The primary endeavour of Dona Anita ("Mama") Espinoza is the restaurant by that name in the town of El Rosario on Mexico's Baja Peninsula. However, Mama Espinoza's mini-empire extends to a motel, museum and children's shelter, all located within a block of the restaurant.
I met Mama Espinoza two weeks ago while traveling in Baja. We had gone in search of a nearby fossil locality, and stopped in at the restaurant for a bite to eat before continuing south. We were so taken, both with the restaurant's food and with its legendary 100-year-old proprietress, that we ended up staying in El Rosario for an extra day and eating all our meals at Mama Espinoza’s. Mama Espinoza has devoted her entire life to giving. Half a century ago, for four field seasons, she supported the paleontology student who first excavated the site we had been looking for. She helps out women whose husbands have traveled to the US to find work. She runs a shelter for poor children in her town, for which she collects donations in the restaurant. She has established a tiny museum in town, displaying fossils and her own family’s antiques. She takes in strangers in need, providing them with rice, beans and soap. She helped found the Flying Samaritans, who for years ran their clinics from her house. Also, the breakfast of cactus and vegetables sautéed in red chili sauce, served with beans and hot tortillas, is spectacular.