The word “tlacoyos” was all the invitation I needed.
Driving down South Tacoma Way on my way to Korean barbecue, I spotted the Mexico City street snack advertised on the opening sign for Mi Casa Mexican Food.
The Mexican restaurant debuted in mid-February.
Tlacoyos are one of those iconic foods you’ll recognize if you’ve ever grazed your way through Mexico City or any Mexican town with a bustling street-food scene.
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They’re little oval masa discs stuffed with beans or other ingredients and grilled until toasty hot. I liken them to a more flavorful Mexican companion to Salvadoran pupusas (minus the curtido).
I’ve never seen that particular type of Mexico City street food on a restaurant menu here, and the same is true for another of Mi Casa’s menu items — tacos al vapor.
A first visit found Mi Casa does not adhere to the typical Mexican-American restaurant playbook.
In addition to the tlacoyos, I spotted enchiladas Michoacan, a barbacoa special and even a little Cal-Mex in the form of carne asada fries. Espresso service, too? How cool.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
The theme: Wide reaching. I spotted taqueria fare, such as huarache plates ($12.50), torta sandwich plates ($11.99), sopes plates ($7.99) and tacos ($2.50 each). I saw classic Mexican-American dishes such as burritos and quesadillas ($9.99 each) and combo plates such as carne asada ($13.99).
There was even Mexican breakfast food, like breakfast burritos ($5.99), chilaquiles ($11.99) and coctel de frutas ($6.99). Then there was enchiladas Michoacan ($14.99), the Cal-Mex specialty carne asada fries ($11.99) and chimichangas ($9.99).
Go there knowing the menu is far-reaching. I even saw a special listed on the restaurant’s Facebook page — Hidalgo-style barbacoa — that I rarely, if ever, see listed around here.
Beverages: Everything from a full espresso menu to the steamy Mexican chocolate drink, champurrado ($2.99) and classic Mexican agua frescas ($2.99).
Pay attention to this: Yes, Lakewood is home to a number of great Mexican restaurants. However, if you’re interested in Mexican street foods, put this place on your radar. I wasn’t able to get in touch with the owners, but I’d love to know their back story for context.
Other Lakewood Mexican finds: I love the raspados, tostilocos and other Mexican street snacks at nearby La Casa de Sharon (which moved to a new Lakewood location last year). If you’ve never ordered tacos from the window at Taqueris El Sabroso, you need to fix that. I recently wrote about Cal-Mex newcomer Don Alberto, which serves San Diego-style Mexican food and a killer carne asada burrito. All are worth field trips to Lakewood.
Mi Casa’s style of ordering: Like a taqueria, order at the counter. This is a fast-service restaurant. Find your own table.
Fast-food concept, slow-food values: While it’s casual like a taqueria, the food tasted handmade and elaborately fussed over, which means Mi Casa is not going to be as fast as your favorite taco spot. Don’t go there with a deadline.
Dining room: Attractive and tidy dining room with brand new flooring, new paint job and seating for just under 40. Roomy booth seating for four each spanned the far wall and about eight tables with room for 2-4 each.
On a first visit: Put the tlacoyos high on your list. They’re listed on the menu as a dinner plate ($13.99) with no a la carte option listed. The tlacoyos came with a filling choice of refried or green beans, with the former sounding more intriguing than the latter.
The refried beans oozed out of the grilled masa discs, served piping hot, and covered in a sharp tasting verde sauce and a big pile of fresh chopped cilantro, diced radish, cotija cheese and crema. The tlacoyos came with a choice of meat — beef or chicken — and the carne asada proved a good option. It showed up as thinly sliced skirt steak, seasoned simply and grilled medium well (the kitchen’s choice, not mine).
Tacos al vapor were an interesting construction with folded-over corn tortillas dipped in a tasty red sauce, filled with shredded chicken and steamed to order. The plate came with five tacos covered in a cloud of shredded iceberg and cotija cheese.
Sauces: If you’re asked if you want a squeeze bottle of red or green sauce, the answer should be “both.” I covered my plate with squiggles. Both sauces tasted deeply punched with flavor and medium-level spicing.
For dessert: A fried plantain was more starchy than sweet ($5.99) and I couldn’t resist dunking the plantain into the rich chocolate drink champurrado ($2.99). If you’ve never had it, fix that. It’s a spiced, sweet chocolate drink thickened with masa harina.
Mi Casa Mexican Food
Where: 8701 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood
Info: 253-212-3530, facebook.com/MiCasaMexicanFoodLakewood/