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The Journal Gazette

  • Lamb stew from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A Campechano taco from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • Chicken nachos supreme from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A chorizo torta from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A carne asada burrito from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A chiclen tostada from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • Menudo from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A carne asada sope from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

  • A carne asada huarche from La Michoacana on Wells Street.

Sunday, October 21, 2018 1:00 am

Wells eatery offers more than sweet treats

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

La Michoacana

★★ 1/2

Out of a possible five

$

I had been there dozens of times before, and it was sort of a favorite place for my family.

But I had never truly eaten there before. So when a co-worker was telling me about the little Mexican place he and his wife went to with another couple for a quick bite during a recent night out, I was surprised and inspired to hear it was La Michoacana along the Wells Street corridor.

La Michoacana is known best for its ice cream and frozen treats. I regularly stop in during the summer to grab a fresh fruit water–melon is the best if it is one of the five or so they have that day. My kids love the chocolate-and sprinkle-covered frozen bananas, and the tequila ice cream is killer.

I have known they had a food menu, too, but it was not until that friend talked highly about his experience did I consider having more than sweet treats there.

It proved to be a huge oversight. There was a dish I found there that was not only one of the most satisfying plates of Mexican fare I have had in a while, it was also one that was unique.

Birria de Borrego is lamb stew. Lamb is not often seen on Mexican menus and I had never had this dish before. And it was brilliant.

The lamb had just a hint of that somewhat gamy lamb essence, and it was super tender from being slow cooked in a loose, broth-like red sauce that was just spicy enough to make it interesting without making me grab for my water. It was topped with chopped onions and cilantro and served with corn tortillas and lime wedges.

I am not sure what cut of lamb was used but I assumed it was the leg because there were oddly shaped chunks of fat and meat that you get when you strip braised meat from the bone. I could not stop eating it but eventually had to because it was such a big portion. I will be back for it and will be back for it soon.

When it came to the more traditional taqueria selections, the sopes and huarches were my favorites. I am a sucker for the freshly made and grilled, thick masa tortillas that are the base of these dishes and La Michoacana's had the perfect consistency and a pronounced corn flavor.

The carne asada on top was tender and flavorful, the fresh lettuce and tomatoes added crunch and vibrancy, and there was sour cream and finely crumbled queso fresco to add a creamy element. The refried beans smeared on each were also not blended too much so they had some texture.

Though I seldom choose chicken at taquerias, the supreme chicken nachos were worthy of having again. The restaurant's chips were topped with a generous amount of the stringy, tender chicken that was stewed in a red sauce much the same way as the lamb. They also had creamy yellow nacho sauce that had a little zip to it on top along with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and a bunch of sliced jalapeños.

Those peppers provided the only heat the dish needed and I didn't bother adding salsa because it really didn't need it. It is also worth noting that getting nachos might be better than asking for just chips and salsa because they cost $1.99 and are not on the house like most places.

The same fixings were placed atop crispy french fries for the papas fritas supreme, which was written on the specials board with the meat of your choice. I had mine with carne asada because that steak was easily the best choice for all of the dishes I had.

The tacos at La Michoacana were all worthy with the campechano being my favorite. It costs a little more because it has an array of meats including the steak, chorizo and what I think was either pork fat or an innard of some sort, which was very slimy in texture but added a great funk to the double-wrapped taco.

I also loved the al pastor taco as the pork in it had the right smoky-sweet barbecued flavor.

I had the chorizo on a torta sandwich, too. Its proper talera bread was pressed and grilled until very dark – bordering on burnt – and it also had beans, lettuce, onions, tomato, a little sour cream and fresh avocado inside. There was more meat than anything, which was a good thing, and that chorizo was more sweet than spicy, which was a little disappointing.

The burrito was also a little disappointing. It, too, had more meat than anything – steak, again, in this case – and a lot of rice, but it needed way more lettuce, tomato, sour cream and especially avocado to make it worth having again.

La Michoacana offers three soups daily, and the menudo fell a little flat.

It had a copious amount of its main ingredient – tripe – and had varied pieces of the cow's stomach, but the red broth was rather one-note with a strong roasted chile flavor. Squeezing as much lime as I could into it, along with adding all of the cilantro and onion I could harvest from the side plate, helped add complexity, but I still had to reach for some hot sauce and salsa to create a flavor that kept me interested. But even after doing that, I got bored quickly and did not finish it.

I did finish every bite of the sweet treats I had.

Though the tequila ice cream is hard to pass on, I also loved the lime ice and can't wait to try the mango ice next time. La Michoacana's horchata was also top-notch with an intense cinnamon punch.

There are standard flavors, too, so don't think that you have to like the unique Mexican treats – such as chile-packed frozen pops – to enjoy a visit.

And don't think, like I did for so long, that the sweet treats are all you can enjoy there.

Restaurant: La Michoacana

Address: 1421 Wells St.

Phone: 423-3515

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. daily

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: supreme nachos ($7.99), lamb stew ($10.99), papas fritas supreme ($7.99), tacos ($2; campechano $2.50), torta ($6.50), sopes ($2.59), menudo ($8.99), burrito ($650), huarches ($6)

Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.