Head to El Colimense for Sweet Enchiladas and a True Taste of Colima

<i>Tacos tuxpeños, sopitos, pozole seco</i>, and more

Many of the best Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles are the fondas (regional mom and pops) and cenadurias (supper houses) that offer their regional, family recipes that go beyond beyond the usual seafood, tacos, or weekend traditions like birria and barbacoa. It’s a chance to really get to know Mexican states through their most typical, famous dishes—the types of plates that often serve (literally and figuratively) as tourist attractions.

Think: restaurants like Gish Bac, El Sinaloense, Las Molenderas, Chichen Itza, La Casita Mexicana or Tortas Ahogadas Ameca. These places not only represent states, but often the subtle flavors, styling, and garnishes of a particular town. We have a handful of Colima-style seafood restaurants and food trucks that offer a few regional dishes, but newcomer El Colimense is about to change all of that with a full card that’s pure Colima.

El Colimense took over the former Los Tomateros space in Bell Gardens this past Halloween, when owner Gaston Javier Gutierrez saw an opportunity to bring his mother’s excellent home cooking from Villa de Alvarez, Colima to the Florence Plaza, next to the auto-detailing establishment simply called Car Wash. Antonia Trejo Mejia first learned the restaurant trade at Birrieria Don Luis Mejia at the Mercado Obregon in Villa Alvarez, and since coming to the U.S. in ’91 has worked as a cashier and cook at local Latin-American restaurants. The menu is still taking shape with other dishes rolling out in the near future, but already, there are many reasons to head down to Bell Gardens for a taste of Colima, a small but mighty state on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Start off with some of Colima’s famous appetizers like tacos tuxpeños, a type of steamed taco in which chili stained tortillas are filled with a small amount of pork, potato, or chorizo. Sopitos are small ground beef sopes on fried tortillas loosely covered in shredded cabbage, onions, and cotija chees. Ask for them to add the sauce, generously—that’s the Colima way.

Colima is also home to special enchilada dishes: enchiladas dulces are corn tortillas filled with a picadillo of ground meat and fruit that’s finished by covering of a sweet mole of chile guajillo, cinnamon, brown sugar, herbs, and spices that taste like Christmas. The enchiladas rojas—called enchiladas saladas or savory enchiladas—are so named to distinguish them from the more popular sweet variety.

On the weekends, there’s a serious menudo blanco, or white menudo decked out with pork snout, feet, tongue, leg, and spine and perhaps we might even see pozole seco, the Coliman dry pozole that’s pure substance separated from the stock. It’s the dish to fuel a night of dancing at Don Comalón, and my pick for a unique taste of Mexico to try in 2016.

El Colimense, 4846 Florence Ave., Bell Gardens, (323) 771-1905, elcolimense.com