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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

El Local Proves a Worthy Successor

Red snapper among tasty dishes at new Mexican restaurant

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It was a disappointment to hear about the closing of Las Esmeraldas, a place loved for its birria, whole red snappers and tacos al pastor. But, fortunately, there is a worthy replacement. The exterior remains much the same, featuring stonework with mortar joints painted a vivid green, but the "Las Esmeraldas" sign has been replaced with "El Local." The interior, also very similar to before, has seen addition by subtraction—the removal of TV sets is an improvement. Likewise, the menu also has been enhanced. All of the favorite items remain, and a few new ones have been added. The only thing missing, surprisingly, is the number of customers this place deserves. The restaurant was nearly empty at a recent Tuesday lunch—a trend that should change.

One of the satisfying salsa offerings has tomato, cilantro, onion and a hint of chile pepper, while another, spicier option is all chiles. The third salsa is comprised of tomatillos and green chiles.

The birria ($7.99), goat meat in a broth infused with chile peppers, is dubbed "the best in town," and, indeed, it remains awfully good. Tacos al pastor ($1.75), with the gentle warmth of chile peppers, are also tasty. In Mexico you will see the meat for these dishes slowly cooking on a spit, in the manner of Greek gyros or Turkish doner kebab. This version is served with chopped onion and cilantro. The chorizo tacos ($1.75) have the same warm seasoning and are also well worth ordering.

The huachinango ($13.75-$18.75), or red snapper, is prepared five ways. Al mojo de ajo comes in a simple garlic sauce, while a la Veracruzana offers a sauce of tomato and olives that suggests a Spanish origin. Salsa diabla is a sauce made with dried chile peppers and onions. Diabla sauces can range from mild to extremely spicy. This one falls squarely in the middle, with just enough heat and a fine, robust flavor. The whole fish is scored, which makes for easier eating. The underside, minus the sauce, reveals the flavor of garlic. It is accompanied by Mexican rice and a simple salad.

Among the new items is barbacoa ($7.99), a large serving of boneless meat completely un-spiced. Use a bit of salsa. Lomo de res en salsa arbol ($7.99) is thin slices of beef with an arbol chile sauce. Arbol chiles have a deserved reputation for being very hot. This dish, toned down a bit, is one of the best local versions.

Vegetarian items are few, but sope de nopales con queso ($2.75) will do the trick. Nopales are pieces of cactus paddle that have a slightly tart flavor. Sopes, corn cakes that are thicker than tortillas, are made by hand. Seven other varieties are also available.

About half of the extensive menu is devoted to seafood, with soups, cocktails and many shrimp dishes. There is not a separate bar area, but you will find a selection of beer and basic margaritas.

This place should start to attract customers soon. El Local retains the best qualities of the former Las Esmeraldas, and the red snappers are among the very best seafood bargains in town.

El Local

1801 S. 11th St.

(414) 672-6746

$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, DS

Handicap Accessible

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