Honoring Regional Mexican Cuisine with Lafayette’s Teocalli Cocina

Best of the abuelas.

That might be the way to describe what Teocalli Cocina, a new Lafayette Mexican restaurant, is trying to do. Not Tex-Mex, not dishes confined to a specific region, but the greatest hits that grandmothers are cooking up in kitchens all over Mexico.

It’s a great idea, but it’s not the one that owner Grant Hopfenspirger started with when he first envisioned Teocalli. He originally wanted the restaurant to specialize in Oaxacan cuisine, but then he met accomplished local chef Johnny Curial, and the concept had to evolve.

Mexican-born Curial had taken time off from working in restaurants like Centro Mexican Kitchen, Lola, and the TAG Restaurant Group to do a sort of “abuela tour” of Mexico. Hitting every state in the country, he learned from the best, most seasoned chefs Mexico (or any country) has to offer: the grandmothers.

The result is Teocalli Cocina, billed as a modern shrine to regional Mexican cuisine. Curial built the menu based on his culinary experiences in Nayarit, Jalisco, Oaxaca and more. The food is a fresh take on traditional classics, which means you can get tacos and carne asada, there just might be tamarind and chipotle-glazed pork belly in the shell, or Mexican peppers blended into a chimichurri for steak dipping.

While Curial designed the abuela-driven menu, head chef (and Oaxaca native) Julio Gaspar executes it on a daily basis. His experience is similarly family-based, as he grew up cooking with his mother in their family restaurant in Puerto Escondido.

Most of the large plates involve proteins slow-roasted for anywhere from 12 to 20 hours. The pork shank pibil is slathered in an achiote paste and wrapped in banana leaves for its cooking, giving it a tender, earthy flavor. The birria de res is a rich Jaliscan blend of charred beef short rib, grilled bone marrow, and guajillo chile sauce. Even the familiar carnitas are cooked in the traditional way — in lard, with oranges, and for a very long time.

Because we’re living in the era of Taco Tuesday (and they’re the ideal canvas upon which to showcase stellar flavors and creativity), Teocalli offers 10 or so tacos. Fill them up with those same slow-roasted carnitas and birria, or grab the Tijuana-style shrimp version with chipotle butter, jalapeño cremosa and Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses.

Vegetarian tacos include a tempura avocado with kale salad and a crispy cotija cheese with corn salsa and slaw. [Bonus: the entire menu is gluten-free.]

For the décor, Sara Blette Interiors went for bold colors and patterns to create an energetic, comfortable environment. She loves the result, especially the custom art created by Chad Bolsinger and Catherine Pistone.

“Having a vision for a mural and art installation is one thing, but finding the right person to help bring your ideas to life is an absolute game changer,” Blette says.

Of course, there are the requisite margaritas, but there’s also a beachy rum-, tequila- and mezcal-centric cocktail menu. The juices are freshly squeezed and the syrups are made in house, so your Prospector, made with muddled cucumber, cilantro syrup, lime, and tequila, will taste as fresh as possible.

Teocalli takes advantage of its beer-rich surroundings, and you’ll find selections from The Post, Liquid Mechanics, and Odd13 — all brewed within a few blocks of the restaurant. There are Mexican beers, too, but considering the locale, Hopfenspirger wanted to show off the local brews.

We’re not sure whether the abuelas would be into the beer and margs (we’re guessing they would), but the traditional food should make them proud.

“Yesterday I was talking to a man in from Mexico City, and he was like, ‘This is real Mexican food,’” Hopfenspirger says. “They recognize that. It’s really cool because that’s what we were going for, to have people from Mexico come in and say ‘Good job, guys.’”

Teocalli: 103 N. Public Rd., Lafayette; 303.284.6597; teocallicocina.com; Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.