“Mexico City has the largest population of Mexican people. Los Angeles has the second largest and Guadalajara has the third,” said Executive Chef Jimmy Shaw during a two-hour lunch with him and a friend at Lotería Grill.
Shaw is an affable chef that was raised in Mexico City and cooks the Mex-Mex way, not Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex. “Mexican food from Mexico City tastes much different from the food many Mexican restaurants serve in the states,” said Shaw.
Due to a series of pleasant serendipitous events, Shaw opened his first Lotería Grill in the center of the Farmers Market in January, 2003. He wanted to create a restaurant that Mexicans living in Southern California would instantly recognize and also appeal to Los Angelenos.
Shaw’s brother advised him to use the Lotería cards as a theme for his Farmers Market restaurant. Lotería is a beloved Bingo game in Mexico that is as popular as Monopoly is to America. It’s a game of chance with various images and a name on a deck of 54 cards. When a cantor or singer picks a card, he sings out a riddle to tell the player what card has been drawn. Shaw said, “For the sun card, the caller would sing out – A poor persons blanket.”
Our sweet server Ginger couldn’t have been more friendly and professional as she brought out one delicious dish after
another. The first was a plate of three tacos. Shaw taught us the proper way to eat a taco. First, you pinch the taco together with one hand. Next, you slightly tilt your head and wrap both your top and bottom lips around the tortilla to take a bite. This is how you don’t get the filling in the taco to fall onto the plate or worse on your clothing.
Shaw always loved preparing and eating food. After attending the University of Pennsylvania, he became a personal chef to American cinematographer Garret Brown. Brown created the Steadicam back in the 1970s – later the SkyCam, DiveCam and MobyCam.
Two years later, Shaw needed his green card and found a job in a Spanish language ad agency in Los Angeles. His clients included Honda Motor Company.
Living with four roommates, Shaw enjoyed chopping, cooking and entertaining in his free time. “My favorite time was sobremesa,” said Shaw. “It means the comfort and warmth of good food and great friends with laughter at the end of a delicious dinner.”
Even though he was a success in the advertising world, he dreamed of owning a Mexican restaurant. On a flight home from a business meeting in Washington D.C., Shaw put his dream into words and wrote the concept for Lotería Grill.
In November of 2002, he was fortunate to receive an offer by the A. F. Gilmore Company to take over a Mexican food stand in the Farmers Market. “When the stars line up the right way in the restaurant business you jump on in and ride the wave,” said Shaw. “Every Thanksgiving I give my thanks to Hank Hilty, president of the A.F. Gilmore Company, that owns the Farmers Market. He believes in the small merchant. He believed in me.”
Shaw hired a storyboard artist to design the colorful theme of Lotería cards. When he opened his first restaurant, he didn’t hire a publicist. Instead, he invited his friends to come eat his various dishes and spread the word. “A plate of food at Lotería is the best advertising,” said Shaw. He worked over 12 hours every day of the week at his Farmers Market location.
Six years later he opened his second location in Hollywood, next Studio City, then Westlake Village and Santa Monica. Soon Shaw will have a downtown Los Angeles location and at Terminals 5 and 7 at LAX.
A plate of quesadillas arrived and looked much different than the quesadillas I’ve had at other Mexican restaurants. It wasn’t a big flour tortilla folded in half and stuffed with cheese. The Quesadillitas de Plaza is a plate of three fresh corn masa turnovers. One was filled with fresh squash blossoms, the other was Huitlacoche corn truffle and the third has strips of chile Poblano and Oaxaca cheese. It’s served with crema Mexicana, salsa verde cruda and queso fresco. Shaw told us to cut the turnovers in half and place a dollop of crema, salsa and queso on top. I did this with the squash blossom quesadillitas and received a pleasing explosion of wonderful flavors.
Every Sunday, Shaw goes to the Hollywood Farmers market to buy 50 to 60 pounds of fresh squash blossoms. His favorite supplier fills up five extra large clear trash bags with ten pounds of blossoms and has them ready for Shaw’s arrival.
When listening to Shaw’s wonderful personal stories, a large plate of chilaquiles arrived at our table. “This is the classic Mexican breakfast cure-all,” said Shaw. Crisp tortilla strips are sautéed in salsas and served with black beans. Shaw took the bowls of queso fresco, crema Mexicana, and a green tomatillo sauce and pour them over the chopped onion and cilantro. It’s a nacho type of dish that is very popular for breakfast. I enjoyed them thoroughly for lunch. “In Mexico, dinner starts at 10 p.m. and can last until the early morning hours,” said Shaw. “Chilaquiles are great after a night out on the town.”
The moles made at Lotería are smooth and made with over 26 ingredients. “Moles in Mexico are the curries in India, there are a million different types,” Shaw said.
Last we shared one of Shaw’s favorite dishes, the red snapper Vera Cruz. This plate is a marriage of Spain and Mexico with Spanish olives, capers, onions and tomatoes. The pan-seared snapper is bathed in a luscious red sauce and adorned with fried plantains.
For dessert, we split a bowl of tequila ice cream. “That is one thing that I like to make in the Hollywood kitchen,” said Shaw. “I also make a great cinnamon hot-chocolate ice cream.”
In Spanish the word loteria, means lottery. Jimmy Shaw won the lottery in California with his wonderful authentic Mexican restaurants. $-$$
Farmers Market – 6333 W 3rd St. (323)930-2211, Hollywood – 6627 Hollywood Blvd. (323)465-2500, Studio City – 12050 Ventura Blvd. (818)508-5300, Westlake Village – 180 Promenade Way (805)379-1800 and Santa Monica – 1251 3rd St. (310)393-2700.
The majority of this article was published in the Beverly Press on Sept. 26, 2013.