Major Mamey Mamacita
Lalo’s is epic for several reasons. Starting with the karmic:
Xochitl Arellano and I must have loved in another life. It’s too kismet, too comfy, too cool.
Prior to Lalo’s, my knowledge of Xochitl’s life is largely bio greatest hits: former Capitol reporter for Univision, now press secretary for Sen. Gil Cedillo and the Legislature’s 26-member Latino caucus.
Then a poster near Lalo’s kitchen counter advertising mamey licuados triggers a Niagara of delight. Mamey is a fruit from Xochitl’s youth in Mexico City. Licuados are milk shakes.
The prospect of drinking one thrills her. The restaurant’s engaging matriarch, Cecilia Tinoco, breaks it to Xochitl, en espanol, that there’s no mamey today. The fruit, only grown in the tropics, is cooling its jets at LAX. We discuss our future fortune as California’s first mamey magnates.
Fresa, platano, nuez, papaya and avena licuados – strawberry, banana, walnut, papaya and oats — can be had for $4.00, four bits less than Xochitl’s cherished mamey. She’s not having any of it. My mamey or the highway.
Must taste phenomenal.
“Celestial. Seriously: Eternal spring, a tropical rain. A fruit of the gods. Texture like papaya. Tastes like a tropical sweet potato. No se. But I adore it.”
Man o’ Manischewitz, major mamey mamacita.
The menu over the counter conjures more memories. There’s atole, Xochitl says with excitement. A warm cornstarch-based, sweetened with cinnamon and vanilla winter morning drink bought from street vendors. It usually served with tamales.
And mixto – a mélange of fresh-squeezed orange, carrot and beet juice. Looks iffy on paper, yes. Through a straw, sweet success.
My face hurts from grinning at Xochitl’s unfettered delight.
Xochitl establishes that Cecilia hails from a barrio near hers. And that’s the key to Lalo’s uniqueness: What’s being served is what residents of the Distrito Federal eat.
There aren’t molcajetes or tortas or buche tacos or deep-fried flor de calabaza and huitlacoche quesadillas at Chevy’s, El Torito, Vallejo’s, Zocalo’s or Ernesto’s.
Nor will any of those pretenders-to-the-throne offer State of Hidalgo style Riquisima Barbacoa – Delicious Barbeque – every Saturday and Sunday, accompanied by consommé made from the meat leavings and bones.
A pound of barbeque – Libra Barbacoa – is $9.00 plus another $2.00 for the consommé.
An ancient cooking method, barbacoa is meat — cow head or lamb or pork or goat — wrapped in maguey cactus leaves and, traditionally, cooked in a pit.
The maguey is the centerpiece of Lalo’s logo.
There’s a large leaf-wrapped slab of something on the griddle. Goat, Cecilia tells Xochitl. The weekend’s barbacoa-in-training.
We sample a bit of everything except the buche tacos. Not because its pig’s esophagus but because Xochitl hankers for the $3.50-a-throw squash flower and corn fungus quesadillas. Xochitl wants more squash flowers in the flor de calabaza. The pitch-black corn fungus is a Mexican delicacy, Xochitl says. It’s a staple of Aztec cooking. Its name comes from two words in Nahuatl: huitlatl” meaning poop and “coche” which means raven.
Despite the poor marketing, the corn fungus is a hit although its somewhat bland taste is sharply improved with generous helpings of the house hot sauce and escabeche.
Cecilia is alone in the kitchen when we enter. After we order, women — young and old – converge in the tight kitchen. They’re more purposeful than the Borg Collective.
Cecilia mans the juicer, creating my carrot juice and Xochitl’s mixto. The bottom of the $2.00 glass of tamarindo is crowded with tamarind puree that isn’t store-bought.
The $6.50 Milanese torta, despite starring a slab of breaded beef, is light and flavorful primarily because the telera bread is. Neither of us would complain were there more avocado inside, however.
My $10 molcajetes pours steam after its placed on the table by a somewhat sullen young woman from the kitchen. Molcajetes are the traditional basalt grinding mortars of Mexico and that’s exactly what is filled with slices of chorizo, pollo, bistec, nopales cactus, a glob of Queso Oaxaca and two industrial-sized scallions awash in a soupy, touch-too-salty, cilantro-based sauce.
Never tasted a molcajetes like it before since this ends my molcajetes virginity.
Asked what the best thing about being 105-years-old was, an elderly woman once replied: “No peer pressure.”
Similarly, Lalo’s is incomparable. Buen Probecho!
Filed under: Restaurant Raconteur
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