By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–A South Philadelphia chef is fast becoming the face of the call for comprehensive immigration reform.

South Philly Barbacoa– aka– South Philly Barbecue– is as colorful as its kitchen is aromatic. And it’s where Cristina Martinez a Mexican immigrant and her American husband Ben Miller work seven days a week.  They spend four days prepping and three days–Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays–selling their famous lamb, pork and veggie tacos and other Mexican cuisine to long lines of waiting customers. It’s also where their barbecue nearly always gets sold out.

“Everything is very fresh–the vegetables, the meats,” says Martinez. “And every week it’s different people, more people, more customers.”

Martinez’s authentic food is so good Bon Appetit named Barbacoa one of the best restaurants in the country.  Martinez and Miller also caught the eye of Fortune Magazine and Philly Mag. They’ve also been recognized by City Council.

But the national headlines are not all about food, instead Martinez is getting nods for her activism. She and her husband help organize Days of Action and got Philadelphia City Council to put together a resolution recognizing the contributions of undocumented workers. On May 1 they are taking the cause national–kicking off organized dinners in New York, Atlanta and other cities hoping other municipal governments pass similar measures.

“This woman has overcome insurmountable odds,” says Margaret O’Sullivan, executive director of the Nationalities Services Center, which will honor Martinez next week at their Global Tastes Event.

“She’s really special and we kind of saw that early on and wanted to make sure that somebody like Cristina was honored,” she says.

“It makes me happy, it makes me feel good,” says Martinez, when asked about the NSC Award and all the national attention.

But the wins come with a risk.  Martinez came to the US illegally from Mexico. She arrived in Philadelphia eight years ago, bringing nearly two decades of cooking experience with her.  She met Miller, who is from Eastern Pennsylvania, in the kitchen and they got married.  Currently, the law provides no way for Martinez to stay in America an obtain citizenship. She’s hoping to use activism to change the law, but the couple has a “plan B” just in case.

“In the worst case scenario that she gets deported,” says Miller, “we already accepted those consequences and we know how to cook and we know how to run our business so we would just go to Mexico and do the same think– cook good food.”

So they’ll speak out for America’s more than one million undocumented restaurant workers and accept the risk, thanks to what’s going on in Barbacoa’s kitchen.

For more on Martinez’s honor from NSC or to purchase tickets, go to


Watch & Listen LIVE