written by: Mary Brown Malouf photos by: Adam Finkle
Family-style and authenticity form the foundation.
In many areas, it is still viewed as scandalous for proper ladies to be seen visiting a genuine cantina.
So reads the sign in the bar at Alamexo Cantina, Chef Matthew Lake’s new restaurant in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. Thank goodness, nobody ever said I was a proper lady—I expect to spend quite a bit of time here. It’s close to my office and serves food I love more than any other, an affection I share with Chef Lake. “This is the only cuisine I can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Lake. “If the dish is not Mexican, it’s not on my menu, and if it’s not originally from Mexico, I can show you how it got to Mexico.”
When he moved to Utah, he ventured into fine dining with Zy downtown, but it wasn’t long before he returned to his first love: In four days, he redesigned the restaurant’s interior, trained his staff in the details of fine Mexican food and implemented a south-of-the-border menu like Salt Lake City had never seen. Frida’s Bistro specializes in Mexico City cuisine, Red Iguana serves family recipes, Alamexo serves regional specialties with a commitment to sustainable sources and authentic from-scratch preparation. And the food is served on white tablecloths.
Authenticity, teamwork and sustainability still rule, but the Cantina’s hallmark is an informal, convivial style of dining Lake believes is absolutely new.
At the Cantina, “Everything will come family style, mixing and matching. I don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. It needs to be super easy and fun,” says Lake. Whatever time you come, it’s the same deal. One menu, all day long with a wide array of shared dishes made using the same basic equipment as a Mexican kitchen. Can you say comal? The margaritas will all be based on a mix of Cointreau, fresh lime and damiana—a reputedly aphrodisiac liqueur based on a Mexican herb. Guests choose their own tequila and have the usual salt/no salt option. (The Cantina wasn’t open as of this writing; I tasted the menu at a special pre-opening event.) Expect a full-palate report soon.
Lake was named Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 1996. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, he trained under Chef Mark Miller at the now-defunct D.C. Red Sage. He created Mexican specialty cuisine at Rosa Mexicano in New York City, one of the city’s best upscale Mexican restaurants.
See more inside our 2017 November/December Issue.