Thursday, July 18, 2024

Praise the masa gods: Lola’s in Long Beach introduces new brunch, new tortillas

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Lola’s in Long Beach—longtime champion of comida Mexicana since opening in Retro Row over 15 years ago—has quietly introduced a newly, locally-sourced tortilla for the first time while launching into the newest iteration of their brunch menu.

The long story behind Lola’s in Long Beach’s tortilla drama

“We need some 1,400 tortillas a week—on the low end,” said Lola’s co-owner and chef Luis Navarro, who has spent the past several weeks (and continues to do so) working on updating the lunch and dinner menu as well now that the newly minted brunch menu is complete.

“I know people have given us shit for using Guerrero,” said co-owner and behind-the-scenes maestro Branda Rivera, chuckling in honesty. “I get it, we heard you, but we had to make it right for us. The sheer volume of what we produce? It had to be something strategic on top of something delicious—and that is easier said than done.”

lola's long beach
The torta de chilaquiles—a CDMX staple that is slowly sweeping the entirety of Mexico—is part of Lola’s new brunch menu and yes, includes chips from their handmade tortillas. Photos by Brian Addison.

While they work on eventually getting to the point of making their own tortillas by hand, they went with the second best alternative: Bringing in, each and every day, handmade tortillas from La Fortaleza in Boyle Heights.

They make a fresh ground corn tortilla with cal [or pickling lime] that are amazing,” Luis said. “It’s finicky since it’s a fresh product—no preservatives—but you can taste the flavor of the fresh ground corn.”

And this isn’t to say they’re not testing on their own version. They’ve already experimented with a variety of masa from Masienda—the heirloom masa company birthed by Mexican-Cuban-American Jorge Gaviria of Miami and largely responsible, at least for American chefs, for displacing Gruma, the owner of Maseca and the largest manufacturer of corn flour in the world.

“We won’t go that route until we’re absolutely sure we can make it sustainable and quality,” Luis said. “Until then, we’re honored to have La Fortaleza take Lola’s forward.”

Lola’s has consistently updated their brunch menu—and this time they bring a bit of old with the new

If there is anything to say, Lola’s perpetually evolves. And in terms of Mexican cuisine, that is a rarity to see. Most crowds seek not newness but the traditional and familiar when it comes to Mexican food in Long Beach. And you may have noticed their new chips: Much more earthy, nicely thicker, these are just one aspect of what will become a slow re-introduction of Lola’s to the community in a new dress.

This sense of evolution includes, of course, their lunch and dinner menus but particularly their brunch menus across the years: They’ve done sope eggs Benedict. Blue corn tortillas. Smoked chipotle chilaquiles. And this menu continues to explore that love of melding the idea of American brunch with Mexican ideals.

There are chile verde omelettes stuffed with pork and potatoes served with creamy, spicer-than-normal refried black beans. There are stuffed slices of French toast topped with a guava syrup, berries, and horchata whipped cream.

And, as always, Lola’s cocktail menu has been one of the brightest if not outright underrated

The Navarro Hospitality Group’s Beverage Director Erik Rios-Wentzky—he oversees both Lola’s locations as well as The Social List—has always been an underrated gem of a beverage creator, knocking out new cocktail menus as if they we are simple as lining up silverware.

With the new brunch menu, of course, comes new cocktails. And Erik’s magical ability to always have something bright, something creamy, and something fruity-slash-earthy

You have the Guava Spritz, a boozier, tropical-ier take on the Italian classic with tequila, aperol, fresh guava, and a sparkling brut.

Mezcal and pasilla meet passionfruit and jamaica in the “Mariachi Beach” cocktail, a dangerously pound-able, happily boozy lil’ concoction that screams Erik’s love of tart fruits.

The “Cafè Nixta” is the brunch lover’s dream cocktail, melding horchata and cold brew with Mexican corn whiskey, a corn liquor, and a wonderfully salty rim.

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The story behind Lola’s in Long Beach is one of a mother from Guadalajara on a mission

It seems the story of Lola herself always bears repeating: Maria Delores Navarro—referred to by friends and family simply as “Lola”—came to Long Beach from Guadalajara in 1972, one of 12 children and the daughter of meat packing factory worker. She had nothing but fifty bucks, her recipes, and the dream of opening a restaurant. Little did she know that her dream, which became tangible with the opening of Lola’s Mexican Cuisine on Retro Row.

“She would talk about how as a little girl she just wanted to escape, I think that’s why she came to Long Beach,” Luis told me last year when celebrating Lola’s quince. “Many folks don’t understand just how poor she was. She never learned how to swim or ride a bike. But she never let it her stop her from her dreams. She found healing and happiness in cooking. I believe she was finally at peace at Lola’s.”

For Lola, food was life: it connected communities, families, friends, lovers, and strangers. After having two children—Luis and Erica—food became even more important since it sustained her family while she cleaned homes after moving to the States. Lola always deserves applause for not only introducing Long Beach to birria de res but giving us a local institution that is likely to see another 15 years.

Lola’s Mexican Cuisine has two locations: 2030 E. 4th Street on Retro Row and 4140 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls. Brunch is served only on weekends.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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