When I look for a new (or new/old) restaurant to try for my next review, there are several ways I find out about them. Sometimes I happen by a place. Sometimes I hear about it from a friend, my editor, my wife or a co-worker. Other times, a reader will send a suggestion, and sometimes the owner or chef calls. You get the idea.
Next, I usually try to find out if the place has a website, so I do a search. I am not interested in other reviews, or what anyone else has to say at that point. Primarily, I am interested in the menu, if there is a bio about the chef or owner, etc. I try to go in with a completely open mind and an uninfluenced point of view.
So when I recently got a "nudge" from my editor to check out La Flama, I did the next thing in the process. That is to say I "Googled" it. And up popped hundreds, maybe thousands of La Flamas. Oops! Try again. LaFlama Tulsa. This time I get La Flama at 1122 E. 61st St. No website, but a lot of mentions in blogs, a Facebook page and others. OK. I can find that easily. So off we go one evening, to try out their authentic Mexican food.
Located in a small strip mall on 61st just West of Peoria, they are in what one might these days call the "heart" of little Mexico. Or one of the hearts anyway. There are several sections of town that have predominantly become Hispanic in demography. Great little restaurants, local community stores, churches and shops. So, we went, we ate, we enjoyed, we went next door to a great little mini grocery with the most incredible homemade Mexican pastries and breads you have ever seen. A nice neat little neighborhood store I recommend you make the trip to see.
After a lovely evening, I find out I went to the wrong one! Even my GPS sent me there!
Oh man! Too bad! I had some great tacos al pastor -- an awesome pork dish with meat that has been slow roasted with pineapple and spices for hours -- and my wife had an authentic chicken enchilada dish that she is still talking about. Dirt cheap, fresh and very tasty. Excellent attentive service in a self-service atmosphere, (figure that one out), Mexican soaps playing on the TV, and a great little condiment caddy with pico de gallo, fresh cilantro, a spicy green salsa made from jalapanos and a spicy red sauce that blew the top of my head off! WOW was that hot!
A few days later, off we go to 68th and Memorial, in the very front part of the Sun & Ski center, to the one I had been sent to in the first place. The décor and atmosphere were more upscale and a lot more formal than the first place. In that instance, the menu was actually represented on pieces of colored paper with an item written on each one, stuck on the wall with scotch tape as you first enter. This menu was a bit nicer and very big.
La Flama at 68th and Memorial is full service, has a full bar, toreador art on the walls and has menu items such as Ahi Tuna Ceviche, a fresh, cool appetizer of minced ahi, fresh apples and jicima, avocado and lime juice. I could have used a little more flavor, but after squeezing some more lime and adding my own salt and pepper, the flavors came out a bit. Maybe I'm used to the more-spicy Peruvian version with chilis, cilantro, onions and olive oil, but while very fresh and clean, I thought the flavors could have popped a lot more. At $7.95 though, I felt like there was a lot of very fresh ahi for the money, and didn't feel slighted at all. It was nicely presented in a small crisp corn tortilla bowl, with several thin slices of excellent avocado, and surrounded with crispy, freshly fried flour tortilla chips. The flavor of the ceviche was so delicate that it was overpowered when eaten with the chips, so I opted for a fork instead.
When we first sat down, we were greeted by a very nice young lady who dropped off a basket of warm chips and several dishes of fresh, homemade salsa, very reminiscent of the ones we had had at the other La Flama. Tasty and not too spicy, the salsa had a nice clean taste.
This same young woman was an excellent and VERY patient guide through the rest of the menu, and a delight to have as our server. She spent a lot of time explaining items and answering questions about things such as the Lomo de Puerco (a grilled pork tenderloin topped with adobo sauce), San Lucas Pollo (a grilled, marinated chicken breast topped with chipotle sauce, melted Monterey Jack, three grilled shrimp and avocado slices), the Lemon Pepper Tilapia (a grilled fish filet topped with mango relish), and Acapulco Camarones (butterfly shrimp stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeno, then wrapped in bacon). Are you kidding!? Bacon and cream cheese!? It MUST be good!
All these dinners and many more are served with a very nice seasoned rice and tasty refried beans topped with queso fresco, a simple, fresh peasant cheese, much more traditional than the Tex-Mex garnish, sour cream.
In addition to the 20 or so feature items such as these mentioned here, you can essentially build a fajita plate from a range of options such as marinated beef, carnitas, shrimp, tequila/lime chicken etc.
Or, you could travel the route I did and build a combo platter of crispy or soft tacos, enchilada, flautas, burritos, tostadas, tamales or rellenos. I chose three soft tacos on fresh white corn tortillas, one with al pastor, the spicy pork and pineapple dish, one with costilla, a slow braised beef rib meat, and one with nopales, diced, sautéed cactus leaves with onions and seasoning. You have to do a lot to cactus to make it delicioso since it has little flavor on its own, and this fell just a bit short, but the pork and beef were very good.
Our tour guide set a condiment caddy on the table before bringing our dinners, and it was strangely reminiscent of the one we had had at the other La Flama just a few nights before. The same pico de gallo, the same green sauce, the same liquid TNT, in fact even the same caddy. Only then did my little pea brain put two and two together and begin to realize there may actually be a connection between La Flama East and La Flama West.
Sure enough, a quick inquiry confirmed that the owners are the same, and the quality of food and service at both are comparable for that reason. What a deal. Two good meals AND I learned something too! Good week!
After actually taking the time to go into the kitchen, and get small dishes of several of the sauces that accompany the dishes my wife had concerns about, our waitress steered her toward the taco platter as well, just to be on the safe side. She claimed that the enchiladas at the first La Flama raised the bar so much that nothing here would possibly stand up to them. And she restated that fact several times while she ate. It may be the same owners, and the same recipes, but she is adamant that West had tastier food than East. Who am I to argue? At any rate, they were both quite good, and worth the trip(s).
The real attention-getters for us were the desserts. We ordered a Coffee Flan. Flan is a very traditional South American dish. Essentially, it is a crème custard baked on a layer of caramel, then cooled and inverted so the caramel runs down the sides of the custard. It was really well done, possessed excellent texture and mouth feel and was beautifully presented.
Our second sweet treat was called Cajeta Chimichanga. Take a flour tortilla, fill it with caramel and chocolate pie fillings, wrap it up and deep fry it. When it comes out, roll it in sugar and cinnamon, put it on a plate that has been drizzled with chocolate sauce, put a big 'ol scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and dig in. Every bite of the steaming hot chimi melts the ice cream, which in turn mixes with the cinnamon and sugar, which in turn soaks up the chocolate sauce, which in turn mixes with the rich warm filling.
That address again? 6746 S. Memorial! I thought that might get you! Enjoy!
6746 S. Memorial, 1122 E. 61st St.
HOURS: Sunday-Saturday, 11am-10pm
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