Alamexo Cantina Remastered

Alamexo street corn
Alamexo street corn

One thing I’ve always respected about Chef Matt Lake is that he’s not afraid of change. After his first SLC restaurant, ZY, wasn’t performing up to his standards, he took one weekend to completely redecorate, rebrand, and the following Monday the city was introduced to Alamexo downtown.

Though not as dramatic a change, Chef Lake has listened to customer feedback at Alamexo Cantina, and has introduced a brand new menu. Shared plates as originally envisioned for the cantina are still available, however diners are now able to order their own entrees as well. Some classic dishes from Alamexo downtown have also found there way to the Cantina menu. And what started as one menu for both lunch and dinner has morphed into two separate menus. Those that enjoy adult beverages need not fear: Alamexo Cantina continues to offer its top-shelf selection of various tequilas as well.

On a recent visit I was able to try the larger entree portions, as well as some of the classic dishes. Queso Fundido with guajillo-marinated lobster was a rich, gooey revelation and is highly recommended (and coming in at a similar price as the guacamole, I think it’s a no-brainer which one I would choose, despite my love for a huge bowl of guac).

Queso Fundido with Lobster
Queso fundido with lobster

Fans of Alamexo downtown will be happy to see that Chef Lake’s famous Enchiladas Suizas are now on the cantina menu. These are my go-to enchiladas, and they never disappoint. I also tasted the Enchiladas Jaiba y Camarones (enchiladas with lump crab and gulf shrimp, baked in a roasted habanero cream sauce). Rich, sweet, and spicy, these delightful enchiladas hit all of the right notes. I had a hard time choosing between the seafood enchiladas and the Mole Poblano enchiladas. Mole Poblano is my all-time favorite mole due to the sweet, rich, chocolately notes. I had the server bring me out a small taste of the mole Poblano, and I would suggest it for only the biggest spicy fanatics out there. It was a bit past my comfort level.

Enchiladas with lump crab and gulf shrimp
Enchiladas with lump crab and gulf shrimp

Some of the other classic cantina side dishes remain. The street corn, cut from the cob and covered in lime aioli, queso fresco, and chile molido, remains one of my favorite dishes. And the Platanos con Crema remains on the menu as well, although the new versions are large chunks of plantain that are then fried, as opposed to the old “crab cake” style plantains from the old menu, which were diced up and formed into patties, then fried. I preferred the old style, but plantain lovers will really enjoy the new version as well.

Plantains
Plantains with cream

In celebration of the new menu, and for the upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration, Chef Lake is rolling out a few specials for Cinco de Mayo. Both Alamexo Cantina and Alamexo downtown will feature carnitas tacos with salsa verde, avocado, and jalapeno escabeche. Another special menu item will be enchiladas enfrijolatas with achiote chicken and asparagus. Both locations will also feature a special drink menu, including one named Medicina Botanica: Espolon reposado, ginger agave, lemon, and a Wahaka mezcal float.

In the mood to win a free dinner to Alamexo Cantina? I’m giving away $100 for the cantina (drinks and gratuity are not included) to celebrate the new menu, and to celebrate SLCeats reaching 1,000 followers on Instagram. All you have to do? Go to the SLCeats Instagram page and leave a comment on the giveaway post. That’s it! I’ll pick one commenter at random and the $100 is yours!

 

Disclaimer: $100 gift card provided by Alamexo Cantina. I was an invited guest to try the new menu.

Alamexo Cantina

Alamexo Cantina-2.jpg

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.

Alamexo Cantina-6
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

http://www.alamexo.com/cantina

Alamexo Cantina-14

 

 

 

Preview: Alamexo Cantina

During his travels throughout Mexico, Chef Matt Lake, owner of Alamexo, most enjoyed eating at the vibrant local cantinas. These open-air restaurants, some more boisterous than others, emphasize community and togetherness as friends and families gather around tables to share in various freshly-prepared dishes.

These memories have informed Matt’s latest culinary project: Alamexo Cantina, opening in May in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. The cantina will be the lower-key little brother to Alamexo, keeping the same attention to ingredients and the cooking process, but trading white tablecloths for bottles of cerveza and a six-foot comal.

I stopped by to taste some of Matt’s planned dishes for the cantina. I would expect nothing less than exceptional from Matt, and judging by these test plates, he’s well on his way towards that goal.

Alamexo Cantina, opening mid-May

1059 East, 900 South, Salt Lake City.

Alamexo November Chile Festival

Usually about this time of the year, Utahns are seeking shelter and warmth. With this year’s unseasonably warm November, we may not exactly be feeling that way, but things are about to change.

In anticipation of the imminent colder weather, Alamexo is holding the November Chile Festival from Thursday November 17th through Saturday November 19th. Chef Matt Lake wants to share his love of piquant peppers with inhabitants of SLC by offering numerous dinner and drink specials.

The main event of the festival will be a cooking class and three course lunch. The class is titled “Cooking with the Chiles of Mexico” and Chef Lake plans to show attendees just how versatile chiles can be.

Call to reserve a seat in the class: (801) 779-4747. Cost is $35 (including lunch!)

Saturday, November 19, 11am
Alamexo Mexican Kitchen, 268 S State St, Salt Lake City

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Photo courtesy Alamexo

 

Alamexo has recently opened in the space previously occupied by one of my favorites, ZY. In fact, Alamexo has the same owners, staff, and even the same chef: Matt Lake.

Matt moved to Utah a few years ago from New York, where he worked as chef for one of New York’s premier Mexican restaurants. After a few years operating the contemporary American restaurant, ZY, Chef Lake decided to go back to his culinary roots and switch to Mexican.

After an incredibly quick menu and restaurant decor switch (Lake didn’t want to close down for three months and have to lay off staff) which took only a few days, ZY has now transformed to Alamexo. And while I’m sad to see ZY go (Lake was adamant that we will see ZY once again in Salt Lake), Alamexo is a very welcome addition to SLC.

You won’t find any other Mexican food in Salt Lake in such a contemporary, modern environment. But don’t equate “contemporary” and “modern” to “expensive.” Entrées range from $13-$25 with sides and appetizers filling in the $3-$12 range.

Go with the guacamole, made tableside by your server in a molcajete. For $10, it’s a little on the pricey side for one avocado’s worth of guacamole, but worth the show.

My favorite side dish was the Mexican corn. Sweet, fresh corn accompanied by hints of chile, lime, and cotija. My mole poblano enchiladas were rich, complex, and the pork was cooked perfectly. Lake has always said the he doesn’t choose his signature dishes; his customers do. And I have a feeling that these will be on the menu for a while.

A dining companion’s steak dish was equally tasty and cooked spot-on.

As we went during their soft opening week, desserts were not on the menu, however, the kitchen brought out the best churros I’ve had. Don’t leave Alamexo without ordering some.

I’ve always viewed Matt Lake and ZY as a bit of a sleeper in the SLC dining community. I attribute part of this to Lake’s low-key demeanor. He is a guy that cooks because he loves to cook. He’s not in it for the fame. But if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he won’t remain a sleeper for long. Salt Lake’s lucky to have him.