A Look Inside Lomeli’s | Fusing Cultures Through Cuisine

You don’t have to travel far in Clinton County to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine. Lomeli’s Mexican Food brings heaping portions of traditional Mexican-American cooking to downtown Plattsburgh.

(DoNorth/Mike Herring)

You don’t have to travel far in Clinton County to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine. Lomeli’s Mexican Food brings heaping portions of traditional Mexican-American cooking to downtown Plattsburgh.

Rich smells of garlic and spices pour from Lomeli’s kitchen into the brightly painted dining area. Sombreros and ceramic flowers add to its color. American classics by the Supremes, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke echo throughout the restaurant. A red-aproned woman emerges from the kitchen’s swinging double doors and wipes her brow. She quickly returns into the steaming kitchen where chicken, pork and asada, a traditional Latin dish of grilled beef sizzle on the stove top.

“Order up!” she yells.

Lomeli’s is located at 24 Oak Street and is owned by Suzette Lomeli and Armando Martinez, who moved from Southern California to the Northern New York in 2014 when Lomeli’s father gained a long-term contract with Nova Bus.

“It was definitely a culture shock,” Lomeli says. “And we realized there were no Mexican restaurants up here, so we decided to open one up and see how it goes, and that’s what we did.”  

Even though her father’s contract with Nova Bus expired, Lomeli says the family has decided to stay because they like the small-town feel that Plattsburgh brings.    

“In California, you can get lost in the shuffle,” Lomeli says. “Here, you get to meet people. You get to know people.”

Lomeli brought her entrepreneurial skills with her to New York. Back in California, she owned a hair salon and a cleaning business. Since childhood has known the value of a dollar.

“Since I was a kid, I always hustled for my money,” Lomeli says. “Even selling candy door to door as a kid, I loved making my own money.”

Lomeli’s started its journey as a small take-out eatery in the Big Lots plaza on Cornelia Street. There were no tables for customers to have a sit-down experience.

 Lomeli’s big move downtown last March offered the family a chance to expand as a restaurant and extend their cuisine into the heart of Plattsburgh. The new location seats 49 people most of whom come on Fridays and Saturdays after five o’clock. Each table has its own wax paper-lined bucket filled to the brim with house-made tortilla chips and a bottle of house-made salsa. The children’s table is finished in slate and covered with loose pieces of neon chalk, which past customers have used to leave colorful messages. The drink bar boasts casks of mango and watermelon frescos and horchata, a drink made of Mexican rice milk and cinnamon.

Lomeli and Martinez work as a team in all facets of the business, but Lomeli still likes to have a personal hands-on connection with the food by seasoning and marinating most of it herself. The couple also works as a unit with the rest of the small staff, which includes Lomeli’s brother Edward, sisters Evie and Erika, sisters-in-law Jillian and Diana and her niece Alyssa.

“The phrase ‘family owned and operated’ is definitely how I would describe our restaurant,” Martinez says.  

    “We’ve trained everyone in the restaurant to do everything,” Lomeli says. “Everyone here at the restaurant, besides the waitresses, knows how to make the beans and can help with the preparing and chopping for getting salsas together. We work as a team because we are family.”

A sign above the kitchen reads: “Vatos Locos Only,” which Lomeli’s mother loosely translates to “Crazy Family Only.”

“I definitely think [Lomeli’s] brings diversity in food,” Lomeli says. “It’s traditional mixed with our own flavor. And it also brings freshness to the community.”

All the recipes and dishes are meals that Lomeli’s mother and Martinez’s grandmother used to make. Her family also stressed the importance of fresh ingredients.

“Everything’s made fresh daily, even though it’s not advertised,” Lomeli says.

The restaurant’s kitchen boasts a cooler filled with fresh ingredients and is located directly next to the stove top, which allows for their made-to-order style of cooking to thrive. Tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, beans and other staples stay chilled until Lomeli or Martinez is ready to turn them into salsa with practiced hands. Asada, chicken and pork also stay refrigerated until they are seasoned by Lomeli and cooked to perfection, before they are placed within a burrito, tucked into an enchilada or placed atop nachos or “Fat Girl Fries,” layered with beans, guacamole, cheese, rice and salsa.

“My husband knows how to make rice. He even makes it better than me now,” Lomeli says. “He’s never worked in a kitchen before.”

“The Mondo Burrito” is Martinez’s creation that has been in the works for almost two years and will be coming soon to the Lomeli’s menu. The Mondo is a goliath flour tortilla bursting at its seams with carnitas, asada and red sauce, and topped with more carnitas, chicken and hot sauce.

“My time at Lomeli’s has been fun, challenging and a great experience with my family.” Martinez says.

American and Mexican cultures meet at Lomeli’s. According to Lomeli, the bright decorations in the restaurant contrast with traditionally dark and rich colors found in Mexican decor. Classic rock plays instead of salsa or mariachi.

“We’re Mexican-American and we don’t pretend to be anything else,” Lomeli says. “Most people come in and expect to hear traditional music and hear rock instead, but this is the music we grew up on. This is the music we like.”

Lomeli and Martinez have also expanded their business by adding catering services and taking their food truck to the streets of downtown Plattsburgh. The couple even hopes to expand to Vermont in the new year.

“You have to hustle in life and work hard or else it’s not going to work,” Lomeli says.

Issue 10: Winter/Spring 2018

0 comments Show discussion Hide discussion

Add a comment

More in Champlain Taste