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Strange-colored monsters and food with a twist found at Lodi's new Alebrije Mexican Bistro

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Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007 10:00 pm

I know what you're thinking - another Mexican restaurant in Lodi? Yes, but it's nothing like the typical taqueria you're imagining.

Alebrije Mexican Bistro, a new Mexican restaurant on the corner of Ham Lane and Lockeford Street, is unlike any other restaurant in Lodi. Though you can order items to go, it is not until you sit in the quaint dining area that you gain the experience that owners Ruben and Adi Larrazolo offer their customers.

The walls are each painted in bold colors of electric blue, deep orange, yellow and vibrant red. Even the ceiling is painted a deep red. Over each dark wooden table, colorful lamps set the comfortable and upscale mood, but keep the separate dining room dimly lit. Bright photos of Mexican art hang on the walls. Also art pieces, paper mache ornaments known as alebrije hang from the ceiling, resembling variations of turtles and fish.

"All the colors we have in our country, I want to put on the table," he said.

Ruben Larrazolo, 30, lived in Mexico City until he moved with his family to Woodbridge four years ago. He has always loved restaurants. Knowing he wanted to own one of his own, he traveled throughout Mexico, the United States, Europe and Canada, researching everything from food and ingredients, to restaurant design and structure.

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Burritas are on the menu at Alebrije. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

On Dec. 4, he opened Alebrije in Lodi. The restaurant is named after fictional, strange-colored monsters that are now celebrated in regions of Mexico. Alebrije were first created by Mexico native Pedro Linares who dreamt of the creatures while he was in a coma. He dreamt he was in a forest and the creatures (a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with an eagle's head, etc.) were shouting the word, "alebrijes," at him. When he tried to get away from the terrible sound, a man told him he would have to keep walking before he could find an exit. In the dream, he came to a narrow window. When he climbed through the window, he woke from his coma.

To remember his dream, and to show people the animals, he molded the figures out of paper mache. The town still continues to the tradition of making the alebrijes.

It's not just the name of the restaurant and the decor that is different. The menu includes most traditional Mexican dishes, but with an added touch of sophistication and untraditional flavor.

The guacamole is something you will want to try. With his tray of spices, seasonings, lemon and a stone molcajete of three avocado halves, Ruben makes guacamole right at your table's side. He makes it as spicy as you like and adds final touches of fresh-squeezed lemon and finely grated cheese.

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Ruben Larrazolo, owner of Alebrije Mexican Bistro, makes table-side guacamole fresh for customers at his restaurant. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

"This is different from (other restaurants)," he said. "We don't have sides of guacamole. We make it fresh right here."

The menu includes appetizers, salads, burritos, specialty dishes and traditional favorites.

For starters, try the guacamole and chips ($6.50), shrimp ceviche ($9.99), mini sopitos surtidos (a masa boat assortment with beans, topped with chicken, beef or pork, cheese, sour cream and guacamole, $6.50), burritas or two varieties of nachos.

Burritos come with your choice of meat: asada, al pastor, carnitas, chicken, chili verde and chicken ($6.49). Vegetarian burritos ($4.99) are filled with green onions, chili pasilla, mushrooms, beans, rice and cheese. The super burrito adds fresh lettuce, cabbage and cheese, and comes topped with melted cheese and homemade red or green sauce and sour cream.

Specials are recipes Ruben learned in Mexico or created himself. The mole poblano is a legendary blend of spices, chile, nuts and chocolate made into a rich and flavorful sauce in the traditional puebla style and served over chicken. Camarones a la diabla is whole prawns sautéed in a spicy or mild sauce. Also try gaviotas: flour tortilla enchiladas filled with prawns (sautéed with garlic, tomatoes and onion) and topped with green sauce and jack cheese. There are also fish tacos, carnitas, fajitas and chili Colorado.

For a traditional meal, try our choice of enchilada, sopito (masa boat with toppings), chile relleno or chicken flautas.

What: Alebrije Mexican Bistro
Where: 1301 W. Lockeford St. (at Ham Lane)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
Specialties: Shrimp enchilada, burritas, mini sopitos surtidos
Information: 368-1831

Breakfast menudo is served on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Ruben hopes to soon add beer and wine to the menu.

It doesn't matter which dish you order, if you go in with an open mind and empty stomach, it's likely you'll fall in love with the food or be captivated by the alebrijes.

"We want people to come take our experience, whether it's the art, ambiance, our service or the story we are sharing," he said.

Contact reporter Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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