DINER | Veg-Mex ‘Lucha Verde’ Opens Tonight In The West End’s Legendary Lolita’s Location

June 13, 2017.

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by Andrew Morrison with photos by Michelle Sproule | The highly anticipated launch of the Veg-Mex themed Lucha Verde eatery goes down tonight at 1326 Davie Street. That’s the old Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina location, a legendary address to many in the restaurant trade (myself included) who once upon a time flocked – post-shift – to its regularly rambunctious last calls. Seriously, if those old walls could talk…

The “friends and family” test service took place last night, and it appeared to run smoothly with the full room gnawing on delicious elote (grilled, cayenne-specked corn spread with buttery aioli and queso fresco) and sampling a variety of really interesting tacos (the fried halloumi with apple jicama slaw being an absolute standout). The meatless, gluten-free menu is short and sweet, and not for lack of imagination as I know owner John Cooper and chef Sic Kim were exhaustively exacting during its construction, intensively revising the dozen dishes (including two desserts) until they got everything just right. And it shows. Likewise with the cocktail program – a collaboration between Cooper and The Keefer Bar’s Amber Bruce. It’s nice and clipped with six originals that mean business (I tried the Limo Wreck and the Loud Love — both were strong, riveting pleasures that I’m still thinking about this afternoon).

Lolita’s many tropical, tiki motifs have been supplanted by Lucha Verde’s darkly Spartan, less-is-more aesthetic. It feels a little bigger than Lolita’s on account of the ceiling being returned to its original height with the removal of all the overhead pallets of bamboo. The lack of ornament is refreshing, but if you look closely there’s more to it than just gunmetal grey walls. These are subtly emblazoned with a series of on-brand, relief-glossed lightning bolts that zap down from the ceiling. They are almost imperceptible — best seen via a trick of the last light and the low-glow of flanking Edison bulbs. The seats continue the simplicity vibe with a pillowless, flat plank bench running the length of the room, its tables sat with old metal shop chairs. The bar stools are backless, which says “turn and burn” rather than “take a load off” — with cheap as chips price points ranging from $6 to $12, gunning for volume is definitely the prudent approach.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the least bit uncomfortable. It’s just that I get the feeling they’re preparing to be busy. And I trust they will be. It’s a tightly wrought, well executed concept that even appeals to people like me who love meat and have a special yen for all things gluten. Lucha Verde has another “friends and family” service tonight but the doors will be open for walk-ins if there’s room. From then on, it’s open season. Here’s what we saw last night…
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