Lola's is the perfect Mexican restaurant for Long Beach's Retro Row with craft beer and frontside parklet seating adding contemporary flair to a menu full of regional Mexican favorites. Brightly colored decor and the sounds of mariachi evoke what may have been rancho life for Lola's founder, the matriarch of the Navarro family, who first crafted her menu five years ago based on recipes from her own kitchen. When the real Lola passed away a few years ago, her son Luis took over the business, a move that solidified the restaurant's spot as a community hub.
Seats at Lola's are hard to find most nights as everyone from Belmont Heights blue hairs to professional skateboarders flock towards affordable and approachable Mexican food. But lunchtime is perfect for experiencing the place, not only because customers are spread out enough to put the claustrophobic at ease, but because the parking-spot-turned-outdoor-patio in front is best enjoyed mid-day when you can people watch as families and high school girls stroll down Fourth Street.
Dinner menu is extensive (from antojitos to platillos to tacos de lujo), but until 3 p.m., Lola's makes the decision a little easier by offering a list of $8.95 lunch specials, favorites like chile relleno casero and enchiladas suizas scaled down to fit the price point.
The mole burrito is a great introduction to Abuelita Navarro's cooking. Choose from either mole poblano or mole verde (the five-year anniversary hazelnut mole is only available as a platillo), both of which come loaded inside and smothered on top of a chicken-filled tortilla for a roasty-sweet knife-and-fork experience.
Though it only has three ingredients besides the mole, each of them shine. The grilled chicken is marinated in a tangy citrus sauce, the Mexican rice is fluffy and orange and the beans are not standard pinto but a higher quality white bean cooked with garlic and served whole. For added distinctiveness, the burritos come topped with pickled red onions and sesame seeds.
Tacos, seemingly one of the simplest Mexican dishes, are also nothing normal at Lola's. A lunch plate of Jalisco-style tacos comes with three corn tortillas drenched in salsa guajilla and thrown on the grill before being stuffed with meat and laid on their side–another knife and fork especial. For meat options, try the birria, which contains no goat (abuelita was not a fan) but instead made of tender pork and veal.
With little spiciness to speak of and savory meats and sauces galore, you could dance around Lola's menu for its next five years and never get sick of anything on it. Just watch out for the addictive salsas served with chips when you sit down. One taste of the frothy green one (it's crack-y addictive on a Zankou garlic-sauce level) and you're likely to not make it to the meal.
Lola's Mexican Cuisine, 2030 E 4th St, Long Beach, (562) 343-5506, lolasmexicancuisine.com