Occupation: Former HR Executive
Favorite Restaurant: La Mexicana Restaurant
Reviewed La Mexicana Restaurant: Saturday, July 16, 2011
Located in the barrio of Oakland's thriving and growing Hispanic community, the restaurant is an institution, opened in the mid-1960s by the Gudina family. I started going there in 1970, and 41 years later and now living in south Fremont since 1971, I drive the 30 miles once a month or more, because it's the best Mexican restaurant in the East Bay. The current owner and former server, Emma Freitas, has been working there for over 20 years and still maintains the magic formula. The former owner is now the full-time chef, so the legend continues. Emma is the only server, and only two women have been making handmade tortillas for the 41 years I've been going there. Mariana has been at it for 11 years. She has her own stepstool so she can reach the griddle. They come off perfectly every time. She doesn't mind if you go back and watch her do her magic.
The restaurant itself has two sections after expanding some 20 years ago, and you can have parties in the newer room. Casual with linoleum floors and vinyl booths, it's the classic neighborhood eatery. Generally speaking, there is no wait as the food comes out hot and fast. There is street parking of course, but they also have parking in the rear, which I recommend. It's cozy, relaxing, and pleasantly quiet.
Now, the food. We always start with the guacamole. Made with an entire avocado and mixed with finely chopped onions and tomatoes, it's delicious. I add the green chile on the table to give the heat that really sets it off. My favorite dinner over the years has been chicken enchilada (notice I said singular) dinner. The portion size is large, and it's served with tasty refried beans and a savory rice. The sauce is slow cooked with a deep rich tomato base. The other dish, which I am now having after all these years, is the chicken entomatada. It's similar, but yet very different. The sauce is more of a fresh tomato sauce, which has a large slice of queso over the enchilada and is then baked. For a lighter fare, the chiles rellenos dinner is delicious. Again, it has a slightly different red sauce that is unique to this dish. It is made with a whole mild pasilla pepper with the stem included, and it's stuffed with a large piece of queso. Each order comes with two tortillas, and I dare you to eat them both. Thick and hot, add some butter to them, and you hit the jackpot. If you like shrimp and seafood, the chef never overcooks them, and my wife loves the delicate sautéed pepper, onion, and garlic sauce. The aroma is wonderful. They have a large selection of Mexican beers, which are surprisingly inexpensive, and the overall cheque is very reasonable.
Occupation: Video Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Kabuto Sushi
Reviewed La Mexicana Restaurant: Sunday, August 14, 2011
La Mexicana is a little hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant, located about seven blocks from Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. We must have passed half a dozen Mexican restaurants in that seven-block span. But the only one crowded with customers on a Sunday evening? Only La Mexicana.
It’s small and homey with a little girl running around listening to music on a little cell phone. Nobody is talking, just eating. When the waitress, Emma, comes by to ask if anyone needs anything, they call her by name. Other customers come in and are immediately greeted with a hug. This place has been here for over thirty years, and by the looks of some of the customers, they’ve been coming here that whole time.
It’s safe to say that the food is why people keep coming to La Mexicana. The Chicken de Mole was the best I’ve ever tasted, rich, dark and chocolatey with just the right amount of heat. The rice and beans that accompanied the mole could easily have been their own dishes; they were seasoned to perfection. Nearly five, large, handmade corn tortillas came with the entrée, which is generous in size. I have the rest of my mole sitting as leftovers in my fridge right now.
Just one waitress, Emma, took care of us the whole time, refilling our huge water glasses often. I tried the chiles rellenos a la carte. I always try the chile rellenos, just like I always try the tom kha soup in Thai restaurants. I think if you can do either of these basic dishes well, the rest of your food will be spectacular. And La Mexicana doesn’t disappoint. You taste mostly pepper with just enough cheese to complement the lightly grilled flavor. And then the whole thing is swamped in delicious red sauce. "Yums" and "Mmms" all around. For dessert, we tried the flan. I was more dense and cheesecake-like than I’m used to, but the salty, burnt caramel favor was spot on and sooo satisfying!
Our food was absolutely delicious, good, and cheap. We certainly got our money’s worth. The place is laid back, comfortable, has a clean bathroom and feels like you’re eating in your living room. We'll definitely be back!
Occupation: Hotel Sales Person / Freelance Writer
Favorite Restaurant: Pazzia Restaurant & Pizzeria
Reviewed La Mexicana Restaurant: Friday, August 12, 2011
I was really in the mood for Mexican, so I was excited to try La Mexicana. When we arrived, the appearance is about what we expected. The restaurant had some Mexican art hanging on the walls and Formica tabletops.
The owner, Emma, is very nice, and her homemade corn tortillas are killer! I am not a fan of corn tortillas, but these were wonderful. They were thick, soft, and stayed hot through the entire meal. I think they were also used in the enchilada and that was really tasty, as was the guacamole. Another great thing is their sangría soda. It’s not the alcohol version people might expect, but a non-alcoholic soda pop, which is really hard to find. But they serve it, so you can get the flavor of a sangría (sort of) and still be the designated driver.
But none of this is makes it worth going back to La Mexicana if you’re weren’t already in the neighborhood, which is kind of dicey. I am used to dicey neighborhoods -- I park in one every day for work -- but if that would scare someone off, I wouldn’t go. On my way there, I went by five cop cars with sirens on.
Aside from that, the food is good, but not spectacular. The chiles rellenos wasn’t good at all. It was covered with way too much dark red sauce that overpowered the chiles. And my friend had their signature dish of chicken mole. We both found it too sweet. And the guacamole is delicious, but they don’t give you much and serve it on a bed of lettuce -- perhaps to make it look like more.
It was also nice that although we arrived near closing, they didn’t seem to rush us off. Oftentimes when you go in close to closing, someone looks at the clock so they can imply you should hurry up and order and go. But La Mexicana made us feel right at home. We were actually the last guests, as some people came in a few minutes later and they said they could only get something to go.
I really wanted to like La Mexicana more, as Emma, her husband, and those corn tortillas are worth it, but I wouldn’t drive here just for that. Maybe I'd stop in if I was hungry on my next trip to the nearby giant Dollar Tree store.