April 21, 2023
Wine & Dine

Three minutes with Daniella Guevara Muñoz

Daniella Guevara Muñoz traded in her career as a marine biologist to follow her passion for traditional Mexican cooking. Now, her Port Adelaide restaurant La Popular Taqueria is celebrating its fifth year; her authentic handmade tacos having garnered a devout following.

The husband-and-wife team behind popular Port Adelaide restaurant La Popular Taqueria, Kor van Dijk and Daniella Guevara Muñoz. Photo: Kelsey Zafiridis

BEN Tell me about your upbringing.

DANIELLA I was born and raised in Mexico City where I had a fun childhood. My parents are foodies so we would often go out to restaurants, even when I was a little girl.

We had Mexican food, of course, but also different cuisines like Italian and Japanese, which weren’t easy to find in Mexico City back then.

My older sister and I were always excited to try new food, which was an important part of our childhoods.

But I really loved the ocean; I watched Jacques Cousteau documentaries and read National Geographic Kids and those were big influences on me.

I went on to study marine biology and never thought I’d become a cook.

BEN Was it marine biology that brought you to Australia?

DANIELLA In a way, yes. In Mexico, I did my thesis on coral reef fifish in the Caribbean and one of my dreams in life was to move to Australia, particularly to work at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

While studying I met my husband Kor van Dijk (pictured), who is also a scientist, and he later received an offer to move to work in Townsville – a dream come true.

At that time, I was the director of a marine park on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, which was beautiful, but we jumped at the opportunity.

Photo: Kelsey Zafiridis.

BEN How did you then become a cook?

DANIELLA When we lived in Townsville, my mindset shifted away from biology and I started thinking about doing something with Mexican food.

We then moved to Adelaide for Kor’s work, and I thought it was the perfect place to give it a go because Adelaide is a foodie city where people are willing to try new things.

But at the time you could mostly only get Tex-Mex; very different to traditional Mexican.

I didn’t have the experience or money to open a restaurant, but I learned about underground dining, which is popular in Latin America, and I started hosting dinners at home. Suddenly my dinners were fully booked.

I ran them for five years before we started the restaurant.

BEN Tell me about La Popular Taqueria

DANIELLA It’s a very small restaurant with an open kitchen, which is where you will find me. Kor runs the front of house and he also works as a researcher at the University of Adelaide. It still feels a little like the dinners I used to do with people coming into my home.

We still host special dinners, but now we have them in the restaurant.

BEN What makes La Pop different?

DANIELLA We make everything from scratch, including our maize tortillas and our dishes are inspired by the different regions of Mexico.

Tacos are a staple of our menu and it’s the traditional recipes that make it unique.

I want to change people’s minds about Mexican food. It should be exciting. It’s not cheap food, it requires hard work and it takes hours to make good Mexican food.

BEN What do you hope people take away from their experience of dining at La Popular Taqueria?

DANIELLA We’ve had Mexicans dine at the restaurant and they sometimes cry.

They say, “Oh my god, this took me back home”, and that makes me cry too!

I think that’s one of the best compliments you can get. Other people will say, “I’ve tried Mexican food before, but it really wasn’t my thing”, but if you haven’t been to Mexico, you probably haven’t had traditional Mexican food.

That’s what I really look forward to when I go out to dinner: new flavours and food experiences.

Photo: Kelsey Zafiridis.

BEN What’s been the key to surviving five years in such a difficult time for the hospitality industry?

DANIELLA I think it’s been about staying true to what I wanted to do – traditional Mexican food – and not Australianising my food.

It’s very easy to be distracted by what other people are doing and think you must change, too.

I had to be true to myself and hoped that our regulars would keep coming. Now, people leave the restaurant having experienced new flavours and many of them come back.

BEN Through running a restaurant, what have you learned about people?

DANIELLA I like to be around people and I really like to watch people’s expressions when they eat our food.

When you try something and your face changes, that’s amazing. We have an open kitchen so when people come to compliment the chef, it’s beautiful.

BEN What are your aspirations for the restaurant from here?

DANIELLA I have many ideas and dreams. I’m currently on the lookout for a space where I can have a bigger kitchen.

I’d like to reach more people with my food and to write a cookbook one day.


This story first appeared in the March 2023 print edition of SALIFE Magazine.

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