Spice up lunch at Los Reyes in Kettering
By Paula Johnson
Photo: Los Reyes in Kettering glows with a cozy atmosphere; photos: Michelle Strauss
It wasn’t Cinco de Mayo. The calendar reflected a day that was actually much closer to Cinco de Marcho when DCP pals and I visited Los Reyes in Kettering. No matter that the date wasn’t the highly celebrated holiday—it was time to celebrate with some Mexican food. Nothing vanquishes the doldrums of a too-long winter quite like the spicy satisfaction of some good Mexican food (and possibly a margarita). We arrived for a lunch date at this little south of the border getaway ensconced in a shopping plaza on East Dorothy Lane, hoping to fill up and feel better.
At the risk of sounding like a broken piñata, let me address the issue of authenticity, something that arises when dining at international-style restaurants. (And by the way, the term “ethnic,” which is usually how Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Greek, etc. restaurants are described, is a little problematic. I mean, whose ethnicity? If you’re of Mexican descent, is your native cuisine ethnic? Who gets to decide what that means?) So what is served at American Mexican restaurants is often a hybrid adaptation of Mexican, Tex-Mex, and American dishes and styles of cooking. People used what they had on hand to come closest to the ingredients they cooked with in their native countries. Food, like the people preparing it, adapted to the new place, a place often with a different climate where desired ingredients couldn’t be grown or bought. The U.S. isn’t growing any of the 60 or so varieties of corn native to Mexico, so of course tamales and tortillas made with American corn will have a different taste and texture. The number of different chiles used to make a sauce in Yucatan will be different than those used to make a similar sauce in Utah. And those little pockets of regional specialties just won’t be found here, either. So what we’ve got is what we’ve got, and it ain’t all bad, folks.
With that in mind, we three picked a few dishes to sample, skipping the margaritas this time around. Sitting comfortably in a booth enjoying the cozy atmosphere, festooned with colorful party lights, was going to have to be good enough. We covered a lot of the standards: enchiladas (cheese and chicken), tamales, rice and beans, a chile relleno, and, of course, guacamole. Thank the Aztecs for that buttery bit of bright green heaven!
Everyone’s guacamole is a little different, but the basics are this: avocados, onion, green chiles, cilantro, garlic, salt, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Tomatoes are often added, something I favor. According to Mimi Sheraton in her book “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die,” there’s ample regional variation: “In the Jerez market in Zacatecas, in north-central Mexico, for example, guacamole is made with both tomatillo and sour cream. In the state of Guanajuato, in central Mexico, guacamole might contain small amounts of chopped peaches, grapes, or pomegranate seeds.” Traditionally, guacamole is made and served in a black volcanic stone molcajete, similar to a mortar and pestle. Some restaurants (though none I’ve encountered here) do this and it’s really superior.
So how was the guac at Los Reyes? A bit bland for my taste and smoother than I like. I prefer a livelier, chunkier version. (It has been pointed out to me that even bad guacamole is good, and I am almost in agreement). In any case, the rest of the spread was more typical and to my liking. I enjoyed the chicken enchilada ($2.50) and the cheese ($2.50). Along with the tamales ($5), meat filled rolls of cornmeal steamed in corn husks and served with red chile sauce, I was happy with my chile relleno ($3.50). The grilled pepper was slightly underdone with a tad too much crunch, but the cheese and sauce and charred surface satisfied. Sauce, cheese, and tortillas are a pretty darned good thing, and Los Reyes did a decent job with everything.
Los Reyes means kings. Did we eat like kings at lunch that day? Perhaps not a king, but I would say certainly a well-fed member of the establishment. I will probably return for another lunch, this time for a margarita or two.
Los Reyes is located at 2290 E. Dorothy Ln. in Kettering. For more information, please call 937.296.1111 or visit LosReyes-MexicanRestaurant.com.