When Latin-Asian eatery Lalo opened on Court Street in November, it joined a slew of new ventures and favorite mainstays including Queen City Exchange, Tom+Chee, Avril-Bleh and the forthcoming Legal Lobster Bar. It also breathed some new life into the street’s dinner options.
The space that now holds Lalo used to be Asian barbecue spot Huit, but the owners — Tobias Harris, Trang Vo and Eduardo Reyes — rebranded and re-decorated the place while holding on to some of Huit’s signature dishes, like drunken brisket.
The team also opened Asian eatery Neuf on Main Street, a six-minute walk from Lalo. I’ve eaten at both places and think Lalo is the more innovative (and tastier) of the two.
The restaurant only holds 36 seats, including a few at the bar. Huit’s large wall murals of people eating wings and Asian barbecue have been replaced with a painted color scheme of vertical maroon, gray, yellow and white stripes. The restaurant is BYOB, so be sure to bring beer or a bottle of wine (no corkage fee).
Lalo takes reservations, but it seemed like everyone who came through the door on a recent Friday night was a walk-in, which led to a hungry wait by the time my dining companion and I left. The restaurant was so busy they actually ran out of menus and had to print more.
While alcohol isn’t on the menu, there are fun drinks like a jalapeño limeade fizz ($4). Sliced jalapeños float in the not-too-sweet and not-too-spicy carbonated beverage, which would have been perfect with an added airplane-sized bottle of tequila.
If you don’t want agua fresca-like drinks, the restaurant also offers Coke products, fresh brewed iced tea, Carabello coffee and local Bip’s cream soda.
Lalo refers to itself as “Chino Latino” cuisine because Asia has a lot of Spanish and Latin influence. The best deal — and the most filling — is the appetizer platter ($17). It’s more than enough for two people, so much so that my dining partner and I almost didn’t have room for our entrées.
The platter came with white fish ceviche marinated in a pool of citrus and garnished with pickled jalapeño, cucumber, julienned carrots and mango bits, served in a martini glass.
It also contained three pillowy chicken empanadas stuffed with spicy chicken tendrils; pot stickers with chicken and chorizo; and a bowl of breakable, puffy chips served alongside salsa verde, a slow-burn curry peanut dip and a roasted pepper and piquant dark red tomato sauce.
And if all that food wasn’t enough, the platter came with a round iron skillet of queso fundido. A crispy top layer revealed corn chunks and spices inside thick cheese — so thick in fact, it was difficult to scoop up with the provided chips.
The menu is divided into tacos, burritos, tortas, rice bowls, specialty plates, soups and salads. I went with a black bean and corn quesadilla ($8) with sautéed black beans, melted Chihuahua cheese, bits of corn, kale, tomatoes and sides of sour cream and salsa.
I liked the addition of kale, which made the usually unhealthy quesadilla seem more wholesome and it added a nice crunch. I would’ve preferred it to have been cooked to a crisp; then again I like everything crispified to a pain-staking degree.
My companion ordered the bibimbap ($10), which came in a big stone bowl, but unlike the traditional Korean version, the bowl wasn’t steaming. Instead, it’s comparable to a Mexican molcajete, a small stone bowl used to make salsa that also keeps food warm.
For the bibimbap, you get a choice of grilled chicken, steak or pork al pastor and either fried rice, regular rice or brown rice; my friend chose steak and fried rice. Like my quesadilla, the dish involved kale and also sliced radishes, black beans, pineapple chunks and carrots.
The steak was tender, not chewy, and complemented the rest of the bowl’s ingredients.
With our guts busted, we somehow mustered the strength to order dessert and tried the messy cheesecake flan ($4). Flan covered the top and bottom of the cheesecake slice with meringue whipped cream on the side and a chocolate sauce drizzled over the plate.
Lalo serves a few teas, so I tried the oolong black tea, which tasted smoky and paired well with the cheesecake. At that point, people began to line up and wait and I could sense them eyeing our table. I wanted to slowly sip on the tea but I instead gulped it.
Despite only having two waiters running around, all the food came out fast. But if you don’t want to wait for a table, they also offer delivery through Uber Eats and local courier services.
Lalo is a good price for dinner for two, and with the immense amount of food they give you, you should have enough for leftovers.
GO: 29 E. Court St., Downtown; CALL: 513-381-4848; INTERNET: lalocincinnati.com; HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday.