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Shop Front: Gordo’s Mexican Restaurant is a Hit With Americans in the Town

Published on: 22 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 21 Feb, 2023

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Gordo’s Mexican restaurant in North Street in Guildford opened in September 2022 and has already become a firm favourite of the American community in the town.

Gordo’s Mexican Restaurant in North Street. “Most evenings we are fully booked” said owner, Gordo.

Chef and owner Gordo said: “We designed our menu for our British customers but the surprising thing is that 60 per cent of our customers are American. They love the food, the tequila, the music and the atmosphere.

“We look after every customer. Some are a bit nervous about the Mexican food, a bit worried it’s too spicy. But we put the spices separate and they can add as much or as little as they want. It seems to work because people are coming back time and time again.”

And you can see why. The place is authentic Mexican and Gordo is hugely proud of what he and his family have done.

“Everything is fresh, everything is on show. We don’t even have a microwave, just an oven and my hands. My wife Johana, is in charge of the financial, and even my daughter who is only 12, helps sometimes. She loves it.

“I am still surprised at how busy we are. Most evenings we are fully booked.”

Rafael ‘Gordo’ Onate

He is an emotional and passionate man and was in tears as he told of his story coming to the UK and of the influence his father had on him.

“My dad was always scared to open his own business. When I told him of my plans for a restaurant in Guildford, he said ‘go on, it will work’. Two months later, he passed away.

The sign above Gordo’s Mexican Restaurant in North Street, Guildford. The date, 1951, is the year Gordo’s father, who was a huge influence on him, was born.

“We got the the lease at eleven in the morning after a long and difficult negotiation; my dad died later the same day. Without his encouragement, we wouldn’t have opened.

“People said we were crazy to open just after the pandemic and the war in Ukraine but I knew it would work.”

Gordo came to the UK 20 years ago, a tender 21 year old, because, he says: “The UK has the best restaurants in the world. It has changed my life”.

Husband and wife team, Rafael ‘Gordo’ and Johana Onate In Gordo’s Mexican Restaurant in North Street, Guildford.

He arrived in Guildford where his friend lived with literally only 20p in his pocket. “I only had enough money to call him to say I was at Guildford station. Somehow, it was easier then.

“I met Johana in Guildford, it was amazing to meet her so soon after I arrived.”

Where does the name Gordo’s come from?

“My name is Rafael Onate but everyone uses my nickname Gordo, including my wife. It means fat in Mexican but it is a term of endearment. It started when I was working in a London restaurant and there were three chefs called Rafael. When they called out my name, everyone turned around, so Gordo it was.”

It is hard work running a restaurant. Gordo said: “Thursday, Friday and Saturday, all day and night, we are proper busy, sometimes we have no space at all.

“We will hire more chefs when we can afford it. At the moment, a lot is on my shoulders, I have to be here, to make it happen.

“Luckily, our staff is fantastic. They have become our family.”

Vibrant Mexican ambience at Gordo’s. The papel picado paper flags mean “happiness” said Gordo.

He has big plans for the Gordo brand. “I want to open up a fine dining Mexican restaurant. Our cuisine is incredible and I want people to come and say ‘This is how my grandmother cooks’.

“I think it is going to be amazing. People will love it.”

You can find Gordo’s Mexican Restaurant at 73A North Street, Guildford GU1 4AW.

Open Monday to Saturday 8.30am to 11pm. Contact Gordo’s on 07737 981825 or 07888 336674 or email

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