When it’s a cold and dreary day here in the Capital area, there is only one thing for us to do to save our sanity — daydream ourselves off to a pseudo-vacation in Mexico. As we envision rustling palm trees and a balmy breeze off the ocean, let’s traverse our town looking for the best Mexican restaurants to transport us as far away from this clinging winter as fast as possible. Surely a dash of spicy and melted, gooey cheese can warm us up until the tulips push their way toward the sun.
Fiesta CharraDewitt and East Lansing Fiesta Charra is a colorful and fun cantina that has two locations, one in Dewitt and one in East Lansing. It has a full bar with extensive margaritas and a huge menu with all kinds of specialty items, as well as your traditional Mexican fare. I went for lunch by myself and felt obligated to try one of their combination platters so I could sample the most offerings (versus when I help myself off the plates of others as I dine). For $10 they brought me TWO plates of food. Apparently, an enchilada, burrito, tostada, chili rellenos, taco and beans and rice all can’t fit on one plate. It was practically a party for one! Now, I base much of my Mexican food on the goo factor. Fiesta Charra does not disappoint. In fact, I had never had a chili rellenos before; the six feet of melted cheese I had to navigate made it my newfound favorite. My waiter was so much fun I practically asked him to marry me. He was, after all, willing to do anything for me (a bonus in a spouse or restaurant wait staff). Fresh and fun, Fiesta Charra is well worth a visit. Plus, if you have picky children, they have chicken, hamburgers and fries as well. So everyone can be happy. Ole!
Pablo’s PanaderiaOld Town I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I met my friend for lunch at Pablo’s. It claimed to be the home of the torta. As a delinquent food critic, I only had a vague idea what a torta was. My friend and I were able to secure a table and we started in on the complimentary chips and salsa. We augmented this with an order of guacamole. Everything was fresh and tasty. The salsa was mild with a touch of smoke. When asked for our order, the waitress recommended the Preuss Special Torta. People, I just have to say this. This was one unusual sandwich. The torta starts out with yummy bread that is homemade daily on site. Next, each side of the bread was smeared with refried beans. A pounded, breaded chicken cutlet was topped with bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado. For those with courage, a super spicy salsa and pickled jalapenos are served on top as well. I had mine on the side so I could control the amount of sweating. Once placed in front of you, your brain has to assimilate this food as Mexican. Once you taste it, it does not really matter. It was artistic license for a great sandwich. On the more traditional side, my lunch-mate chose the gorditas, which I promptly high jacked off her plate. It was a perfect little round mound of zesty, tender chicken and cheese. The cornmeal “pocket” was both chewy and crisp. I loved this simple yet satisfying fare. The menu consists of many of the old favorites, and its authenticity is reinforced by such selections as beef tongue. While Pablo’s does not offer any sort of alcoholic beverages, they have nice juices to create a taste of the tropics. Another great detail is that they are open for breakfast. What better way to start your day than Heurvos Rancheros or eggs married to spicy chorizo and cheese? And who doesn’t love a dash of Old Town? I even hit a few galleries on my way out, full of food and culture!
Aldaco’sSouth Lansing I think I am in love. This humble restaurant serves up some serious Mexican food. Have you ever watched an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and been so frustrated because you can’t eat something they showcased? I hate that. So, when I saw Chilaquiles con Gallina on their menu I was beside myself. Now, Aldaco’s is famous for their buffets which offer tacos, burritos and enchiladas, complete with all the fixings. They have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all are ridiculously reasonably priced (the most expensive is the fajita buffet on Friday and Saturday for $10.95). So, I practically felt like a renegade ordering off the menu. I am beyond glad I did. An insane wad of deliciousness was placed in front of me. My fork practically bent in its obligation of separating fried tortilla strips mixed together with excessive amounts of melted cheese, tender shredded chicken and a spicy ranchero sauce. It was like heaven on a plate served up with beans, rice and hot, soft, homemade tortillas. Did I mention that their salsa tasted so fresh I felt like I was hit in the face with a tomato? I never made it to the buffet, but I will for sure be heading back. Though Aldacos does not have a liquor license, they have something to make up for it: they deliver everywhere. Think Holt, East Lansing, Okemos, etc. Aldaco’s from my couch? I am in love.
Colette Evangelista sells certified organic, non-toxic beauty, health, baby and home products at www.healthandhopeorganics.com. Twenty percent of her profits go to Ascending Above Autisim, a charity that helps parents pay for autism treatment.