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Search for Mexican food in Fresno report back: Lorena's

susancinsf | Mar 29, 200612:27 AM

Thanks to the joys of free wireless in the hotel room, I can give you my first report on our search for great Mexican in Fresno while we are still here…

After our drive down, we were hungry but in the mood to keep it casual, and I am always in search of the best albondigas in town…so our choice was easy: if Polar Bear says that he likes the albondigas at Lorena’s best, we knew we had to head there. Thanks to PB’s perfect directions, half an hour after checking in we were ordering two Negro Modelos at Lorena’s.

As soon as I walked in, I knew I would enjoy the experience. Lorena’s is the real deal: tiled walls, red and white sort of sixties soda fountain type décor, if the soda fountain was in Mazatlan (complete with a specials board announcing jugo frescos de naranjo y zanahoria, and various helados). The noticias on TV competed with the juke box, a couple at one table were digging into huge shrimp cocktails and peeled boiled shrimp (I’d like to try those!), families filled several other tables. In other words, Lorena’s reminded me of the working class restaurants I’ve visited in small towns all over Mexico. I’m not sure why, but the places in the Mission district in SF, or even in Oakland on Fruitvale, just don’t have that same real feel to me. We were the only Anglos in the place. Both English and Spanish were spoken.

The beers came quickly with a slice of lemon and a delicious, perfectly cooked shrimp dipped in a hot sauce, stuck in the bottle mouth. What a great touch. Not surprisingly, the menu has a lot of seafood dishes, including many with shrimp, and even albondigas de camaron. I rarely see seafood meatballs on menus in the bay area, so these tempted me, but I was on a mission to try the (beef) meatball soup. Foolishly, I was worried that just soup wouldn’t be enough, so I also asked for an order of three chicken sopes. Should have known it was too much when the server asked me in both English and Spanish: ‘are you sure you want three?’. Hubby ordered the shrimp al mojo de ajo.

Fresh chips were quickly brought with salsa and bean dip. The salsa was fresh-tasting and had a bite, the bean dip was nicely smoky. After a short wait, the food came. The sopes had a small tablespoon of very good guacamole on the side, the chicken was generous and tasty; the sope ‘cakes’ themselves just this side of crunchy with a grilled flavor. Topped with lots of lettuce, shredded carrots and queso fresco. Thumbs up. Hubby was very happy with his camarones: a generous portion of prawns with tails still attached, fresh, sweet and perfectly cooked, swimming in butter and marinated garlic. The shrimp came with good rice and so-do beans, and we were also brought almost a dozen fresh, handmade, delicious tortillas.

But I was here for the albondigas. Sigh: I guess my standards are too high (if they weren’t perhaps I wouldn’t have motivation to search for perfection?), but these just missed the mark. The meatballs themselves were large, tender and well-seasoned, and the broth was filled with very nice and not overly cooked vegetables, including zucchini, carrots, broccoli and peppers. The soup came with side dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, lemon wedges, and a chipotle sauce, and a bowl of that good rice….so far, great, but unfortunately the broth was a miss: waayyy too salty, and it tasted like it was made with canned beef broth.

Total for our dinner, with three beers and enough food for three hungry people was $45 including tax and tip. I would definitely go back, and would love to try the albondigas de camaron sometime...perhaps the broth would be better since seafood seems to be a specialty here. I did notice that soup of some type seemed to be the most popular choice at other tables.

My bottom line: I didn’t find the albondigas of my dreams, but I was transported for an hour or so, and for that I thank Polar Bear and the rest of the Fresno hounds!

Tomorrow we intend to go a bit more upscale, and also try some tequilas…will report back! Thanks again!

About 3 blocks east on Belmont from 99, across from the park (with directions like Polar Bear's, who needs an address)


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