South Philly Barbacoa Owner Cristina Martinez Named 2023 Praxis Award Recipient

Cristina Martinez in her restaurant.

VILLANOVA, Pa ­­– From an undocumented immigrant fleeing an abusive husband to a nationally recognized chef and workers’ rights champion, Cristina Martinez has demonstrated impressive ethical integrity in the face of adversity. In recognition of Martinez’ character and accomplishments, Villanova University’s Ethics Program presents her with the 2023 Praxis Award. Given annually since 2007, the Praxis award recognizes a professional or academic who exemplifies the highest ethical ideals of their profession or who has contributed to professional ethics scholarship.

After fleeing Capulhuac, Mexico, Martinez began working in restaurants, taking jobs typically held by immigrant workers. Today, she is owner of Casa Mexico and South Philly Barbacoa—which was named one of Bon Appetit magazine’s 10 best new restaurants in 2016, featured in an episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table in 2018, and appeared in the taco episode of David Chang’s Ugly Delicious. In 2019 and 2020, she was nominated for a James Beard Award as best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region and won in 2022.

Martinez uses her prominence as a chef for good, advocating for ethical practices in the restaurant industry, with a specific focus on undocumented workers’ rights. She co-founded, along with restaurateur Benjamin Miller, the #Right2Work dinner series, now run by the Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights, which offers a platform for people to have a meal and discuss the lack of basic rights given to undocumented workers. She was also among the original supporters of the People’s Kitchen at the beginning of the pandemic. Led by Miller, as program director, and founder Aziza Young, the People’s Kitchen provides free and nutritious meals, gardening and education, and Martinez continues to champion this important organization.

“One of the things that stood out to me and the nomination committee, is what Ms. Martinez has done in light of her own struggles as an undocumented but highly skilled restaurant worker,” says Mark Doorley, PhD, director of the Ethics Program. “She has established herself and from that position of security has not forgotten her sisters and brothers who are quite vulnerable. She has created structures that provide much needed resources for this community. She is not afraid to use her platform to pay forward her blessings.”

Martinez will formally receive the award on Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 4:30 p.m. in the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center. The event is free and open to the public.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.