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Unit 3, Building 8, Solana Bar Street, 6 Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu, Chaoyang district, Beijing, China
Asia > China > Beijing
When Jessica Hernandez visited China last year and learned to make a mojito from Alberto Gil, a Cuban- Russian-Sino transplant, neither knew their destiny. Hernandez, a former caterer, grew up in the kitchens taught by family matrons in Guadalajara, Mexico, but it was her grandfather who waxed passionately about the virtues of great food.Two months later, Hernandez returned on a one-way ticket, and today makes sure Beijing knows what real Mexican food should be. And that it’s not Tex-Mex.The odd menu blends Mexican home-style food, pizzas and other Italian toss-ins that we are told will eventually be phased out, but Cuban staples such as ropa vieja (65RMB) and the ‘Cuban Sandwich’ (65RMB) will remain. Hernandez is a miracle worker with extremely limited resources and an acute palate that magically transforms local ingredients into the flavours of Mexico.The velvety crema poblana doesn’t have a single poblano chile, but a Puebloan would scarcely notice. Local chillies are blended with a skilled hand to fool us all into thinking that this is the real deal, with hidden chunks of melting cheese and corn kernels, along with a spiral parmiggiano crisp and a haystack of crunchy tortillas.Queso fresco is sometimes purchased from Inner Mongolia, but at times it’s made in-house when supply runs low. Ditto with the fresh corn masa that requires a complicated process of slaking dried corn with lime to remove the skin and render the corn tender and nutritious.Without these precious ingredients there would be no sopitos, the star of the evening. Three thick crisp corn cakes are each stacked with house-made frijoles, shredded chicken, crumbled cheese, sour cream, and come with a miniscule side of tangy spiced tomatillo salsa verde.Guacamole is understandably priced and small portioned, but creamy and chunky all at once, letting us believe it came out of a molcajete (Mexican mortar and pestle). It’s good.The salpicon (68RMB) is a heap of cold shredded beef salad with thin avocado slices and more of those crisp tortillas.Pollo con mole is a big portion of a tender chicken leg blanketed with the famed chilli and chocolate sauce that runs sweet, but nicely so, with a scatter of sesame. Red bean rice is softer, almost wet, but as fine as any partner to soak up the sauce and give savoury relief.The arroz con leche is a little clumpy and not the rich pudding it can and should be. But as the fantastic Cuban band plays another song, we really don’t mind.Dinner at Casa Latina is a party, and a noisy one at that. Come with an appetite and wear your salsa dancing shoes.