Lupe’s Antojitos and Mexican Food
Hot carne love
I pride myself on learning new things when I eat. Whether it’s a tricky pronunciation (I had a thing with gewürztraminer) or understanding the subtle nuances of a different culture (I’ve made a faux pas or two involving Buddha shrines), I try to walk away from the table armed with knowledge for posterity.
This particular week I was educated that antojitos are appetizers featuring at least one item made from ground corn, and that sandals aren’t just for feet.
The house of learning was Lupe’s Antojitos and Mexican Food, a lovely, if uncomfortably hot, little watermelon-red casita on Zuni. Its homemade signs boasted Mexican faves like menudo.
Owner Antonio Ortega my was my charming and enthusiastic waiter. (And judging from the menu, he obviously shares my love of roasted meat.) I ordered an antojito plate of huarache de papas (seasoned potatoes in a thick corn tortilla shell, $7.25) followed by a plato de barbacoa (roasted lamb, $8.75). I also took him up on a chile relleno ($7.50 for a plate with two rellenos, rice and beans).
Ortega surprised me by bringing out a small bowl of soup—as it turns out, the steaming bowl of rich lamb broth with tender garbanzo beans, garlic and cilantro was included in my meal. A single, smoky red pepper floating on the surface of my soup turned out to be a chipotle pepper, which forced me to put aside my innate distaste for the little buggers.
I’m not a hater. It’s just that after too many dishes flavored with way too much smoked and canned jalapeño, I liken a chipotle-overloaded entrée to eating a fistful of cigarette butts. This stuff was different. It had a fine, slightly smoky aftertaste which didn’t overpower the pure taste of the lamb. The soup was so damn tasty I didn’t even care if the rest of my meal wasn’t.
My huge plate of crackling, roasted lamb meat came right after the soup, accompanied by sides of beans and rice, a warmer containing some extraordinarily good tortillas, several lime wedges, and a tiny plate with diced onion and cilantro.
The lamb was an entire bone-in shank of meat cooked to absolute perfection, with crisp, fatty bits on the outside that gave way to tender, moist strips of carne on the inside. Loaded into a soft tortilla with onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime, I became like an undisciplined child, sucking niblets of meat off my fingers.
I totally forgot my appetizer, which came in the middle of my hedonistic meat-fest. It was an anticlimax after the lamb, but I gave it a perfunctory couple of minutes. The antijito plate was well-sized for a starter, and it, too, came with large sides of rice and beans. The main attraction here was a fried white-corn tortilla boat (the literal translation of huarache is “sandal”) filled with chorizo-rubbed chunks of fried potato, all topped with shredded lettuce, crumbly queso blanco and crema. It wasn’t bad, just not as exciting as the preceding dishes.
The crown jewel of my dinner was the relleno. My experience with them at restaurants have been a lot like my high school boyfriends: skinny, seedy and really fried. This one was nice and plump, and came encased in the barest hint of batter. In the Mexican tradition, Lupe’s makes their rellenos with poblano peppers (aka undehydrated ancho chiles). The poblano meat was seedless, fruity and moist, which they stuffed with gooey, melted white cheese, then topped off with a zesty tomato-based red sauce. It was the best I’ve ever had.
Gut crammed with meat and chile, I sleepily paid my modest tab and asked Ortega what I should order the next time. He pointed to a sign out the window that read “Birria de Chivo” and told me, with some pride, it was very popular. Roasted goat meat? I feel a return trip (and a blog for the Alibi website) coming on already.