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Red Wine Marinated Steak is topped with pico de gallo for an entrée at La Catrina. Photo courtesy of La Catrina.
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A Lamb Chop entrée is served with Chile Relleno, which is a poblano pepper stuffed with panela cheese. Photo courtesy of La Catrina.
Eating at La Catrina is an authentic Mexican experience. At the new English Village restaurant, you’ll find standbys like nachos and burritos, but the heart of it digs much deeper.
“Most people think Mexican food is what you know, but the truth is, it is different,” said Toshimi Hira, who owns La Catrina with his wife, Vanessa.
To the right of the hostess stand in the former Salvatore’s space, a gallery area introduces customers to the restaurant’s mission as a “cultural experience.” Pieces of art showcase Mexican history, including the Mexican-American War in the 1840s and the French invasion in the 1860s. A video that plays in the gallery shows scenes of Mexico, including the shaving of agave leaves to make nectar for margaritas.
Hira hopes to share the Mexico he knows, not just the one portrayed in Tex-Mex cuisine. The country’s authentic cuisine merges indigenous foods with European influence. That means the menu boasts salads, pastas, breads and Spanish-Mediterranean spices in additional to traditional entrées.
“I want to blend what people already know with new things,” Hira said, “and to separate [La Catrina] from the McDonald’s of Mexican food.”
Hira knows what he is talking about, too. He grew up in Mexico City, the son of a Japanese father and a Mexican mother. After coming to the U.S. to study business and spending several years buying and selling hotels, he wanted to make a business of his true love — Mexican food.
Over the past few years he has opened La Catrina restaurants in Homewood, Vestavia and Trussville. The English Village location is his fourth.
Next to quesadillas and nachos on La Catrina’s menu, you’ll find Mahi Mahi Ceviche and Shrimp Cocktail, both popular hors d’oeuvres in the Mexican capital city during the French invasion.
The restaurant has been certified by the Mexican government as authentic, a process that involves applications, recipe submissions and even sending a chef to cook for governmental officials.
The Parrillada boasts a mixed grill sampling from Mexico City with the customer’s choice of meats. Pan-seared grouper is topped with grilled shrimp and a house poblano sauce and served with rice and grilled vegetables.
You’ll find new twists on Tex-Mex favorites as well. The Angus Enchiladas are filled with grilled Angus steak, and the Fish Tacos are stuffed with beer-batter fried grouper and pineapple salsa.
Hira sought out the English Village location to launch a new generation of entrées featuring meats such as filet mignon and lamb chops, as well as other unique dishes such as a Cactus Salad. He is also adding a Sunday brunch buffet with an omelet station.
The restaurant’s name is also part of the cultural experience it provides. Throughout the dining area you’ll find La Calavera Catrina, a depiction of an upper-class woman first etched by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada around 1910. The female skeleton “death face” dressed only in a hat satirizes Mexican women who wanted to be like Europeans. According to Hira, they sold their souls to be someone they were not.
Hira’s food, however, sticks with showcasing the culture in which he was raised.