Julio Reyes hit the Mexican nail on the head in Erie. For the past 14 years, Julio and his family have been running Latino’s Mexican Restaurant and Bar at East 13th and Parade streets (though he spends about half of his year in California). I have enjoyed Mexican cooking since I was young and was thrilled to visit Latino’s for the first time. Reservations are recommended for service accommodations, not based on volume. This is an entire dining experience, so if you want to eat somewhere that gets you seated and right back out the door, this is not the place for you. Amanda and I were greeted by one of Julio’s daughters, and our table was already set and waiting for us. The decor is very traditional: old and new Mexican art, antique furniture, lots of decorative plants.
Julio makes his way to every table and engages everyone who walks through the door. He gave us some menus and allowed us to look them over before answering any questions and going into any details about the food. I had a few items in mind, but I wanted to hear Julio’s personal suggestions. For an appetizer, he told us his most popular choices were the guacamole and the rajitas. As for the main course, he recommended at pollo con mole, the enchiladas or the comida corrida. I feel the need to explain the comida corrida: It is a daily special chosen and prepared to Grandma’s specifications. All dishes are strictly family recipes and really do change daily, as well as seasonally. Before we made our decisions on dinner, we put an order in for some guacamole.
Julio told us the guacamole is made to order, from the smashing of the avocados to the slicing of the tomato. He brought it to our table with fresh, homemade tortilla chips as well as a side of the red and green salsa to see which we preferred. The guacamole was fantastic. Large chunks of avocado, tomato, onion and cilantro filled the bowl. I added a bit more salt and some lime juice, but it was near perfect as is. The tortillas are hand cut and pan fried vs. deep fried, so they are light. They went really well with the salsas as well. The red is a thick blend of tomato and chile de árbol, while the green is tomatillo and jalapeño. The red was hotter than the green, but both were delicious. He also brought us a small bowl of pickled habanero peppers and onions. I added the salsas as well as the pickled peppers and onions to my guacamole, and it added another awesome level of flavor.
Once we tried the salsas, we figured out what we wanted to eat. Amanda went with the enchiladas in the tomatillo salsa, and I ordered the pollo con mole. Both came with a soup or salad, so we tried both. The salad featured mixed greens, sliced bell peppers, jicama strips and tortilla strips topped with oil and lime juice. The tartness of the lime went great with the fresh veggies. The soup was filled with pasta and vegetables that were cooked in a light tomato broth. I added a few tortilla chips for texture and salt, as well as some of the pickled peppers and onions for heat. The soup and salad were a great way to start the meal.
The enchiladas were awesome. Amanda got them with chicken and the green salsa. The heat from the salsas is definitely there, but it doesn’t stick around long. The fresh corn tortillas, in my opinion, have such a better flavor and texture than flour tortillas. The chicken was tender and moist and went with the other flavors perfectly. It also came with a side of homemade rice and freshly mashed black beans. The pollo con mole was phenomenal as well. I have had mole from a few places in town, as well as from traditional restaurants in the San Diego area, and this was by far the best. The mole is a peppery sauce with a chocolate base. Julio only uses fresh peppers and vegetables (either found locally or brought from California or Mexico) instead of powders and bottled spices. The sweetness of the chocolate and the spice of the peppers was great. The chicken fell apart with the touch of a fork. I made my own chicken mole tacos with rice, beans, some lime and more mole sauce. I couldn’t have asked for more traditional Mexican cuisine. For dessert, we split a piece of the flan. It was rich and creamy and had just the right amount of sweetness to it.
The prices at Latino’s range anywhere from $12 to $20, and I think it is very reasonable for the quality of food and service you receive. In addition to offering dinner, Latino’s also hosts tours for students to learn about Mexican history and food. Some weekends include live music and dancing, which make the experience that much better. Thank you to Julio and his family for the hospitality and great night out. You will see me again for sure.
Until next week,
Andrew — Beard vs. Food