If your idea of Mexican food is shaped by Taco Bell or Don Pablo’s, it’s time you tie your taste buds into something auténtico. Real Mexican food sports colorful flavors that aren’t just spicy but tickle your tongue like a mariachi band rattles your ears.
In recent years, we’ve told you about quite a few new taquerias and roticerias brought to town by Louisville’s growing Latino community; just about every new arrival has added gustatory excitement to the regional mix. We thought we had pretty much hit the top of the ladder when a lovable, Mexico City-style taco and gordita trailer, Las Gorditas, rolled up recently in Fern Creek’s Eastland Shopping Center (LEO Weekly, May 28).
But there’s more. Out on another edge of the metro area, in a strip center just off I-65 where Hamburg Pike meets the mysteriously monikered Charlestown–N.A. Pike, the tiny but lovable Buenos Dias Café — open since March but attended with zero publicity — raises the bar another notch.
Buenos Dias means “good day” in Spanish, of course, and the bold tangerine and papaya-colored walls and pretty blue tables and chairs in this bright, modern strip-mall eatery make it feel like a sunny morning all day long.
The menu is short, but it is affordable, and the dishes are delicious. And what’s more, it’s not just Mexican but reflective of all the Latino heritages of owner Daisy Lucio and her family, who hail from — and offer the culinary delights of — Mexico, Puerto Rico and Honduras. (Moreover, their journey here brought them through New York City, so there’s no language barrier with the staff’s fluent English.) You can flip the menu to the English or Spanish side. Either way, it features no more than a half-dozen breakfast dishes and a similar number of lunch and dinner plates (service is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except Sundays).
Breakfasts range in price from $3.50 (for several dishes, including Mexican migadas or a Norteamericano-style eye-opener with eggs, toast, sausage and bacon) to $5.50 (for my choice, the Honduran breakfast, Desayuno Hondureño, a hearty combination of two eggs of your choice with a choice of Latino meats — I chose grilled beef — avocado slices, mild queso blanco and Honduran red beans).
Main dishes remain in the attractively affordable range, from $6.99 (for several dishes including Enchiladas, breaded chicken Milanesa or Guisado de Res Cortadillo, Mexican stewed beef) to $9.25 (for fiery shrimp Camarones a la Diabla). Quesadillas, tostadas, tacos, tortas, gorditas and much more run a la carte in the $1.75 to $5 range.
Small, open-face Mexican-style tacos dressed with onion and cilantro ($1.50) were first-rate, and we easily disposed of a crunchy chicken quesadilla ($3.50) and an open-face sope ($1.75), which is to a tostada as a Chicago deep-dish pizza is to a thin-crust New Yorker.
With Jarritos soft drinks and Mexican Cokes made with real cane sugar, we’ve never been able to push a hearty meal here past the $20 point. Prices like that more than justify the few drops of petrol needed to trek the eight miles north.
Buenos Dias Café
1703 Charlestown-N.A. Pike
Robin Garr’s rating: 88 points
Cake Flour buzz
Claudia Delatorres loves to bake, and it shows. When Delatorres and her husband, Rafael Veraslavsky, moved here from New Jersey last year, it didn’t take her long to turn her professional baking skills into a small retail shop — Cake Flour — that is already luring both walk-in and drive-in crowds to its small but spick-and-span take-out-only quarters on East Market Street.
A large selection of cupcakes, cookies, tarts, homemade marshmallows, muffins and scones are made with organic ingredients. Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees and espresso drinks and FairTrade Certified hot teas are on tap. Quality ingredients made with loving care and served up by people who seem to really enjoy what they do make this one a winner: Local foodies are already comparing Cake Flour’s pastries to Blue Dog’s breads as a local gold standard.
909 E. Market St.
Robin Garr’s rating: 93 points
INSIDER INFO FOR THOSE WHO DINE OUT
In my last column, we visited the restaurant kitchen that lies behind the dining room access door and found it to be bright, hot and noisy. But who’s cooking your food?
Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) simplified the elaborate and ornate kitchen brigade first popularized by Antoine Careme, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine. The 21st century kitchen brigade has been even further distilled, personnel-wise. Who’s cooking your food? A little bit of everyone. Let’s look at the Brigade de Cuisine in the modern restaurant kitchen, shall we?
The Sous Chef. This is the guy who orders all the ingredients, comes up with most of the specials, (probably) makes the schedule for the secondary cooks, decides when the bread gets made, and decides how much prep gets done. Most importantly, he’s there all the time. Literally, all the time the restaurant is open. Not something that happens in a bank or a bookstore. This is a person who’s there whenever we are doing business.
The Sauté Guy. This person makes your pasta specials, your vegetables for your entrees … basically anything that gets sautéed. He’s the “sauté guy.” Enough said.
The Grill Man. This person is very, very important. Who is more important than the guy (or girl — they’re both known as “grill man”) who grills your steak to temp? Nobody, that’s who. A good grill man is golden.
The Pantry Person. Also known as the “salad monkey” or “salad bitch,” this is the person who tosses and plates all your salads, cold appetizers and desserts. Also known as the garde-manger (keeper of the cold foods).
The Prep Cook. The backbone of the restaurant. The prep cook comes in, faithfully, day in and day out, to make the basic ingredients for the line cooks and pantry people. Blue cheese dressing and marinara sauce for the Italian menu items. Polenta cakes and garlic aioli for the sub sandwiches. A dependable prep cook is worth his weight in bourbon (kitchen currency).
The Pastry Chef. I’ll admit to some prejudice here — I am a pastry chef. The pastry chef formulates and executes all the desserts. People generally love dessert, but only about 25 percent of patrons actually order it. However, the dessert course has one of the highest profit margins on the menu. So it’s good for a restaurant’s bottom line to have a pastry chef who makes the tastiest possible sweets.
The Dishwasher. Possibly the most important person in the kitchen. Actually, definitely the most important person. Need I say why?
In the end — and I want to be honest here — kitchen life is not anything like corporate, cube-dweller life. We say the most awfully (albeit hilariously) inappropriate things to each other, and nobody blinks. We suffer the worst heat — not just the grunt cooks, but anyone who works in the kitchen.
Next column: You can get your ingredients where we get ours, if so inclined.
The writer, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.