South of the Border Fare Meets Gourmet Flair
"Gourmet burrito" is not a combination of words one usually hears. The two words seem to be opposite, implying sophistication that a fast and easy food like the burrito by nature lacks. However, Alebrijes Mexican Bistro in Lodi marries Mexican cuisine and gourmet execution to create dishes that are a hybrid of south of the border flavors and European culinary refinement.
Like the brightly-colored, dreamlike style of art from which the restaurant takes its name, Alebrijes has its roots in Mexico City. Owner and executive chef Ruben Larrazolo was born and raised in Mexico's capital, where his mother and grandmother began teaching him to cook as a child. Later, Larrazolo took what he learned in the family kitchen and began working in restaurants in Mexico City and the US. The idea for Alebrijes grew from Larrazolo's love for food and hospitality. "I enjoy doing this. I love to entertain people. I love to show people a good time," says Larrazolo, who splits his time between the kitchen and the dining room, greeting customers, and going table to table to make sure his guests are happy.
Behind the bar sits a row of dispensers filled with infused tequilas that can only be found at Alebrijes. To make them, bottles of blanco tequila are filled with fresh fruits, herbs, and spices and left to soak up the flavors. There are now as many as fifteen different tequila infusions, with flavor combinations that range from strawberry, raspberry, and roses; to apple, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger. The mango, jalapeño, and habanera tequila provides a sweet and spicy base to a margarita that packs a delicious amount of heat.
The menu offers expected dishes like burritos, enchiladas and tacos, all embellished with sauces and ingredients that are the gourmet hallmark of Alebrijes. The majority of the menu, however, is dedicated to regional and gourmet cuisine that reflects Larrazolo's experience and imagination. "There's no point in doing tacos if we have a great taco place down the street," says Larrazolo. "I don't want to compete with anyone who's already doing something well. I want to do something completely different." With no formal education, Larrazolo draws inspiration from experience and trying new things. "When I see something that is interesting, I try to incorporate it into the cuisine," says Larrazolo.
Guacamole is a popular appetizer among regulars and recommended for first time customers. Larrazolo is passionate about using fresh ingredients and making all food to order, and to emphasize this philosophy, his guacamole is prepared tableside. Lamb chops, duck, and filet mignon are all centerpieces of Alebrijes' entrees, slathered with flavorful glazes and sauces. The petite filet mignon is a delectable cut of melt-in-your-mouth beef, covered with cheeses and caramelized, apple-pickled onions that taste more like candy than vegetables. Diners with the understandable dilemma of choosing just one dish can order the popular Tour Alebrijes, a chef's choice sampler of three specials that comes with sides of beans and rice or deliciously smoky chipotle cream mashed potatoes.
There is also a large selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes that echo the animal-based entrees. Portobello mushrooms appear as a substitute for meat in fajitas and burritos, and there are vegan "shrimp" cakes that mirror the decedent smoked shrimp cakes, swapping shellfish for quinoa and vegetables. The spinach enchiladas with mole verde sauce are a must try. Blanched spinach is a flavorful and light alternative to chicken or pork, and the tangy mole verde brightens the dish. A generous side of black beans and fluffy brown rice complete this healthy and hearty meal.
Larrazolo feels the inclusion of meatless options is essential to provide the entertainment and hospitality to his guests he is so passionate about. "I want to make sure every single person is taken care of. There is a little bit of everything so everyone can enjoy things at the same time. People aren't going to have fun if there's nothing to eat."
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Alebrijes, 10 West Oak St, Lodi (209) 368-1831, alebrijesbistro.com