Even though he was just four years old when his family emigrated from Puebla, Mexico to the United States, Alfredo Aquilar prepares Mexican food as though he’d lived his whole life there. Under his supervision, chefs at Las Cazuelas prepare authentic dishes such as nopalitos salad—sliced cactus marinated overnight and mixed with cilantro and tomatoes. Abuelitas pollo, whose name means “little grandmother’s chicken” in tribute to its inventor, Alfredo’s own grandmother, is a boneless chicken breast topped with a guajillo pepper sauce. In the kitchen, shrimp snap against hot skillets near pots of slowly roiling chipotle sauce. To wash down steaming feasts, customers tote in bottles of wine or bring along tequila to add to complimentary pitchers of nonalcoholic margarita mix served Sunday–Thursday.
Inside the dining area, blue shutters frame murals of South American cathedrals, rolling countrysides, and maps of Mexico. An outdoor patio offers people-watching opportunities, and the second-floor balcony lets you look people in the eye when telling them you know they are actually a bunch of children stacked up under a big coat.
Chefs craft authentic Mexican dishes for dinner and lunch, using fresh ingredients and choice cuts of imported meats. Kitchens simmer sauces to order instead of pre-making and freezing blocks of mole, and guarantee every vegetarian entree is fully meat-free by dusting all tortillas, rice, and vegetables for butchers' fingerprints. A batch of fresh, hot tortilla chips and a dish of salsa greet each table, and Cuzamil's Murray Avenue location pours 15 different Mexican beers and 40 tequilas.
Cactus Blue prides itself on serving up authentic Puebla cuisine, as well as popular Mexican dishes that garnered this eatery the title of favorite Mexican restaurant in Lehigh Valley Style's 2010 Decadent Dish reader poll. The massive menu boasts more than 75 dishes, which include the Fajitas Blue with pork, seasoned strips of grilled pig accompanied by pico de gallo, guacamole, flour or corn tortillas, and an elderly bluesman on harmonica ($14.95). Peninsula enthusiasts engage with baja-style tacos filled with beef or chicken and topped with red cabbage, baja sauce, and cheese ($12.95). Opting for a lighter meal of grilled tilapia ($14.95) saves stomachs room for tres leches cake, a sweet sponge pastry drenched in three types of milk ($5.95). Cactus Blue is BYOB, ensuring that diners can sip on their favorite spirits while ensconced in the restaurant's warm-hued, red and burnt sienna interior.
It must be humbling for Chef Franciso Argueta to walk through Mamita's Restaurante Latino, with its elegant flourishes of brick accents, turquoise walls, and a toffee-hued wooden trim. Humbling, because it all started on his farm in El Salvador, where his mother prepared three meals for roughly 20 workers each day. Watching her work instilled in Argueta both a sense of leadership and a solid base in home-cooked Latin cuisine.
Mamita's is his newest venture in Newtown, designed to honor his mother's work. The menu features his reimagination of her traditional fare in everything from fajitas and carne asada to bright, citrus-infused ceviche. Complementing the dishes are seasonal specials and homemade drinks featuring fruit such as pear, papaya, and mango. What's more, the restaurant is BYO, so diners are encouraged to bring in their favorite brews or tequilas, yet discouraged from hiding a gin still in the coat closet. In addition to Mamita's, Chef Francisco also owns Francisco's on the River and Florentino's Italian Cuisine.
Las Velas' dinner menu tempers a raging appetite by dancing a crispy tortilla flag dunked in salsa ($2.50), guacamole ($3.75), or queso ($5) in front of you. Las Velas offers a smattering of soups, starters, and salads. Try corn empanadas ($7.50) with cheese and choice of fish, fungi, chicken, or beef, or a fresh burrito salad that features everything but shell ($9.50). Main courses include personalized tacos ($9 for two), burritos ($10.50 to $13), chilaquiles al natural (tortilla chips doused in green salsa and piled high with chicken or steak, onions, cilantro, cheese, and sour cream, $12), and alambres (chicken or steak topped with grilled peppers, onions, and a heap of melted cheese, $16). The crepas Las Velas ($9.50) brings the spark tableside with ripe strawberries and bananas blazed with a sugary syrup and dosed with cognac. Spicy savories and sweets can be washed down with a house margarita ($6) or traditionally prepared mojito ($6.50).