*Due to a reporting error, Jorge Vera was incorrectly named as a co-owner of Acapulco Mexican Grill. He is a manager.*
Acapulco Mexican Grill opened in Frandor last week. At the bar, guests can do shots from these mini leather boots, which were handmade in the Mexican city of Guanajuato where manager Jorge Vera’s family is from.
If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you may have noticed there’s a big difference between the kind of cuisine Americans think of as “Mexican” and the real deal for sale in taquerias south of the border. But at Acapulco Mexican Grill, which opened last week in the Frandor Shopping Center, the traditional and the Americanized live sideby-side on an inventive menu designed to captivate a wide range of diners.
“I never heard of chimichangas or fajitas before I moved here,” said Vera. “Those don’t exist in Mexico. And tacos down there don’t have lettuce and cheese – that’s an American thing. But with our menu, we wanted to make sure everyone was happy, so we included the kind of dishes that Americans are used to, as well as some authentic Mexican food in case they want to try it the right way.”
Vera said the menu’s closest approximation to authentic Mexican fare are its tacos al pastor, filled with skirt steak, pineapple and onions, and its tacos de carnitas, loaded with diced pork and served with housemade pico de gallo and tomatillo sauce. But he said the item that’s already proven to be a standout favorite is the shark taco, made with real shark meat.
“We went through 30 pounds of shark in the first week,” Vera said. “We just wanted to create something new that no one else in town had. We had no idea it would be that popular.”
Vera and his family emigrated from Mexico in 2003 when he was 14 years old. They originally settled in Chicago, but moved to Lansing in 2004 when his father, Carmelo Vera, was offered a chance to become a partner of Cancun Mexican Grill, 1754 Central Park Drive in Okemos. That became a wild success, eventually leading to six more restaurants around mid Michigan, but with Acapulco, Carmelo Vera wanted to break away from the Cancun vibe.
“We were looking to do something with a different look and feel,” Jorge Vera said. “Cancun has vibrant colors and has more of a fiesta feel to it. We went for a rustico look, which is more contemporary and a little more soothing to the senses.”
The space feels like a Mexican town square inside, complete with festive banners and a pair of arched doorways that give it an openair sense. It can seat 185, and includes a full bar and a 20-seat patio. The ownership team —Vera’s brothers, Jose and Carlos Vera, their cousin, Raoul Avila and their family friend, Alfredo Melendez – spent over $600,000 in conjunction with the building’s owner, Patrick Corr, to transform the 5,800-square-foot space. Most of the restaurant’s footprint had previously been Just 4 Fun Hobbies & Comics, with the bar area in back annexing a section of the adjacent Blaze Pizza. Acapulco complements Frandor’s other international dining options, including Michi Sushi (Japanese), Aladdin’s Restaurant (Middle Eastern), Apple Jade Asian Restaurant (Chinese and Thai) and Olga’s Kitchen (Greek- American).
“We were originally thinking of going to Grand Rapids, but when my dad saw this space, he decided this was it,” Vera said. “Frandor is great because it’s right in the middle of everything, it’s easy to get to and there are already these other dining options here. It’s worked out perfectly.”
And there’s no shortage of parking. Acapulco is situated directly across from the Bank of America and shares a parking lot with Sears, which has parking room to spare these days. That hasn’t escaped Vera’s eye.
“At the Okemos restaurant, people sometimes had to park down the street or even at the Walmart nearby because our lot was always full,” Vera said. “I don’t think we’re going to have that problem here.”
It looks like 2018 is going to be a big year for Central American cuisine. The Cuban restaurant La Cocina Cubana recently opened in downtown Lansing. The longgestating revival of Mr. Taco on the city’s south side posted a “help wanted” notice on Facebook last week, signaling a possible opening soon. Punk Taco, a full-service Mexican restaurant originally planned near Frandor, recently announced it would be opening in Old Town sometime this spring following a series of pop-ups at its sibling restaurant, the Creole Burger Bar & Southern Kitchen. Pablo’s Panaderia, also in Old Town, is working on a second location in REO Town. And, interestingly, Frandor recently added a Taco Bell location in the former digs of Halo Burger.
Acapulco’s drink menu includes 12 types of imported Mexican beer and more than a dozen varieties of tequila. Tap beer options include locally made brews by Ellison Brewery and Spirits and Lansing Brewing Co. But whatever you do, don’t ask for a shot from the 3-liter bottle of Herradrua tequila proudly displayed behind the bar.
“My dad got that bottle years ago, but he’s never touched it,” Vera said. “I told him we should open it to celebrate the restaurant, but he said no. He said he wouldn’t open it no matter how much someone offered for it. I think he just likes the way it looks.”
Also behind the bar is a set of shot glasses set inside mini handmade pointytoed leather boots to be used for special occasions. Vera said they’re from the city of Guanajuato, where his family is from, which is known for its leather shoemaking.
“It was a nice way to include a something of where we’re from,” Vera said. “This obviously isn’t traditional Mexican food, but we’re trying to stay as true to the spirit of the culture as we can. And I think our guests are really going to appreciate that.”
Acapulco Mexican Grill
300 N. Clippert St. Ste. 17, Lansing (in Frandor Shopping Center) 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday- Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (517) 203-0096