No single dish best represents Lola’s Mexican Cuisine, but, oh, that salsa
By GARY METZKER and AMANDA DEL CID
This is a tale of two Lola’s.
My family and I had perfect timing last Saturday night; we walked from the Art Theater and were able to find a table right away. “That doesn’t happen often on a Saturday night,” said Adam, our waiter.
I couldn’t wait to get a chip into the green salsa; it is so addicting. I even poured it all over my baja shrimp burrito. And that burrito, with those huge sautéed Mexican shrimp bulging out of the flour tortilla along with the cabbage, pico de gallo, Mexican rice and smoke chile morita cream.
But enough about what I had for dinner.
Back to the cilantro salsa.
My daughter thought for sure there was cucumber in it. But we were told it has hints of jalapeno, cilantro, parsley and who-knows-what-else, because I was told the other ingredients are secret. In fact, former Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons said, “Lola’s green salsa may be the single most compulsively delicious sauce since the heyday of the white garlic paste at Zankou Chicken.”
My wife ordered the enchiladas suizas which are two corn tortillas filled with cheese, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, avocados. She added shrimp and said her meal was incredible.
The story of Lola’s is well documented on its website and in local media: Maria Delores Navarro – Lola to her family and friends – came from Guadalajara in 1972 with only $50, her grandmother’s recipes and a desire to open a restaurant in Long Beach. She opened Lola’s Mexican Cuisine at 2030 E. Fourth St., the stretch of Fourth Street known as Retro Row. It has been open for eight years and since her death in 2010, is run by her children, Luis and Erica.
The restaurant has been a success from the get-go and now that success has stretched into the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach with a second Lola’s location at 4140 Atlantic Ave. The family also started another restaurant called The Social List, which is across the street from Lola’s on Retro Row. And let’s not forget that it was Lola’s that had the first active “parklet” in Southern California, a program that expands seating and greenery in front of the restaurant.
A parklet extends past the sidewalk and onto the street, turning a couple of parking spaces into a patio with trees, planters, tables and chairs.
Arriving to Lola’s Bixby Knolls location on a Sunday night, it was surprising to find so few tables open. With bold colors, and small Mexican decor adorning the walls, anybody could feel right at home in the cozy space.
Nabbing a small table for two, my sister and I were greeted with welcoming smiles and two small dishes of salsa.
The salsa, being a cornerstone of Mexican cuisine, can really make or break a restaurant’s reputation and authenticity. I would go back to Lola’s based on the salsa alone, bringing flavors that reminded me of my mother’s fire roasted salsa and the creamy green cilantro salsa. It is GOOD.
For dinner I ordered the Birria Guadalajara, what my waitress Heidi said “Is one of the dishes [Lola’s] is well known for.”
Though I was a bit skeptical of the pork and veal birria at first, being that birria is traditionally made from goat meat I decided to give it a shot. Both my sister and I agreed that, though the meat was as tender as could be, the amount adobo spices in the sauce made the dish a bit too salty for our tastes.
The second dish we ordered to share, was the “El Trio” tacos on corn tortillas, that comes with refried beans and Mexican rice.
The Mexican rice was decent, and the refried beans were good, but the garlicky whole beans, which were served with the birria, were great, and I recommend substituting for those.
Now let us talk tacos. The “El Trio” plate comes with, you guessed it, three styles of tacos. The first taco is a grilled chicken poblano mole. This taco was a bit on the sweet side, which is good if you are into that.
Mole is a difficult dish to master when you consider the fact that it is a balancing act between the bitter chiles and the sweet chocolate. A simple mismeasurement of one or the other can make for a poor tasting mole. Considering the difficulty of the sauce, Lola’s was sweet but not too far off target.
I will interrupt myself to say I have a keen palate when it comes to the flavors of Mexico. Basically, as a Latina in Southern California, I have had my fair share of moles, birrias, and carnitas, and I know what is good and what isn’t.
Back to the tacos. The second taco of the “El Trio” plate was the birria, which we have already been over. The toasted garlic tomato salsa that came on the taco was good, but fell flat when paired with the strong flavor of the birria.
The last taco was a carnitas taco topped with a habanero roasted salsa. The pairing was great and the salsa really complemented the carnitas, but the meat was on the dry side. This could easily be attributed to breaking apart the meat too soon after cooking and let the moisture out too soon prior to serving, I assume that this was the case, because otherwise it would have been the best of the three tacos.
Overall my first time experience at Lola’s in Bixby was decent. I would love to go back and give some of their more interesting dishes a try, like the pork chops on blackberry mole or maybe one of the specialty margaritas or mojitos from the fully stocked bar.