We understand we'll probably catch a lot of shit for saying this, but so many of metro Detroit's Mexican eateries are awash in tired stereotypes. Look, we know that many of the spots that dot Bagley and West Vernor Highway are stalwarts of the region's long-standing Mexican community. For that, we respect their place in history. And we get that for many folks in the area, these establishments are the first introduction to Mexican food — much like Taco Bell was decades ago for gringos with a fascination for the cuisine of their southern neighbors.
However, all too often when visiting the many restaurants in Mexicantown, we're overwhelmed by the aged atmosphere of these places — the banners of parrots sipping Coronas, the dusty old pinatas and sombreros, and the waitresses wearing embroidered peasant blouses and skirts. Worse than the design are the menus. Cheddar cheese and red sauce smothered over everything, coupled with blobs of canned refried beans, flavorless "Spanish" rice, and baskets of stale tortilla chips.
We've spent time all over the United States and Mexico and have come to understand how Mexican cuisine has evolved over the years, paying particular attention to its street food. What we've found is a mashup of cultures, where Americano and Mexicano meet somewhere around the middle. In that blending of traditions, you'll find the menu at Galindo's A Taste of Mexico, in Southgate.
Founded in June by chef Erik Galindo, the spot manages to offer a modern and fun take on some of the most popular street foods found in their native Mexico City (or D.F., which stands for Distrito Federal).
Walk into the space, which sits in a strip mall on Fort Street, and gone is the stereotypical decor, instead replaced with a gorgeous interior, refined by matte white and gray walls, Spanish tile accents, and splashes of color in the cushioned seating and flowers at each table. The design, conceptualized by Galindo's wife Erin, was inspired by a trip to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, when the two visited Gracias Madre, a high-end vegan Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood.
Have a seat and you're promptly greeted by a server, who offers a complimentary cup of fideo — a traditional, tomato-based soup with noodles (Galindo's sometimes come with alphabet noodles) — and fresh chips with three kinds of salsa.
Take a look at the menu, and it's readily apparent that this food is "hecho en D.F." — made in Mexico City. At the heart of the menu is the torta — simplistically described as a Mexican sandwich. Take a bite of one of Galindo's monstrous creations, and you'll find that that description is a serious understatement. His are packed with a punch of flavor, all stuffed in bolillo rolls the size of a baseball mitt.
Typically, tortas are filled with your choice of meat — pork al pastor (marinated pork, spit-grilled over low heat in a similar manner as Lebanese shawarma), carne asada, cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork from the Yucatan Peninsula), and spread with refried beans, avocado, and perhaps mayo and lettuce and tomato. Here, they're made up of a playful variety from all regions of Mexico (there's the Cancun, the Puerto Vallarta, the Acapulco), and even elsewhere like Brazil and Italy. We dug into the Toluquena (inspired by the city of Toluca, about 70 kilometers southwest of D.F.). It's loaded with a blend of al pastor, chorizo, and Oaxacan cheese (sourced from Queseria and Deli Don Nacho in Kentucky). Not to be confused with cured, Spanish chorizo, the richly red ground Mexican variety here has an abundance of spice and soaks right into the artisan roll.
The tortas have already found popularity outside of Galindo's at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the restaurant holds a food cart during Pistons games.
Another popular take on D.F. street food at Galindo's are the tacos de ciudad. For $2, you get your choice of chicken, pork, steak, chorizo, or ground beef that's topped with sauteed peppers and onions, cilantro, and French fries. We went with the steak, which came in tender and nicely marinated cubes that fit snugly within the fresh, warm tortillas.
A few other Mexican mainstays with a D.F. focus are the chilaquiles and enchiladas — both of which substitute the usual red sauce with salsa verde. Salsa verde is made with green tomatillos and grilled peppers, giving it a slightly tangy flavor. We tried a couple of the enchiladas, with pork and chicken folded into soft corn tortillas. They're drenched in green sauce and topped with queso fresco and sour cream. They're much lighter than the more common Tex-Mex variety.
Aside from these unique offerings, you'll also find a variety of burritos, flautas, tostadas, and guacamole, plus house-made aguas frescas (in horchata or jicama) and salsas.
One of the things we love about Galindo's is that vegetarian options are available for most menu items. Galindo himself tells us that's been an important feature for his customers too as more and more folks in the area are turning to vegetarian diets.
Overall, we're excited by this newer addition to metro Detroit. It proves that we're ready to depart from the aging recipes that we flocked to growing up and are more open to diving into a little something new and interesting in Mexican cuisine.