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Polished Plates


The jewel box-like interior of La Calesa. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
The oft-overlooked La Calesa houses the impeccable

The exterior is quiet and unassuming - a small tan building, tucked behind the Uniroyal station on Hildebrand and Broadway. For years, I had driven by the place - occasionally tempted by the sign offering lunch specials - but had never managed to catch it when it was open.

But as luck would have it, I stumbled upon La Calesa at just the right time one day in a hungry quest. And what a magical discovery it was: Inside the unassuming building was a jewel box of Mexican delights - a brightly painted home for delicacies that had been wowing critics since its 1983 opening. Bright Mediterrean blue, canary yellow, and lime green walls are adorned with art both surreal and traditional, and posted on the wall is a yellowing review from our own Ron Bechtol - years before he joined the Current. (As an enticement to visit, note that the review features a humorous caricature of our restaurant critic.)

So, had the years treated La Calesa kindly? Indeed they had - and La Calesa treated us kindly as well. And although the food wasn't quite what we had expected, it was belly-moaning good.

La Calesa

2103 E. Hildebrand
Hours: 11am-2pm, 5-10pm Mon-Fri; 11am-2pm,
5-10:30pm Fri,
11:30am-10:30pm Sat, 11:30am-9pm Sun
Price range: $6-17
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible
A green salsa delivered the first surprise: a homemade concoction blending green chili, baby green tomatoes, and avocado. Its texture was not unlike a chutney, and its addictive spice level made its accompanying roja salsa - though decent - entirely superfluous. The queso fundido was next to arrive - and here my hopes were dashed momentarily. Arriving in a small bowl and resembling most closely a bowl of potato soup, the queso was lacking the chili, cilantro, and chorizo that graces other dishes. Indeed, upon close inspection, the queso was nothing more than a melted blob of Monterey jack cheese. But rolled into a flour tortilla, and heavily doused with the spicy green salsa, the dish wholly redeemed itself. Two quickly downed glasses of water later, we were ready for the next course.

La Calesa features a hearty menu of interior Mexican dishes; Chicken Mole, Pollo en Escabeche, and Albondigas all tempted this voracious diner. But it was the Cochinita Pibil that won out - shreds of pork lightly coated in a rust-red sauce

A plate of Cochinita Pibil with rice and beans, and the astounding green salsa nearby. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
of achiote and slivered red onions. The pork looked dry - perhaps because it was not smothered in the sauce- but at first taste quickly proved itself mighty and moist, with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Alambre also beckoned to be tried - beef tenderloin tips wrapped with bacon and sautéed with jalapeños and onions. The perfectly crisp, smoky, blackened exterior of the tips contrasted delightfully with the seductively smooth and velvety texture of the pink meat of the interior; the bacon and jalapeño were delightful playmates for the tactile orgy on the tongue. The Alambre was graced with a homemade guacamole that played thick-cut avocado, tomato, and red onion against each other in a battle that we diners were only too pleased to referee.

But the true write-home-to-Ma dish, surprisingly, was the rice. Rice - the lowly side dish on most menus, a dish written off by low-carb dieters and snobs alike - rice was the most outstanding item on the impressive menu. White, flaked with kernels of canary-yellow corn, and reeking of butter, the rice was delicate almost to a risotto extreme - each grain nearly bursting. Mixed with the accompanying black beans, the dish makes a hearty stand for simplicity in dining - and forced a very hungry diner to polish clean her quite-generous plate. •


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