Restaurant owner serves Nebraskans and Iowans an authentic taste of Mexico City

Small Towns

Carmen Montes and Carlos Barcenas contributed to this story.

Para la versión en español, oprima aquí.

With a dream to open a business and the drive to contribute financially to her household, Cristina Hernandez began cooking food to sell out of her home, starting with the recipes she knew best and learning new ones along the way.

Cristina’s dishes became popular and started selling enough that she and her husband considered opening their own business with a storefront. Eventually, they were able to make that dream a reality, and on April 1, 2020, Cristina and her family opened Chilangos Mexican Pizza in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

Their location is small and initially did not have a complete kitchen or commercial kitchen hood. They did not have the resources to buy the correct equipment, and a six-month delay in opening left Cristina feeling defeated. She asked other business owners for the best place to find assistance and was told to trust the Center for Rural Affairs.

“My family has always been business-oriented, so we knew we could do it,” said Cristina. “But, we weren’t sure what path to take at first. Thanks to the Center’s guidance we could open our restaurant.”

In 2021, with financial assistance from the Center, she was able to buy the necessary kitchen equipment to operate the business.

Veronica Spindola, Latino loan specialist with the Center, worked with Cristina on the loan process.

“Cristina is an impressive woman—she is a really hard worker and she’s passionate about what she does,” said Veronica. “I love her creativity, not only to build an amazing and attractive menu but also to create a business space that is welcoming. You can feel the good vibes as soon as you enter her restaurant. Her entrepreneurial spirit and good business practices are going to take her a long way on her business path.”

Cristina also received one-on-one business coaching from Veronica.

“She reminds me that I can do this, and to keep working hard,” said Cristina. “Sometimes it’s not just the guidance that helps, it’s the motivation to keep going. Having somebody believe in me and support me really encouraged me and gave me confidence. The Center truly has helped me establish my business.”

Cristina and her husband, along with five full-time and three part-time employees, run the day-to-day operations at Chilangos Mexican Pizza. They focus on providing an authentic Mexican food experience.

The menu includes chilaquiles, stuffed peppers, tortas, gorditas, huaraches, hamburgers, and more made to order with fresh ingredients. Their pizzas are also made fresh and prepared with Mexican ingredients like chorizo or asada.

Cristina says customers may not find pizzas like hers anywhere else.

“My husband is from Mexico City and those who have been able to visit Mexico City or those who are from Mexico City know the gastronomy there is very broad,” she said. “He took me there so I could experience it, because he wanted something that reminded him of home.”

That trip solidified their decision to open something locally that would be as authentic as possible.

“I have always liked the kitchen, and ever since I was 15 years old I've been working in restaurants, so I am familiar with managing a restaurant,” Cristina said. “So, we combined our gifts and dreams in gastronomy.”

Along with authenticity, the business owners pride themselves on going above and beyond for their customers.

“If a customer comes in and asks for something we will try our best to meet that need—we'll say no if we have to, but we're always looking for ways to make it a yes,” said Cristina. “I tell my employees they don't work just for me, they also work for our customers because they are the ones who pay. I just sign the checks, but at the end of the day it's the customers who they’re serving. As a result, they see it as an opportunity to treat others well.”

Eventually, Cristina would like to open another restaurant or expand her current business, and she always has the Center in mind to call on for help.

“Working with the Center has been great,” she said. “Every time I have an issue or a problem, I call and ask questions. The Center doesn’t just offer financial help, it’s so much more. You can learn from their resources and classes, and you also have a connection with people who encourage you to do your best every day.”

Need financing for equipment or repairs for your business? Contact your regional loan specialist. Find yours at

At a glance

Chilangos Mexican Pizza, LLC
Cristina Hernandez
112 E. 19th St.
South Sioux City, Nebraska
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.