Feb. 15, 2020 5:03 pm

South Philly Barbacoa’s chef will appear on a segment of ‘What’s Eating America’ this Sunday

Cristina Martínez, co-owner of the renowned Mexican restaurant, speaks with Andrew Zimmern about her lamb barbacoa and her activism on February 16 at 9 p.m. on MSNBC.

Andrew Zimmern and Cristina Martínez on "What's Eating America"

(Screen capture from "What's Eating America" clip from MSNBC)

Correction: Chef José Andrés' name in the first paragraph was corrected. (2/16/20 at 9 p.m.)
“Are you ever afraid of being detained or deported yourself?” Andrew Zimmern asks South Philly Barbacoa chef Cristina Martínez, in a clip from Zimmern’s and chef José Andrés‘ new show on MSNBC, which will air this Sunday at 9 p.m.

“No,” Martínez answers. “Tenemos que hacer la lucha.”

It’s a way of saying “we have to be in the struggle” — which means the fight to make things better for other undocumented immigrants like her. But also alludes to an expression commonly used by Mexicans and Central Americans to describe the daily grind, with all of its challenges and heartbreak.

And Martínez has had her share of those.

Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez.

Ben Miller & Cristina Martínez.

Her son died a few years ago, and her adult daughter, Karla, lives in Mexico. Benjamin Miller, Martinez’s husband and co-owner of South Philly Barbacoa, told Generocity‘s Julie Zeglen in 2018 that wanting to put Karla through school was the reason for Martínez’s immigration to the U.S.

“[T]he fact that she has been able to financially support her family is what Miller calls a ‘bittersweet success,'” Zeglen wrote, “because of her undocumented status, she can’t travel to Mexico to visit them.”

From our Partners

Sunday’s show won’t be the first time Martínez or South Philly Barbacoa is on TV. The restaurant was part of an episode of Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious” food and travel show which aired in February 2018, and then she was featured in a full episode of “Chef’s Table” in September. That same year, in August, Martinez appeared in a segment about immigrants in the restaurant industry on late-night comedy show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

Martínez’s lamb barbacoa earned South Philly Barbacoa a listing in Bon Apetit‘s best restaurants of 2016 list, and a coveted James Beard Award nomination for Martínez, but it’s her big-hearted advocacy that has earned her a unique place in Philadelphia’s restaurant world.

Cristina Martinez (left), co-owner and chef at South Philly Barbacoa, served her much anticipated barbacoa at the 11th #Right2Work Dinner.

Right2Work dinner. (Photo by Albert Hong)

South Philly Barbacoa organized several #Right2Work dinners — a platform for people to have a meal and discuss undocumented workers’ rights — as Albert Hong wrote for Generocity in 2016 — “including those of being able to openly speak your native language in the kitchen and receiving equal pay for the same work as others.”

On January 14 of this year Martínez was slated to create a special dining experience, along with Puerto Rican chef María Mercedes Grubb, as part of Reading Terminal Market’s “Market to Table” and in collaboration with GUSTO culinary series. When a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Puerto Rico January 7 — followed by multiple lesser magnitude but destructive quakes — Martínez and Grubb quickly pivoted, offering four nights of pop-up dining that raised funds to benefit those affected on the island.

“We have to leave something behind, A seed,” Martínez says to Zimmern in the preview clip of Sunday’s show. “And maybe I’m not going to be able to change that many things, but the seed is planted.”


From our Partners

A Generocity update, and our 2023 editorial calendar

Scribe explores oral history in ‘Power Politics’ series, funds emerging media makers

6 things we know about you


Generocity Philly

Meet Kim Andrews, new executive director for The Fund for Women and Girls

8033 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19118

harp-weaver LLC

Administrative & Grants Associate

Apply Now
Hamilton, NJ

Grounds For Sculpture

Manager of Wellness Programs

Apply Now
Central Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Prison Society

Prison Monitoring Manager

Apply Now

How to create a CSR initiative built to last

cinéSPEAK and the future of cinema in West Philly

Power moves: John Fisher-Klein becomes The Attic’s new executive director


Generocity Philly

Be the leader to bring a 26-year mission into the future in Chester County

Philadelphia, PA

Play On Philly

Director of Education

Apply Now


Bilingual Program Coordinator

Apply Now
Remote/Philadelphia, PA

Drexel University

Research Officer, Nowak Metro Finance Lab

Apply Now

Subscribe to Generocity

* indicates required