In the heart of the Mission district in San Francisco, home to an eclectic mix of bohemians, hipsters and Latinos, Loló has managed to stand out and charm the more sophisticated palates. Moving away from what American’s might identify as Mexican food: tacos, burritos and the like, Loló defines itself as non-traditional Mexican, using traditional ingredients to concoct more sophisticated dishes.
Following is our Q&A with Juan Carlos Ruelas, chef, co-0wner and manager of Loló
Q.- How did Loló come to life?
A.- Loló has its roots in Guadalajara. Thirteen years ago, Jorge Martinez and his wife Lorena Zertuche decided to move back to Guadalajara from San Francisco. Jorge partnered with Jerry Cendejas and started the restaurant, I Latina, which became almost an overnight success. A few years later they opened a second restaurant; Anita Li (if read backwards: I Latina), which also became a success.
I used to work for Jorge and Jerry, and when Jorge and Lorena decided to back to San Francisco with their daughter Emiliana and son Pascual to open a new restaurant, I was invited to join them in their new venture. Loló opened its doors in September 2007, to yet another success.
We work as a team, which makes everything work amazingly well. It helps create a pleasant atmosphere that enables creativity. We all know that food made with love, care and enthus iasm produces amazing dishes, just like the movie “Like Water for Chocolate,” so beautifully reveals.
Q.- How would you define your restaurant?
A.- We find it hard to define Loló’s cuisine, but if we must, we like to call it non-traditional Mexican. It has more of an exotic flair. Loló also takes dishes from other cuisines and puts them together with Mexican influences.
We use traditional Mexican recipes and techniques and blend them with other culinary techniques from other countries, giving them a twist. Lorena and Jorge call this twist “jiribilla.” which in English means spin, or act of causing to spin; twirling movement, rotation (Mexico). Lorena’s décor depicts the same twist: “muebles con jiribilla.” Furniture with a twist.
Q.- Why local ingredients and why is it non-traditional Mexican?
A.- We only purchase local ingredients because it’s a way to use only fresh products that are in season. It ensures all our ingredients are tasty. In addition and most important, it helps the hard working local farmers and economy.
Q.- Would you call Mission Mexican restaurants traditional? Taquerias, or what?
A.- Some of them are. You can go to a lot of places like “San Jalisco” on 20th. and South Van Ness, or go inside the Mission Market where you can enjoy a really good traditional meal. The fare at “La Taqueria” and “Taqueria Vallarta” are very traditional as well. As for the rest, we think they’re more on the “gringo trend,” but we also enjoy them very much as well.
Q.- What is your culinary philosophy?
A.- Being honest about what we create, and truly believe in it.
Q.- Why bring art into the dining scene?
A.- Eating is not just about sitting at a table, eating, paying and leaving. It’s about the whole experience, about savoring what you eat in a warm atmosphere that the decor creates, and the music as well; a welcoming environment where every piece comes together. We all contribute to the experience. Joyful, sincere attention is given to our clients because they are the centerpiece of the restaurant. It’s all those details that make customers come back to enjoy the experience again and again.
Q.- Who is the designer behind the famous décor?
A.- Lorena Zertuche is the person behind the fun décor at Loló. Loló is also Lorena’s nickname. So the restaurant is named after her. She takes her inspiration from “Rancherias,” Mexican markets, beaches and the colorful streets she visits. She has the capacity to put things together and give things a fun sense of harmony and humor. The design is a bit eclectic, a bit retro with a Mexican flair, but beautifully and interestingly put together. The décor is constantly changing to surprise customers on every visit!
Q.- What is your go-to, favorite spring recipe? Could you share one with us?
Recipe for Aguachile
Time: 20 minutes
- 2 lb raw shrimp, skinned
- 4 serrano chilies, minced
- 1 purple onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
- Cilantro to taste
- Salt to taste
- Black and white pepper to taste
- 2 lb limes, juiced
- Mix the limejuice (needs to be fresh otherwise it turns everything bitter), the chilies and the cilantro in a blender.
- Put the shrimp in a large container where you can spread all the shrimp out in a single layer.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the onion and cucumber slices.
- Pour the blended limejuice over the shrimp.
- Enjoy with some corn chips and an ice-cold cerveza!
Fun fact: This restaurant was mentioned in the Washington Post in The Royal Flush: The Seven Best Places to Pee! by Chloe Schildhause, describing it as ‘kitschy fun with a restroom that doubles as a tropical oasis.’