After opening in November, Lalo’s Cocina Bar & Grill has quickly established itself as a solid place to grab a margarita and Mexican dish. Located across from the Children’s Museum of Richmond-Central, the new cocina serves well-priced, traditional Mexican fare with quality, fresh ingredients. Gracious waiters, prompt service, fun atmosphere and housemade ingredients make this place worthy of return visits.
We arrived at Lalo’s at 8 on a weekday evening to boisterous classic rock. A huge horseshoe-shaped bar commands the center of the restaurant, with flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports. Enormous high-backed booths that can squeeze eight offer diners privacy while also giving them a view of action at the bar.
The menu reads like a book, and could stand to be pared down. It took us a good 20 minutes to read through all the offerings. There are 18 kinds of burritos, 11 enchiladas, 10 kinds of tacos, 10 nacho dishes, and more. It’s overwhelming. Our waiter stopped by our table several times while we were looking through the menu to see if we were ready to order.
Complimentary warm chips, light and crisp but calling for a dash of salt, were served with a side of fresh homemade tomato salsa and a thin white dipping sauce made from ranch dressing, sour cream, mayo, milk and habanero and jalapeño peppers. Surprisingly, the sauce delivered more sweet than heat. We were instant fans.
Bright, fresh margaritas make for a fun happy hour. The cucumber margarita ($6) was clean with a slight lemon-lime tang and a balanced boozy bite.
For appetizers, the queso fundido ($5.99) is a nacho-esque dish that includes a handful of chips smothered in a mild white cheese sauce and spicy homemade chorizo. The chorizo reads mostly of cumin and garlic with hints of smoky chipotle that is absorbed by the cheese sauce.
We expected the chicken wings ($8.99) to have a little more Latin flair to them. The small wings, although succulent and juicy inside, could’ve used some hot spices rubbed on the skin. Served with a hot dipping sauce, a thicker version of Frank’s RedHot, and a packet of Kraft ranch dressing, we were more inclined to dip our wings in the complexly flavored house white dipping sauce.
Lalo’s doesn’t skimp on the ingredients, especially in the entrées. Housemade sauces, salsas and chorizo elevate the dishes.
The tostadas de camaron ($11.29) include three crisp corn tostadas topped with shrimp, tamarind sauce, queso fresco, cilantro and fresh avocado slices. Three meaty shrimp, slices of cool avocado and crumbled cotija cheese add a richness to each tostada; and the sweet tamarind sauce and tangy chipotle mayo play nicely together on the palate. Cilantro leaves and onions add a last-minute pungent bite and crunchy texture.
The chorizo carries the chori pollo ($13.29) with its spicy, aromatic flavoring. Staff is hesitant to reveal the 10 spices that gives the chorizo its special flavoring. The thin, grilled chicken breast was slightly overcooked with a dryness to it. Covered in chorizo and a mild white cheese sauce, the chicken and pork dish is served with a side of refried beans, basic Spanish rice pilaf and warm tortillas for wrapping.
After 20 years in the restaurant business, working from busboy to food runner, waiter to cook, Eduardo “Lalo” Macias, co-owner of Lalo’s Cocina Bar & Grill, knows all the components that make up a good restaurant. Born in California and raised in Mexico, his new Richmond restaurant, co-owned with Mario Contreras, is consistently good.
Macias, who owns The Patron Mexican Restaurant in Mechanicsville, and Contreras, who owns Anthony’s Italian Restaurant in Mechanicsville and Don Pedro in Mechanicsville and Aylett, have made a confident entrance into Richmond’s dining scene.
Staff at Lalo’s is friendly and gracious. Our waiter consistently checked in on us, asking if the food was to our liking. Dishes are well-priced. And last, but not least, you leave well-fed.
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Marissa Hermanson is The Times-Dispatch’s restaurant critic. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her at email@example.com.