Matthew Lake has a passion for Mexican fare
Matthew Lake, the owner and executive chef at Alamexo Mexican Kitchen and its newer offspring Alamexo Cantina, is passionate about Mexican cuisine. He doesn’t cut corners when it comes to sourcing ingredients, which is one of the things that separates his Mexican meals from so many others. To wit, he tasted and tested more than one hundred different tortilla chips before settling (or rather, not settling) on the ones he serves at Alamexo Cantina. He ended up having his chips custom made by La Flor with a special blend that includes corn meal, quinoa and flax seed. They’re a tad sturdier than typical tortilla chips with a wonderful texture.
Everything from Scratch
Well, a chef who’d go to those lengths for a superior tortilla chip certainly isn’t going to open a can of enchilada sauce to smother his enchiladas with. Everything at Alamexo Cantina – which recently modified its menu – is made from scratch. I stopped in last week to try out some of the new dishes, and you should too. It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy a Mexican meal on the Alamexo Cantina terrace.
Part of the Cantina menu revamping included importing some customer favorites from the downtown Alamexo location, such as fresh guacamole prepared tableside, Tacos de Pollo y Adobo, and the splendid Tacos Pescado Mixtos made with wild-caught mahi mahi and Gulf shrimp. But my favorite new taco addition is Lake’s Tacos al Pastor – tender and juicy braised pork with a little sweetness via grilled pineapple.
From NYC to SLC
Chef Lake has been developing his south-of-the-border-style cooking skills for quite some time, including stints at Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe and New York City’s renown Rosa Mexicano. Discussing the foods and culture of Mexico, Matt says “This is the only cuisine I can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I just really love the food and the people.”
What makes Alamexo and the Cantina so different from myriad Mexican restaurants in town is that Lake offers customers tastes from the various regional cuisines of Mexico, not just, say, tacos, burritos and enchiladas.
So on the new Alamexo Cantina menu you’ll find, for example, queso fundido, which is a luscious, Northern-style blend of baked Chihuahua and Oaxaca cheeses with rajas (roasted poblano chile strips), cilantro, minced white onion (Lake would never use yellow onion, because they use white ones in Mexico), and warm corn tortillas. From the southern part of Mexico, he delivers the flavor of Oaxaca with his rich and slightly smoky tasting enchiladas mole poblano, which is pulled chicken in adobo that’s baked in a traditional Oaxaca-style mole poblano sauce. The depth and complexity of flavor in a dish like this one is nothing short of spectacular.
Aside from the prototypical camarones a la Diabla, which is a shrimp dish with devilishly spicy sauce, you don’t run across many incendiary seafood dishes in Mexico. But my wife and I both (after being warned by our server) loved the lip-numbing heat of chef Lake’s enchiladas jaiba y camarones – an enchilada stuffed with Gulf shrimp and lump crab meat, baked in a roasted tomato and habanero cream sauce. If you’re looking for a respite from bland seafood dishes, this is it!
A Superior Staff
Thankfully, the service and Alamexo Cantina reaches the same lofty notes that Matt Lake’s cooking does. Headed up by ever-vigilant General Manager Susan Bouldin, the Cantina staff achieves the perfect blend of professionalism and friendliness, a combination that isn’t always easy to come by. And, if you care to imbibe in Mexican spirits, Alamexo Cantina has your back there too, offering a terrific selection of imported tequilas, mezcals, cervezas and liqueurs.
I might not get down to Mexico this summer, but I know I can find excellent south-of-the-border cuisine and ambiance near the corner of 9th and 9th at Alamexo Cantina.
Do you have a favorite Mexican restaurant? Please tell us about it.
Culinary quote of the week:
As Americans, we tend to look at Mexican food as nachos, which is not Mexican food really – they don’t eat them. — Anthony Bourdain
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.