Lindo Michoacan and its three scions strewn throughout the Las Vegas area may be the best gourmet-quality Mexican restaurants we’ve visited in America which aren’t owned by Rick Bayless or aren’t situated in Santa Fe (Los Potrillos) or Albuquerque (Los Equipales). The older sibling, Lindo Michoacan is a storied restaurant which over the years has garnered unprecedented local acclaim and has even been celebrated nationally. For years, it has earned “Best of Las Vegas” honors in the Mexican food category and if you listen to Vegas Chowhounds, there isn’t a Mexican restaurant in the city anywhere close.
The founder’s story is also steeped in the kind of heart-rending rags-to-riches details that raconteurs tend to embellish until those details become legendary. The story has it that Javier Barajas learned his culinary craft as a young boy working at a convent. Mother Superior was so impressed by his work ethic that she assigned him to work in the kitchen where he absorbed everything he could about cooking. One meal at Lindo Michoacan and you’ll be convinced the nunnery served diving gastronomy and was staffed by cherubic, fat nuns who may have taken a vow of poverty, but not of gastronomic self-denial.
As your hostess escorts you to your table, your mouth will be agape at both the enticing aromas which fill the air and at the vibrant folk art which festoons the walls and ceilings. Lindo Michoacan is a breath-taking sensory experience in every sense of the term. The restaurant’s three dining rooms tend to be crowded, not only because seating is in personal space proximity, but because most tables seem occupied by groups–either families or friends.
At one corner of the main dining room is a small (maybe 10X10) room bisected by glass and tile. A solitary figure, a tortillera, works behind the glass, assiduously kneading dough into small balls then rolling them into flat disks about a foot in diameter. The tortillera then places the raw tortillas on a preheated cast iron plate, turning them frequently to ensure they are cooked evenly. The tortilla is ready when it begins to puff up with air pockets and becomes the color of a pinto pony. Making flour tortillas is a time-honored process that requires experience and expertise. Lindo Michoacan’s tortilleras know what they’re doing.
The menu reads like a novel you can’t put down (although it’s unlikely even the most deliciously salacious novel can cause your mouth to water like the menu will). In all of our visits, it has literally taken us ten to fifteen minutes to decide what to order. It wouldn’t be beyond reason to close your eyes and point at a random menu item and still be treated to one of the best Mexican entrees you’ve ever had.
Fortunately, while you’re perusing the menu, the attentive wait staff gives you a preview of your upcoming dining experience with a basket of crispy, low-salt chips which are substantial enough for the fiery red salsa and the warm bean dip served complimentarily with every meal. The salsa and bean dip are like a “yin and yang” duo of prandial precursors. After the salsa has set your tongue on fire, follow up with the bean dip as a flavorful extinguisher.
You can also try to mollify the salsa’s effect on your tongue with horchata, the incomparably refreshing and addictive rice beverage. It’s especially addictive at Lindo Michoaca where during one balmy summer visit, I drank seven tall glasses of the rice and cinnamon flavored drink (and not necessarily to put out the fire on my tongue). I’ve never had better horchata.
Each meal is accompanied by flour or corn tortillas as well as the best sopa de fideos (a wonderfully spiced vermicelli soup) you’ll ever have. Sopa de fideos wasn’t in my mom’s comfort food repertoire so I came to appreciate this highly flavorful soup later in life. It’s surprising that more Mexican and New Mexican restaurants don’t offer it. Each meal also includes fresh guacamole dip which is made with fresh Hass avocados, jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and fresh lime. Despite all those “additives,” the prevalent flavor is of avocado, just as it should be.
Bountiful botanas (appetizers) include gourmet starters such as nopalitos (Mexican cactus), but you can also find such popular favorites as queso fundido (melted and blended Monterrey Jack served with green chile strips and chorizo) and ceviche de camaron (fresh shrimp diced with tomatoes, onions, jalapeno mixed together with lemon juice and spices). Unlike most ceviche, the dominant taste is the shrimp, not the overdone citrus infusion.
In years’ past, any gringo (and even if I did quality on an ethnic basis, I couldn’t do it) who can say “pollo al chipoltle estilo Parangaricutirimicuaro,” without stopping, would win a free margarita or tequila. We have yet to try that tongue-twisting, polysyllabic tongue-twister, but can attest to the quality of several other outstanding entrees:
The chuletas estillo “Amador Castillo,” pork chops in the style of Amador Castillo, are among the tastiest evidence that Mexican food doesn’t need to be incendiary or even particularly spicy to be great. With this entree, three broiled pork chops are marinated overnight in a sauce made with achiote, fresh garlic, onions, diced red chiles, vinegar and “secret spices.” The resultant flavors might remind you of tender pork chops marinated in a citrusy, smoky barbecue sauce.
Especiales del mar (seafood specialties) include a boatload of shrimp and fish (mostly orange roughy) entrees that may make you long for the sea. The best of the lot may be the Camarones Abuelito Timo, eight large, fresh Mexican Gulf shrimp filled with cheese and red peppers, wrapped in bacon and deep fried. The shrimp are accompanied by a sauce made with 1000 Island dressing and Tabasco sauce, which, while delicious in its own right, was wholly unnecessary. There’s something uniquely flavorful about shrimp wrapped in bacon and Lindo Michoacan does it best!
True to its name, the Carne A La Coca-Cola Estilo “Mama Consuelo,” actually does employ America’s favorite soft drink to add flavor and contrast to a New York steak prepared with a sauce of pasilla chiles, garlic, pepper and other spices. This flavorful, slightly sweet “Coca-Cola Classic” is certainly crafted with ingenuity and imagination as its ingredients meld masterfully to form taste sensations you won’t easily forget. It is one of the chef’s mother’s secret recipes.
New York steak al cognac is emboldened with a sauté of cognac, mushrooms, onion, secret spices and sour cream and is an entree which positively dances on your taste buds. The steak is grilled to your exacting specifications and is nearly tender enough to cut with a fork. On its own, it would make an excellent steak entree, but with the accompanying sauce, it’s elevated to one of the very best meat entrees I’ve ever had at any Mexican restaurant.
Lindo Michoacan celebrates the cuisine of one of Mexico’s most storied regions, a region reputed to be home to the very best chefs in Mexico. In Mexico, it is said that, “If you want good food, go to Michoacan.” In Las Vegas, savvy diners say, “If you want good food, come to Lindo Michoacan.”
2655 East Desert Inn
Las Vegas, NV
LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Ceviche De Camaron, Camarones Abuelito Timo, Chuletas Estilo “Amador Castillo”, Carnitas A La Coca-Cola Estilo “Mama Chelo”, Salsa, Horchata, Steak Al Conac, Queso Fundido