Adan Lopez is the owner of Lupita's and Los Altos, two of Detroit's authentic Mexican restaurants. Where else can you get a plate of tacos served with rice and charro beans for around three bucks? The food is the real deal, not covered with mountains of melted cheese after being deep-fried in way too much oil. Enjoy fresh, soft, flavorful corn tortillas filled with shreds of your choice of six or seven meats, garnished with onions and cilantro. On the side there are three salsas and lime chunks and radishes, the way it's served in Mexico. We caught up with Lopez at Los Altos recently.
Metro Times: Lupita's has been a fixture in Mexican Town forever, but I only recently heard about Los Altos. How long have they both been around?
Adan Lopez: Lupita's has got 14 years already and Los Altos has eight years already.
MT: What is the difference between the two restaurants? Do they both serve authentic Mexican food?
Lopez: The food is mostly the same, but this place [Los Altos] is a little bigger so I can put more plates on the menu, like guiso de res (beef stew) or chimichangas, something different for white people. When I opened Lupita's, there were a lot of restaurants at the time, so I had to make real authentic food. I didn't want to copy from other restaurants.
MT: It seems to me that many of the so-called Mexican restaurants in the area serve gringo-ized version of the real thing; everything fried with lots of cheese. Do you think that is what most Detroiters prefer?
Lopez: I have people order chimichangas and botanas. I lived in Mexico, in Jalisco, for 20 years and I never seen those things.
MT: Is your clientele mostly Mexican?
Lopez: The customers in Lupita's — I got maybe 90 percent white people now. In here [Los Altos] I got maybe half and half. But the thing is, some white people, they don't know real authentic food. The other day I saw one person I know, a white guy. He say, "What is this? Take it out to the menu." I say, "This is posole. It's real Mexican food." He say, "No, no, no, no. Take it out to the menu." And then — you know what? — I fix one little, nice plate, and he eat it and — you know what? — "Why don't show it to the white people? This is real food." I try to do real, real Mexican food. I got 27 years I work in the kitchen. Even at home sometimes I cook better than my wife.
MT: Do you still do any of the cooking?
Lopez: Oh, yes. Working in the kitchen is good. I like it. I like to eat. Some people, some white people, like too much grease. I worked in a restaurant, a Tex-Mex restaurant where everything was too much grease. You try the kind of beans I got here? They don't got no grease or nothing. Who's the first person in Detroit got these kind of beans? It was me. Nobody has those kind of beans, called charros in the South or rancheros in Texas.
MT: Lupita's is a taqueria, but also has other dishes on the menu. Do most people eat tacos?
Lopez: I have a lot of white people and a lot of people from Texas. See, right now, when the peoples got 20 to 40, they eat anything. When they got 50 to 70, they gotta eat chicken soup. I remember 20 years ago, I can eat three or four times a day. I burn whatever I eat. Now you walk a little bit more slow. So I gotta make food for some people who want of take care of their body. I remember when I opened Lupita's, nobody have posole. Nobody have chicken soup or shrimp soup. Nobody's have in Detroit. It's real healthy, a lot of vegetables, zucchini, potatoes. I got it over here too.
MT: Whenever I go to Lupita's, I always get tacos. I love the tacos.
Lopez: I got real good soups. If you have a party, next day you got like a little bit hangover, I recommend the chicken soup or the beef soup. Real good. Put a little lime. Get a topo chico, mineral water, and then you feel perfect.
MT: One of my favorites is anything with mole. Do you have that on the menu?
Lopez: No. The thing is, if you have a little, not many plates, whatever you do is real good.
MT: Many people think of Mexican food as only tacos, enchiladas, burritos and chimichangas. I believe there is no such thing as a chimichanga in Mexico. In fact, Mexico has true cuisine which uses indigenous fruit and vegetables and lots of seafood, prepared with many types of chiles, to make the regional dishes that are served throughout the country. Why has this not caught on here?
Lopez: I can show you why because, like you say, I go to Lupita's, the only thing you know are the tacos. You never try to taste something different every day. That way you learn more about the food. It's like me. If I go to a Chinese restaurant, I don't know nothing about the Chinese. I try this and this and this. Sometime if I don't like it, I don't order no more. Every time you go, you can try different plates. That way you know. Hey, man, try something else.
Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lupita's is at 3443 Bagley, Detroit; 313-843-1105. Los Altos is at 7056 W. Vernor, Detroit; 313-841-3109.