|(All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.)|
Southwest Detroit has been receiving a lot of attention lately. Sure, they have food trucks (LONG before it was "cool"), but the Southwest neighborhood has also been hailed by the Freep as one of two "thriving" neighborhoods in Detroit (the technicality of that point could be argued but whatevs, at least they still have concentrated street retail and foot traffic) and adventuresome types looking for an "authentic" experience have lately been taking up the mantle of SW urban explorers.
The fact is, Southwest Detroit offers something that no other neighborhood in the city can offer: a highly concentrated ethnic population that has made Southwest Detroit synonymous with "Mexicantown" (one small corner of the area at Bagley and 24th) and even reminiscent of the cultural diversity of the American Southwest.
There are a lot of popular go-to spots for urban explorers: Mexicantown Restaurant, Los Galanes, Xochimilco, Mexicantown Bakery, Armando's, Cafe con Leche, those newly-appreciated taco carts. But if you drive just a little bit farther down Vernor - outside of the population density, which tends to get damn-near claustrophobic on weekends (SW gets pretty bumpin'), a ways past Clark Park to just west of Springwells - you'll find a little-known gem called Las Brisas.
Las Brisas has been here about 25 years, but in 2005 the original owners sought to retire and sold the business to Ricardo Lopez, whose family owns the Aranda's Tire chain (which had a store right across the street from Las Brisas).
And then, the economy ... well, you know all about that. The Lopez family owned another restaurant which they had to shut down, but through it all continued to operate Las Brisas. But things are looking up now: most recently the restaurant went through a massive remodel which moved the bar, raised the ceiling, increased the space and updated the look. Outside it looks like a regular, unremarkable building on Vernor, but inside it is a warm and spacious restaurant with lots of natural light and one of the largest nightclubs in the area with live music and dancing every weekend.
By day, it is a restaurant serving popular Mexican-American food. They've got all the favorites - tacos, enchiladas, burritos - and everything they do, they do very well. Mexican-American cuisine gets a bad rep - some people want to gripe over a lack of "authenticity" (ironically these people are almost never Mexican), while others have the impression that the food is just plain bad, an impression well-earned by lackluster Mexi-merican joints with sub-par fare. At Las Brisas, you get the very best of both worlds: traditional Mexican items catered to American palates (i.e., lots of cheese, lots of deep-frying) and all of it done exceptionally well.
The kitchen team gets in early every single morning to make all the dishes for the day, so everything you eat is homemade fresh daily. During the week you can stop in for their lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, for only $6.50 you get all-you-can-eat buffet items which include build-your-own tacos, deep-fried beef tacos (all the awesomeness of deep-fried mini tacos only homemade and fresh, not frozen), chicken flautas in crisp fried shells, chorizo-and-cheese burritos (drained of all that excess grease), creamy fresh-made guacamole and a variety of other items. Off the regular menu, their Mexican sandwich and tortas are their most popular signature items; you can also order extra-large family-style combo plates of tacos, burritos and enchiladas with beans and rice for dine-in or carry-out. They have different daily specials for carry-out, dine-in and the bar in addition to their lunch buffet.
The food may be simple and not treading any new territory, but when simple dishes are done well they far surpass their bland counterparts. Las Brisas may be a bit off the beaten path from the high-traffic stretch of Vernor, but the food here is 100x better than what you get at some of the better-known, more popular places that make up Mexicantown. As an added bonus, they have their own private parking lot that's guarded by security during all hours of operation, assuaging any concerns over safety for visitors.
On weekends, the place becomes a full-blown nightclub, bringing in popular singers, bands and DJs from all over the different states of Mexico (as well as mariachi bands earlier in the evening). It gets packed at night, bringing in crowds of 250+ people who will line up around the building to get in. Cover is only $5 for DJs (bands and singers will cost a little more), and the party goes all night. Afterwards, you can even stick around for your post-party late-night fried food feasting until 4 a.m., ending your evening in the same place you started it with dinner so many hours ago. (This is why they call themselves "the place that has everything.")
If you're having a party, they can cater, deliver, or you can even hold it at the restaurant starting at only $7.50 per person with all the food and service included, for anything from business meetings to birthday parties to weddings.
While the well-known hotspots of Southwest and Mexicantown certainly have their own unique appeal, try broadening your horizons a bit with a place with great food and top-notch international talent. Las Brisas ("the breeze") is well worth the journey off the beaten path.
Want to see more? Check out the Flickr set here.