Though metropolitan areas like New York or Boston are well-known for their ethnic diversity, Rhode Island has many places in which you suddenly feel plunged into another culture, be it Vietnamese, Salvadoran or — in the case of La Lupita — Mexican. It’s not just the swirl of Spanish around your ears in this diner-like space or even the imported brands of snacks, sauces, and sodas on the shelves along one wall.
It’s more the neighborhood feel of people stopping by for their daily lottery tickets, or others picking up large bags of Mexican fast food for supper, and the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe perched high above the customer path on a shelf close to the ceiling.
And though the menu has been translated into English, there are curious inconsistencies here and there. On the Spanish side of the menu, it would seem that onions and cilantro come with each taco, and tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce are “extra.” But on the English side, all five items are “extra.” Hmmm. Taco variations (each $1.25) are steak, chicken, beef tongue, chorizo, marinated pork, fried pork, ground beef and tripe. I did not notice the addition of avocado at first, because it is listed as aguacate on the English side.
The bean and chicken options that I chose were nonetheless delicious: very fresh veggies with a bit of refried beans, and the chicken nicely spiced. Each filling was wrapped in two soft corn tortillas, something I’d not experienced before.
Bill, meanwhile, was enjoying a marinated pork (carne al pastor) huarache ($3.24). Like a small, shoe sole-shaped pizza, this home-made flour tortilla was sprinkled with the pork, plus sour cream, lettuce, red onions, plenty of cilantro, and that white queso fresco which tastes like a mild cousin of feta.
We shared a “small” bowl of chicken soup ($4.25) that was quite delicious and filling. Packed with white meat, potatoes, and carrots, it was topped with chopped red onion and cilantro. Bill ordered a beef tripe soup to take home, and the aroma of its broth and spices filled the car. When I asked him the next day how it was, his reply was, “good, but a bit fatty — that’s tripe.”
Bill also ordered a steak tostada ($1.62), which is a crispy tortilla with sour cream and cheese, veggies, and cilantro. It can be mixed or matched to your tastes from marinated or fried pork, ground beef, chicken, or chorizo (there’s also a vegetarian option). On either the soft taco or the tostada, you can get sliced avocado for an additional 15 cents.
Bill and I also ordered two tamales ($1.50 each). Listed as jalapeno with cheese and pork with salsa verde, the two tamales we received were chicken with red sauce and the pork option. The filling is inside a masa harina (cornmeal) dough that steams inside a corn husk. It was very flavorful, but there was a bit too much masa for us. And take note: the green sauce is much hotter than the red.
The quesadillas at La Lupita are deep-fried corn tortillas, kept warm and filled with your choice of meats or cheese ($1.62). There are also taquitos dorados (five for $4.86) on the Spanish side of the menu, and burro grande ($3.50) and burro chico ($2.00). The taquitos are tightly rolled tortillas that resemble fat Cuban cigars. They are filled with meat and deep-fried.
One other kind of sandwich at La Lupita resembles a Rhode Island grinder: a long sub roll split in half and filled with beans, veggies, cheese, and avocado with your choice of meats, ham and eggs, or eggs and chorizo ($3.50). Eggs are also served for breakfast as scrambled, sunny side-up, and “Mexican-style,” with ham, chorizo or “sliced franks” ($5.50). Those breakfasts come with refried beans, fries, toast, or tortillas.
At La Lupita, you place your order at the counter, and the food is brought to your table by one of the smiling staff. While you wait for your meal (not long at all), you can browse the grocery shelves, full of Mexican products, including an array of Little Debbie-like cakes with different fillings: coffee, caramel, strawberry, and pineapple.
The soda cooler is filled with Jarritos, the most popular soda in Mexico (next to Coke). Jarritos began to cross the border in the ’80s in tamarind and mandarin flavors, but now they offer almost a dozen fruit-based drinks. We like the bright and not overly sweet fruit taste and the mild carbonation. Try the pineapple or guava.
And step into La Lupita for fast (and good) food, a la Mexicana.
La Lupita | 1950 Westminster St, Providence | Mon-Sat, 9 am-9 pm; Sun, 9 am-8 pm | No credit cards | BYOB | Rest room not handicapped
accessible | 401.331.2444
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Johnette Rodriguez: firstname.lastname@example.org