Adding that personal touch
|By Joe Torok|
Owner Ofilia Diaz takes a hands-on approach at El Burrito
Like an old log cabin in the forest, El Burrito is nestled cozily among grocery stores, emporiums, and fix-it shops along a stretch of Cedar Street in south Lansing.
Housed in a small building where Chinese food was once dished up, El Burrito is under new management after switching over to Mexican cuisine.
Owner Ofilia Diaz took over the taqueria in early October, stepping in on a Tuesday after the previous owner called it quits on the preceding Sunday. Diaz came armed with cookies and cakes, adding sweets to an authentic menu specializing in tacos and burritos.
Diaz has operated a few enterprises over the past 20 years — a still-thriving wedding and all-occasion cake business and delis around town — while holding down another full-time hospital job. She says shes happy to be cooking again.
"Except for the tortillas, everythings homemade," Diaz says. Pinto beans are bought dry, brought to a boil, simmered for four hours, and smashed. The only added ingredients are salt and pepper; she used to add bacon grease, or cook the beans with a chunk of salt pork, but thats a no-no for folks who want their legumes without animal fat.
Diaz cooks and seasons her own rice, too. She concocts salsa and guacamole from chilies, avocados and vegetables; fries her own tortilla chips; assembles tamales by hand; makes her own mole; bakes cookies and cakes from scratch. Get the idea?
All this without being, as she says, a real Mexican. A proud third-generation Mexican- American, Diaz has had to brush up on the cooking end of Mexican cuisine (she mastered the baking 30 years ago).
A brother-in-law from Mexico is an oft-tapped brain. Shes called local Latin American grocers for ideas. Shes consulted a friend about a marinade for pork — not how to make it, just the ingredients, she insists — and, alchemistlike, Diaz produced the taste she desired.
Shes even consulted the Internet on occasion.
"I just called Mexicans I knew, friends and family, and figured it out," Diaz says.
But shes a curious cook by nature. Having taken over from the previous ownership so quickly, Diaz says she tasted a bit of left-behind enchilada sauce while preparing an order for a regular. It didn’t look right to her — and was bland to boot — so Diaz donned her
"I think its because Im not a real Mexican," she says, while laughing, about the positive reception to her new sauce.
"The last time I closed up, I thought I was done," Diaz says. "Its always been my passion, I just can’t give it up."
5920 S. Cedar St., Lansing 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday- Friday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday (517) 272-1665 TO, $$