La Mexicana 2015 – Authentic, Made from Scratch Mexican Fare

La Mexicana – Authentic, Made from Scratch Mexican Fare

By Stephanie Dickison Lucero Wong has been cooking her native Mexican food here in Toronto for the last 26 years. Originally from Mexico City, Lucero came here with recipes for tamales and mole that she’d learned from her mother and two neighbours. The three women would make breakfast and lunch from 3am to 7am. They would do everything from grinding corn in a stone mill to killing the chicken, plucking it, and cooking it. They would harvest vegetables from the garden daily and make their own butter from collected cream in a molcajete (lava stone grinder). "I learned a lot from those women," she says. Her recipes for tamales, mole and others are what got her her first restaurant. Back in the day there were four Mexican restaurants – Margaritas, Viva Zapata, Hernando's Hideaway and Chili's. Pregnant and craving tamales, Lucero asked if they carried them. It turns out, most people didn’t make them here back then. She tried satiating her cravings for flan and churros, but also to no avail. After weeks of asking for her native dishes, she made her own. After just one month, she’d created her own market – Viva Zapata bought her chorizo and tamales, another restaurant bought her flan. Her tamales were a hit at Hernando's Hideaway. She’d created a niche in just 30 days. Lucero’s brother-in-law had a real estate magazine lying around and she saw a restaurant for sale. Upon seeing Shapiro’s, a French restaurant on Bathurst Street, she has a vision of it being packed. After saving up enough money after only a year of selling her homemade fare to the other Mexican restaurants in town, she took a chance and opened La Mexicana in 1988. When she and her husband Dominic (a scientist at Wellesley Hospital at the time) opened, they had just 30 plates and 30 seats. They had to wait until diners finished their meal, so they could take dishes to be washed in the back in order to serve other tables. In 1990, the couple opened a second restaurant in Cabbagetown at Carleton and Parliament that lasted for 7 years. The chairs she made for the restaurant are now used at El Rincon Mexican on St. Clair West. In mid 2002, they expanded yet again with La Mexicana on Yonge across from the Reference Library. Her children were in university at this point, so Lucero wanted to be close to them. Little did she know the place was haunted. Dishes would fly off trays, apron strings would be pulled. Luckily, Lucero is a spiritual priestess and did a clearing and ceremony and all was well again. Cucina Lucero opened in 2007 at Yonge and Wellesley. It was created in the Puebla-style on 'Restaurant Makeover' in 2008, with interior decor and menu with Chef Lynn Crawford. With the original location in the heart of an Orthodox Jewish community, folks always asked if she offered kosher food. The demand was so great, Lucero found a partner to work on the kosher side of the restaurant and opened Lime Taco Fresh Mex Grill in 2011 on Clark. What is common throughout all the locations, is the care in which the food is made. Everything is made from scratch, including the tortillas. Lucero used to go to Mexico City twice a year to get corn husks, dried chilies. "There would be boxes everywhere," she says. Now she can get most stuff here, and continues to grind the corn for her tortillas. Lucero loves to make mole. Many people get theirs from a can or bottle, but she prefers to make it herself (she doesn’t use peanuts in it anymore to be sensitive to allergies and uses a high-grade cocoa). She makes her famous tamales twice a week in big batches because they are labour-intensive. And all desserts – flan, churros - are also made in house. Selections include everything from steamed corn on the cob smothered with mayo, shredded feta and chili pepper, to stuffed poblano peppers, and grilled fish with an achiote rub served in a banana leaf. Lucero's commitment and passion for authentic, homemade Mexican fare comes through in every dish, no matter what you decide to order or which location you visit. Check out our Facebook page for more photos.

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