Humble Traditions Make All The Difference.
The cultural difference among us, at many times, becomes blurred as people migrate to the United States and adapt to the melting pot of American civilization. Despite that, some individuals make efforts to preserve their ties to their native land and share its traditions, cultural values, and food with the region they, now, call home. Chef Jimmy Shaw, after years of struggle, perseverance, and vision has done exactly that with his gastronomic restaurant concept ¡Lotería Grill!.
¡Lotería Grill!—a small California chain of restaurants, named for the historically popular Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo—is true regional cuisine of Mexico. With culinary influences from several surrounding cities in Mexico, most of the ingredients, preparation techniques, and food gain inspiration from Mexico City, the birthplace and native-home of Chef Jimmy. ¡Lotería Grill! began in 2002 as a taco stand, more or less [located at The Farmer’s Market at The Grove in Los Angeles], and has since grown into several thriving brick-and-mortar locations throughout the Los Angeles basin and is continually expanding. Downtown Los Angeles can soon expect a mini ¡Lotería Grill! [akin to the Farmer’s Market location], and a new, interesting eatery featuring Chef Jimmy’s interpretation of the torta sandwich, which will be the main concept of the duly-named restaurant, The Torta Company.
Chef Jimmy has come a long way from his humble beginning as a personal chef and caterer; he has waded through the grit and grime of the restaurant business to become one of the world’s prominent names in the culinary industry. Despite his success he has not swayed from the guiding principles that started his restaurants: “don’t hide my chef, date with tacos, and never wrap a taco in aluminum foil.”
Don’t Hide My Chef
From the moment I walk in the door, this first principle is clearly displayed with a very open yet warm architecture that renders a full and introspective glimpse of exactly what is going on in the kitchen or behind the bar. My ability to watch my food being prepared creates a magical bond between the chef, the food, and I. The culinary wizardry that goes on before my eyes, in a place dubbed for a game of chance is hardly that [chance]; everything comes together to create a fun, interactive, and culturally-rich learning experience, not only a great meal.
¡Lotería Grill! encompasses all that is Los Angeles, the second largest home to Mexicans outside of Mexico. It is a place that has never forgotten its heritage and daily infuses those roots into every aspect of the dining experience. It sometimes mistakenly deemed as being overly complex, but is as simple and welcoming as a “taco date.”
Date with Tacos
I have had many first dates that have, too often, not led to a second. To say dating in L.A. is difficult is a vast understatement. The expectations of the typical Angeleno woman is different…extremely different from that of other women in different cities across the country. Asking a woman out for a “taco date” in the glitz and glamor mire of Los Angeles is a sure-fire way to get rejected. However, in Mexican culture, a “taco date” is very customary and an appropriate first date. It is romantically-pleasing, without compromising, either, practicality or intimacy that often goes wanting in the Southern Californian dating scene.
Dating as a foodie—or just me—can sometimes take a woman by surprise and be off-putting. Over the years I have developed into a bit of a food snob; on a first date this is often misread as trying too hard to impress, when in reality I just eat in a very astute and sometimes “expensive” way. As I have learned through experience, nothing annoys a woman more than overly trying to impress her with a venue. ¡Loteria Grill! quells such an annoyance by giving the simplicity of traditional Mexican dating, and the elegant and graceful ambiance of a trendy Los Angeles eatery.
Never Wrap Tacos In Aluminum Foil
Many fast-food joints in Los Angeles send chills down my spine, causing me to cringe in disbelief as they cram my “freshly-made” taco into a foil wrapping, then toss it in a paper or plastic bag. Chef Jimmy hates this commonality as much as I do, and under no circumstance will he do it or allow it in any of his establishments. He is insistent in the belief that tacos need to breathe, just as you and I. Eating a taco, especially at ¡Loteria Grill!, and in Mexico City, is an experience and meticulous artistry. Everything matters, from the way it is prepared and served, to the angling of your head and cusp of your fingers, as you take your first bite; ensuring that you have tortilla on both sides of your mouth, thus enabling you to get the full flavor profile in one bite.
Hampering the flavor of a taco by trapping heat and causing too much moisture in the tortilla, and giving it that God-awful unsavory taste of aluminum, is a distasteful practice, and as far as we [Chef Jimmy and I] are concerned, it is sacrilege.
My lunch with Chef Jimmy Shaw was a culinary experience, honor and pleasure that I will never forget. It was educational, inspiring, and I truly believe I made a friend for life. Sharing a passion for food is a bond that only true and hardcore foodies can build. I learned as much as Chef Jimmy was willing to teach me about Mexican culture and eating, in the allotted time [nearly 2 and half hours]. I know with all certainty, we both, gained a wealth of knowledge and expression as we talked and dined together.
If for no other reason than needing a simple yet quality first date place, I genuinely believe everyone in Los Angeles should experience ¡Loteria Grill!. It is not a place for a quick bite to eat, but an experience and culture.