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Leticia’s Mexican Cocina

"Your food will not be made with any canned meats (or) sauces or yellow cheese." Well, hallelujah.

"There are no good Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas" is something I hear like a Greek chorus, and the statement always astounds me. There are plenty of good Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas, many of which are operated by Mexican expatriates and frequented mostly by Mexican expatriates, and if that’s not authentic I don’t know what is.

Mexican food is like Chinese food, or pizza, or hot dogs in that the "real" thing is what you grew up with and/or are used to eating, whether that stems from a region of Mexico or the Texas border or New Mexico or California or wherever.

But there also are those white-bread enclaves, where people grow up convinced that "real" Mexican food involves Velveeta, and it’s to them I make this appeal: Please, people, could you try broadening your horizons just a little?

A good place to do that would be Leticia’s Mexican Cocina, which makes the no-yellow-cheese pledge on its website. The place is comfortable, attractively decorated and nonthreatening for those of the flyover persuasion, with servers who are in full command of the English language.

And the food is quite lovely, assuming you can get by without Velveeta. A chile relleno ($10.99), for example, was a big, fresh pepper in a coating that puffed up with a delicate crispness and yielded a flood of non-yellow cheese (beef piccadillo was another option) when violated by a fork. Best of all was the sauce, full of the flavors of fresh tomatoes and peppers and with a haunting touch of cinnamon for an extra nuance. It was served with rice, beans and tortillas.

What made the tamales catch our eye was the price. Included on the specials menu, they’re listed as a daily special and are available in several varieties, accompanied by sopa de fideo, rice and beans. And they’re priced at $7.89.

A loss leader? Probably, because this was an exceptionally good deal in these trying times. The soup had a sheen of grease that was more prominent than usual but also had far more flavor than usual, with an assertive and very pleasant tomato/red pepper taste and vermicelli strings that were perfectly al dente.

We’d started with the requisite chips and salsas, which at Leticia’s are a medium-to-hot smooth-textured tomato-based salsa, a tomatillo salsa and a molcateca of bean dip. All were far above average, and the dense chips added an extra bit of textural contrast. We also started with the queso fundido ($6.99), choosing the mushroom variety, which was so good we finished the flour tortillas served with it and started digging in with our chips and a spoon.

And an ear of Mexican street corn ($2.79), nicely crunchy (unlike the waterlogged ears served in most restaurants), slathered in butter and cotija cheese, sprinkled with chile powder and lime and drizzled with crema. Like its ancestors, it was a wondrous thing, the messy and drippy factors sufficient that we ended up with it all over our faces, and quite happily so.

You — and I’m talking to you, Mr. and Mrs. Velveeta — should definitely try it sometime.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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