Mexicano restaurant opens in South LA

Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo (from left to right) | Photo courtesy of Mexicano restaurant.

Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo (from left to right) | Photo courtesy of Mexicano restaurant.

With the opening of their new restaurant, Mexicano, located in Baldwin Hills, chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu hope to immerse customers in Mexican culture, one burst of flavor at a time. The eatery has been in its soft opening since Feb. 27.

Colorful Mexican floor tiles lead patrons to the restaurant’s focal point: the kitchen. There is no partition between the kitchen and the dining room, so diners can observe the preparation of authentic dishes while surrounded by décor from the Mexican state of Jalisco.

“With the kitchen open, you are in contact with customers and they become a part of the preparation experience,” Arvizu said. “We try to get their five senses going. The smell, the sight of the ingredients, the touch and hearing. All of these are incorporated and bring you closer to the meal.”

Mexicano takes some of the dishes from Arvizu and Del Campo’s original restaurant, the acclaimed La Casita Mexicana in Bell, and builds upon them, adding more authentic Mexican flavors to the menu. These tastes come from a variety of fresh local spices directly from the region, according to Arvizu.

“We try to stay 100 percent traditional with the ingredients,” Arvizu said. “It’s like if you came into my grandmother’s kitchen in Mexico. We cook with a lot with different herbs and spices from Tecolotlán in the state of Jalisco.”

The essential seasonings include Mexican oregano, and eight to 10 different types of salt with distinct flavors. Some of Arvizu’s favorite flavors come from the black, or smoked, salt, which is used to season Mexicano’s fish plates, or the chiles de arbol used in the restaurant’s mole sauce, which happens to be Arvizu’s favorite.

The mole at Mexicano has eight kinds of dried chiles. “Once you have a bite of it, your senses get going,” Arvizu said, his enthusiasm for the ingredients audible, even over the phone. When the sauce “hits the back of your tongue, it’s like a festival of flavors in your mouth,” he added.

Just as Arvizu and Del Campo, who met nearly 20 years ago as airline executives, enjoy combining a variety of flavors in their cuisine, the duo also get fired up by the diversity of Baldwin Hills, which is precisely why they chose to open their restaurant in this neighborhood.

“There are large Latino and African American communities here,” said Arvizu. “It’s an area that we wanted to explore because it’s a great place that is growing, changing and vibrant. It’s ready to go. Why not be a part of that?”

Empowering community members of all ages is also important to Arvizu and Del Campo. In an effort to connect with elders, who may feel estranged from their community, Mexicano has hired several senior citizens for the kitchen.

“You can see the lady making tortillas–she specializes in that,” said Arvizu. “They specialize in something and that’s why we take them into these areas and in different departments. They add excellence.”

Mexicano also wants to extend its reach to on-the-go eaters. Across a courtyard and in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Shopping Center food court, the duo’s satellite restaurant, Flautas, offers an express tasting of Mexicano’s menu with many of its heirloom ingredients.

“We thought of a new concept and we thought of people trying something from the restaurant on the go,” Arvizu said. The restaurant lets people sample signature dishes found on the Mexicano menu, stuffing key ingredients inside a bulked-up flauta.

Taste, Arvizu said, is the most important aspect of his restaurant, and what he and Del Campo want to share with their new neighbors upon their grand opening.

“We want to promote our Mexican food and gastronomy. Our fishes and appetizers, our desserts,” Arvizu said. “We want to give them a chance to not only taste, but see what they are eating and how we work. We want them to become a part of that experience and taste Mexico with their eyes and all their senses.”

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