Running a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas is like trying to stay upright on the proverbial tightrope, if my mail is any indication.
In this great melting pot of a city of ours, you have people who were weaned on California Mexican food, those who cut their teeth on Tex-Mex, adherents to Midwestern/Eastern seaboard iterations and some authentic Mexicans — who, just among themselves, represent various regions of Mexico, and therefore differing interpretations of its cuisine.
Lindo Michoacan is one of the valley’s most venerable Mexican restaurants, starting with the original on Desert Inn Road in 1990 and waxing and waning over the years to the current three locations, while competitors have come and gone and sometimes come again.
How do they do it? One look at the menu might provide a clue. There are the various combination plates for those who cleave to an American interpretation of Mexican food. There are six beef tongue dishes and menudo (on weekends) for the purists and the expatriates. Tacos and burritos for the fast-food fans. Nine egg dishes, for the hungover, I guess. And in between, dozens of dishes, some familiar, some not so much, but lacking any indication that there’s much going on in the way of cookie-cutter combining.
Here’s a not-so-familiar dish: the Camarones a la Mostaza ($19.50), from which I learned that the Spanish word for “mustard” is “mostaza” (Who knew? Definitely not me.) No, “Mexican” doesn’t immediately spring to mind when I hear the words “Dijon mustard,” which may be why I was drawn to this, one of 18 shrimp dishes on the menu. It was excellent, the shrimp gently sauteed in olive oil with onion and garlic and served with a creamy sauce that had the distinctive but in this case far from overwhelming (that’s a good thing) flavor of mustard.
Among the more familiar: the Carnitas a la Coca-Cola ($17.95). Well, this one certainly is not run-of-the-mill, but carnitas (a specialty of the Michoacan region) have become so, and the Coca-Cola part is a long-standing Lindo thing, apparently stemming from a recipe of the mother of owner Javier Barajas. That the syrupy sweet but acidic soft drink is an effective braising liquid comes as no surprise to anyone who’s tried it with a brisket, and normally seasonings offset the sweetness. But while this pork dish was billed as containing dried red chiles, garlic and black pepper and cloves, we thought it fell too much toward the sweet side of the savory-to-sweet continuum.
Side dishes were good but a little confused; the shrimp were supposed to come with rice, beans, guacamole, tortillas and fideo soup, but the latter was absent. The pork, on the other hand, was to come with rice, beans and tortillas, but we got some guacamole, too, so maybe it all worked out. At any rate, the beans were kind of average, the rice better than that, the guacamole a nice touch.
Complimentary chips were served with a kicky salsa cruda, which was balanced by a bowl of bean dip to put out the fire.
A starter, Sopitos ($8.50) seemed pretty interesting, billed as tortilla cups filled with beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and a choice of meat, in our case beef. They were good but a little hard to eat because most of the ingredients had been scattered across the plate of tortilla cups, which made pulling one off the shared platter a messy proposition.
Sopapillas for dessert ($4.75) were classic, and delicious.
Service throughout was good, except maybe for the missing soup and the fact that we had to ask a runner to grab our server for the check.
We went to the Henderson location, called “La Loma,” which I’m told is Spanish for “the hill,” and its location on a hillside above Horizon Ridge Parkway provides a surprisingly effective view of the Strip (surprising in that it’s so far away).
The view is a plus, to be sure, but it’s the expansive menu of well-executed dishes that keep Lindo packing them in.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.