauces that he creates. To me it is the most traditional yet upscale Mexican Food in the entire city of Los Angeles. He will be missed.

I was lucky enough to have worked at La Serenata in Boyle Hts as a waitress in the early 90's before the remodel and Don Jose was a very gracious and patient boss with me. He taught me life lessons and how to be a better human being. I loved the conversations we had about authentic Mexican food and was always fascinated with the exquisite way he could put sauces together...he was amazing...meeting famous musicians, actors and comedians wasnt so bad either....It was an experience I will never forget. I will miss him very much. My heart and condolences go out to his beautiful wife Dona Aurora and his son Marcos.

I had a birthday party there in 1990-ish. Before the remodel. I remember the first time I went with a group of people to the little restaurant in Boyle Heights. We drove down an alley and parked in the back, walked up a flight of stairs and entered through the back, passing the kitchen where tortillas were made by hand. The dining room had great art by local painters. I still order the shrimp cocktail, which is like a fantastic chilled seafood gazpacho big enough for 2 or 3. I love the salmon with campeche, a spinach sauce, the fresh juices, and especially the sea bass a la Plancha, garlic, mushrooms and green chiles. I used to beg Pepe and his lovely wife, Aurora for the recipe. Never got it. I switched to begging for a cookbook! He was a gracious, generous host. He loved food and certainly gave me an appreciation of Mexican food.
Sr. Rodriquez will be missed. My condolences to his family.


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