For most, hearing the words "East L.A." doesn't conjure up visions of rainbows and unicorns. Quite the extreme opposite, in fact. However, for the fanatically food-obsessed - ahem, me - the first thing that comes to my mind is Mexican cuisine. So you can imagine my intrigue when I came across "Lupe's East L.A. Kitchen." Aside from its chichi location - which borders Soho and Tribeca - there is nothing remotely fancy about Lupe's. Actually, it's kind of a dump.
Just after noon on Sunday, I met Dara - my willing Mexican-food brunch companion - at Lupe's. The two of us were able to score a cozy booth that could have easily seated four. *I'm not sure if this is what led our waitress to treat Dara and I like red-headed stepchildren, but I felt confident that something must have transpired. Seriously.
While we perused the menu, I made eye contact with the devil and flagged her over. "Can we have some chips & salsa? Also, some waters would be nice, too." She looked at me as if I had just told her that her car had been towed.
Remember that whole "low fat" food craze that included Tostitos' "Baked" tortilla chips? You know, the ones that taste like salted cardboard? Well, that's kind of how I'd describe Lupe's tostados. Luckily, the bowl of incredibly fresh and delicious, homemade salsa - laced with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and just the right amount of salt - was flavorful enough to dumb down that cardboard-esque aftertaste.
To further whet our appetites, Dara and I chose to split two appetizers: guacamole, and a cup of chili verde.
Guacamole: This mound of creamy, cilantro-studded guacamole was crowned by a salsa verde-filled reflecting pool which, when blended with the avocado, created quite a flavorful dip.
Chili Verde: This heartwarming stew proved to be the perfect accompaniment to Sunday's arctic temperatures. Green chile, tomatillo, onions, roasted tomatoes, and cubed potatoes were harmoniously bound in a zesty, vegetable-based broth. Dara and I especially enjoyed sopping up all of the savory goodness with a warm flour tortilla.
While Dara chose a brunchier entree, I simply could not resist ordering the cheese enchiladas. Our waitress even recommended that I try both the red and the green gravy, as she could not recommend one enchilada sauce over the other. Wow, maybe the Advil / lithium / Xanax / or whatever was finally kicking in!
From the gently smashed, grated cheese-topped refried pinto beans - the stubby, fluffy saffron-tinged rice - and even the shredded iceberg and chopped tomatoes dressed in a light vinaigrette - to the cheese enchiladas, I was very pleased with my entree. And speaking of, the enchiladas were packed with chopped white onion and gooey, white cheese. And while each of the sauces were equally tasty, I slightly preferred the red over the green.
While we waited for our tallied meal ticket, Dara and I split one of Lupe's homemade Mexican "wedding cookies." Filled with chopped pecans and topped with powdered sugar, the crumbly sweet treat proved to be the perfect ending to our delicious meal.
Conclusion: Would I return to Lupe's? Hell yes - rude waitress, or not. Though it's more "New Mexico" than "SoCal," I'm still a fan. From the kitschy atmosphere and no-frills decor, to a menu filled with plenty of familiar dishes, Lupe's made this Texan feel right at home.