Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eating Detroit - Senor Lopez

A few of us were talking at the office just the other day about food and the fun one gets out of taking in the regional fare when traveling. Ralph and I are fixin' to take a road trip in a week or so and head southeast to North Carolina to see my brother, but stopping along the way to visit some of Ralph's family in Pittsburgh and West Virginia. I've already gotten a number of tips on places to eat along the way, and if time permits, we'll try to take them all in. But the conversation at the office came around to "Detroit foods" and what is special to us here in the Motor City. Some might say the "Coney Island" hotdog is a real Detroit thing. Others mention regional brands of food like Better Made, Faygo and Sanders - but is there a Detroit "cuisine?" (I might argue that a Sanders hot fudge cream puff is one of the greatest contributions Detroit has made to the world of food!).

I think that one area in which Detroit really shines is is wealth of outstanding ethnic foods. Like most big cities with a diverse population, eating in Detroit is often colored by one's liking/disliking of particular ethnic foods. Regardless of what one enjoys, if it's ethnic food you crave, Detroit is a good place to be.

Southwest Detroit has long been home to a large Hispanic community, and it abounds with wonderful restaurants, stores and shops which all celebrate the rich cultures of Mexico. "Mexicantown," as it's known to us here, is but one small part of a large community that has thrived in Detroit.

After some running around, I met Ralph at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants in Detroit - Senor Lopez. Located on a busy strip of Michigan Avenue at Cecil, it sits next to a funeral home and across the street from a Topless Go-Go Bar (location, location, location!!). It's not a big place by any means, maybe about 10 tables. What it lacks in size it makes up for in food, service and value.

One of the things I love about Senor Lopez is the chips and salsa that is brought out to the table when you sit down. Sure, most Mexican restaurants provide this, but theirs is particularly good. The chips, fried golden brown, are salted and fresh. You get two salsas and something else (I'm not even sure what it is, but it's good!). One mild, kind of garlicy salsa, and one with a kick and a great tomato flavor. Then there is a little container, about the size of a shot glass, filled with a thick oil and pepper flakes. This little concoction is smoky and hot and bursting with flavor. (Senor Lopez triad of salsas in second photo)

We both got the taco lunch, which includes two soft tacos, rice and beans for $3.00. Can you believe it? $3.00! Can I just say something about the beans? These are not the typical refried numbers you get at most places, these are whole beans, slow cooked in a very simple thin broth. Very beany in flavor, these are a little larger pinto beans and they taste delicious with the rice. (Picture 3 - my taco plate that included those incredible beans)

You can pick the kind of two tacos you want with your lunch, and even add one or two more on the plate if you like (that's what we did - they are $1.25 each ala carte). Between the two of us we had the Al Pastor (pork), Carne Asada (beef), Chorizo and egg and Cochinita Pibil (pork) tacos. All of them different, all delicious. They are put on small tortillas (they actually double the tortillas up so these tacos are good and sturdy!) and top each with chopped onion and cilantro. Simple. Authentic. Yummy. (Ralph holding up his plate and telling me to hurry up and snap the damn photo so he can eat!)

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