Lola: Hit and Miss

One of the things I love is the bounty of Mexican food restaurants that we have in the city. We have our 24-hour drive throughs that all end in “etos” or “bertos.” We have taco carts and birria joints. We have places to eat deep, flavorful molé. We have cheap eats and higher-end. It’s a bounty of choices.

So where does Lola, located at 9th and 9th, fit in this spectrum? Well, it might be best for me to describe the place and you can judge for yourself.

The interior is befitting of the chic exterior of the restaurant. The first thing that draws you eye upon entering is the long open kitchen that greets you right as you cross the threshold. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for open kitchens. I don’t care how “2010” of me it is to say so. As a wannabe chef, it is infinitely intriguing to me to watch them work their magic.

The dining room is noisy with excitement, but not overly so. The steady thrumming of noise adds vibrancy and energy to the room, while not being too much.

The menu is focused, though not overly simple. You’ll find two to three appetizers, a few salads, and eight or so entrees. The restaurant offers some creative drink options, including some really nice aguas frescas.

We started our meal with the queso fundido, and warm, melty cheese dish featuring Heber Valley Cheese. The dish stuck to its roots with soft corn tortillas, but I would have liked to have been given the option to get some traditional tortilla chips, which would have made scooping the gooey cheese with bits of plantain a bit easier.

For our entrees, our party chose the toasted Japanese yam with “umami sour cream,” the tinga empanada, and asada burro, and the chicken milanesa.

The yam received rave reviews from our friend, who said the mix of flavors were really nice. The yam was so light that she remarked that it was like she was eating a cloud. The tinga dish was also well received, and the carne asada burro, despite needing a bit of salt and perhaps a tangy element like some pickled onions or jalapeños, was also tasty.

The milanesa was a dud, I’m sad to say. Milanesa is traditionally prepared by slicing beef or pounding a chicken breast very thin, then lightly breading and frying. After reading the description, I was excited to give it a try, but sadly was disappointed. The dish needs to be completely reworked, or just 86’d. The chicken was tough, dry, chewy, and flavorless. I found myself wishing for a crema or sauce of some sort to help add some complexity to this dish and help add a bit of moisture, but all I had was a lemon wedge. The best part of this dish were the quick-pickled tomatoes, which I believe were seasoned with Tajin. I would have loved to have had another handful of those to help add a little excitement to this otherwise bland dish.

We had great service from who I believe is one of the owners and “sometimes chef” (in his words). Water pitchers were brought to the table promptly, silverware was replaced efficiently, and the timing of the meal was spot-on.

Should you check out Lola? I definitely think so. The restaurant adds a fun vibe to an already fun 9th and 9th. I’d say the restaurant sits between Chile Tepin and Monarca from an “upscale” perspective. You won’t be getting refried beans and rice with every entree, but you also won’t be spending $40 per plate, either. I think Lola sits in a nice spot price-wise, with entrees ranging from around $18 to $25 dollars.

So, go check it out and let me know what you think. Just don’t get the milanesa.


Alamexo Cantina

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During his travels throughout Mexico, Matt Lake, chef/owner of Alamexo Kitchen downtown, was always struck by a certain type of restaurant. The cantinas he encountered are vibrant, lively, and most importantly, promote a sense of community and togetherness. Families, friends, strangers gather around tables sharing various dishes and libations, telling stories and laughing together.

These memories drove Matt’s vision as he put together his newest project: Alamexo Cantina, which opened this week in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. The style of service is different than at Alamexo downtown. The cantina cuisine is reminiscent of a street market in Mexico, but in a sit-down situation.

“Everything will come family style, everyone orders and you have it all at once, mixing and matching. I don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. But I do want it to be fun. It needs to be super easy and fun,” says Lake. “The best way to get at this concept is that I wish I could pick what people eat but I can’t. I felt this was the closest way to get to that experience of just letting the chef guide your dining experience. Whatever time [of the day] you come it’s the same [price]. One menu, all day long, with a wide array of shared dishes.”

The space itself is striking, with bright, vibrant colors contrasting with the dark tables and ceiling. A large glossy Adam Finkle photograph adorns the back wall, showcasing the multitude of ingredients involved in making a molé. The centerpiece of the bar area is a large mural by local artist Harry Baldwin, and depicts the iconic Espolón Blanco label. There is a gorgeous candle wall that is interesting during the bright daytime hours, but turns into something living, breathing, and very special at night. My favorite part is that most of the front wall separating the dining room from the patio breaks down, opening up completely and blurring the line between inside and out. This will be the spot to be on a warm evening. The kitchen itself is small, and is limited to a long comal (flat top griddle) and two fryers for chips. That’s it.

“We’re limited in the kitchen. But with that limitation comes clarity,” says Lake.

For those of you who haven’t been to Alamexo downtown, or his previous project, ZY, I highly suggest you try Chef Lake’s creations out. He is, in my opinion, one of the most talented chefs in the city. He won Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award in 1996 and worked at New Heights in Washington D.C. and Rosa Mexicano in New York City, one of the city’s first and foremost upscale Mexican restaurants. He graduated at the top of the class while attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He, along with his team, make everything from scratch, from roasting whole chickens to making the various molé sauces.

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Chef Lake
So be sure to stop by, grab some guacamole and a drink at the bar, or dive right in to some dishes to share with some friends.

Alamexo Cantina
1059 East 900 S
Salt Lake City
(801) 658-5859

Reservations not accepted

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