Something about big cities I love is that you will find no shortage of ethnic places to eat. And sometimes, most of the time in much larger cities, it’s not just a single restaurant but a whole neighborhood that can provide you with authentic, straight off the boat traditional food. Sometimes these neighborhoods become tourist traps and make a killing selling watered down versions of their homeland to unsuspecting tourists. There are also those communities where immigrants and their families live in because it is a cushion, a “next step” on the road to the American Dream. These neighborhoods may not be glitzy, sell t-shirts, or offer a restaurant week but this is where the real (insert culture group here) go to eat. Detroit has some of these neighborhoods and it is fun to take a day and just walk around. In the shadow of Michigan Central Station along Bagley Street and West Vernor Highway lies such a neighborhood called Mexican Town. While it may not provide the same experience as walking around the outskirts of Guadalajara on a sun soaked afternoon, Mexican Town does offer some authentic fare if one knows where to look and it can also provide eaters the chance to sample and purchase ingredients they normally can not find elsewhere.
My Mom and I set off on a Monday afternoon looking for tacos. My mother is a Mexican fiend and when she gets a craving the rest of us just fall in line. We hopped in the car and an hour later we ended up in Detorit at Taqueria Lupita’s. Deemed “The House of the Original Mexican Taco,” Lupita’s is a red brick building with lime green window frames and a small, unassuming interior with a menu board that has faded from years of use. I’ll admit, the interior sort of threw me off. If it weren’t for the Jesus and Mary statues keeping vigil on the kitchen’s dividing wall this restaurant could have been an omelet shop for all I knew. As soon as we sit down we are provided with drinks and an assortment of condiments ranging from fresh pico de gallo, two types of pureed salsa, limes, and a green condiment that tasted of cilantro and grass. You could make a meal out of the chips and salsa alone but one must wait for the real entrée. You will not be disappointed.
I love real Mexican tacos with corn tortillas. There is something so simple about a taco from here. It’s presented only with meat, onion, and cilantro and yet the depth of flavor is tremendous. Plus, a very big plus, they’re cheap. At $1 a piece anyone can get their fill and still have money left for dessert. Why are they so cheap you ask? A very good question and I don’t want to know the answer. I’d rather go on eating my tasty tacos in blissful ignorance. I also tried cactus for the first time. Not to sound uninitiated but it tasted like green bean salad but meatier and sweeter and a good cold salad for a hot day. I liked it so much I bought a jar on the way home. And the beans, oh the beans. The beans I had on my platter reminded me of homemade baked beans studded with bacon and onion. Not the sort of beans I was expecting but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. That’s the sort of thing I love about eating out at places that truly do aspire to cook good food. I find it inspiring, in a way, when a chef can take something as ordinary as a bean or a taco and turn it into something better, something tastier and elevate it to the status of the superb. I may be reaching here but when I taste good cooking like this I can’t help it.
Lupita’s hit me in the sweet spot. It’s one of those places that I would go for lunch at least 3 times a week if it were near me. It’s fast yet fresh, well priced yet full of character, and diverse in its offerings. People call me crazy but there are some items for which I will drive long distances to attain and let me tell you, a Lupita’s Al Pastor taco is well worth the drive.
3443 Bagley Avenue, Detroit