Angela Atenco Lopez — the chef, owner, and matriarch of a beloved pair of East Boston Mexican restaurants called Angela’s Cafe — has died. She was 76. No cause of death was listed on Lopez’s official obituary, which said she “passed away peacefully surrounded by her loving family,” but son Luis told Eastie Times that she had been battling cancer for several months. The family is directing people to donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in lieu of sending flowers.
A memorial post dedicated to Atenco Lopez in the East Boston Open Discussion Facebook group has been greeted with an outpouring of love and support for the chef and restaurateur, with members of the community calling her a “wonderful lady” and a “ray of sunshine.”
Atenco Lopez was born in Puebla, Mexico, on September 2, 1943, to Tomas Atenco and Maria Dolores Lopez. In 2017, the Boston Globe wrote about the mole poblano Atenco Lopez made at Angela’s Cafe. The story goes like this:
When she was a young girl growing up in the village of Metepec, Atlixco, Atenco Lopez would observe as her mother — who went by Dolores — made mole poblano, which is one of Puebla’s most famous dishes.
The work was slow and labor-intensive; it would take Dolores Lopez and a collection of cousins and aunts eight days to make mole poblano. The ingredients list was long — essentials included almonds, sesame seeds, raisins, cloves, plantains, pasilla chiles, ancho chiles, mulato chiles — and each required precise preparation, whether toasted or charred or cooked with fat, to achieve the correct balance of flavor.
Once everything was prepared to her liking, Lopez would grind everything together with a metate into a thick paste, fry the paste with lard, and thin it with broth before plopping a freshly plucked turkey into the sauce, which would then cook for many more hours over low heat. The work was deliberate, and it paid off: Lopez’s mole poblano was the best in the village.
When Atenco Lopez eventually immigrated with her family to East Boston in 1993 and opened her restaurants — there are locations in Eagle Hill and Orient Heights (which opened in 2016) — she cooked with the same deliberateness her mother taught her to all those years ago. She tweaked the mole here and there according to the availability of ingredients, but she never rushed the process.
“Debes cocinar lentamente,” she told The Boston Globe in 2017, which translates to “You must cook slowly.”
Over the years, Angela’s Cafe has been a neighborhood favorite and a regular inclusion on “best of” lists in local press. The restaurant also appeared in a 2012 episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
Atenco Lopez is survived by her six children — Martha Garcia, Joel Garcia, Maria Dolores Garcia, Carlos Garcia, Irene Garcia, and Jose Luis Garcia — 16 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.