By Suzy Kridner
ORMOND BEACH -- Mefi Lemus knows the secret to a great restaurant -- fresh ingredients, good cooks, and the owner there every day keeping an eye on things, and cooking, too.
That's why Los Amigos Cuban-Mexican Restaurant, 362B W. Granada Blvd., is a culinary delight.
Those driving by the strip mall across from Winn Dixie might think it's just another Mexican restaurant. But the dishes that originated south of the border, as well as the Cuban menu, are out of the ordinary.
Mr. Lemus, 45, a Guatamalan who came to the U.S. as a teenager, honed his cooking skills in south Florida. He worked many years for the Las Vegas restaurants in the Fort Lauderdale area, eventually teaching other chefs.
He said his name Mefi came from the Bible. "My parents were Christians," he said.
He has owned Los Amigos (the friends) for eight years after coming to the Ormond Beach area to visit a friend who had a restaurant in the city.
"Ormond Beach is a beautiful city. I love it," he said.
Two years ago he opened another Los Amigos restaurant in Palm Coast.
"When you come to my restaurants, you come to Miami," he said, referring to his authentic recipes.
He's proud they shop daily for the best and freshest ingredients.
"Our guarantee," he said, "no MSG, no additives, no preservatives, no fillers, no artificial colors or flavorings."
Having eaten last year at Bongo's Cuban Cafe, Gloria Estefan's restaurant in South Beach, I can say Los Amigos' menu is just as good, even better.
A meal starts with chips and salsa. That's warm homemade chips and bright red homemade salsa with all fresh ingredients.
"We use nothing canned," Mr. Lemus said.
My dining companion and I were fortunate to be able to sample several of the dishes. We were glad we could try both the Cuban and the Mexican.
On the Cuban menu, Mr. Lemus said his favorite was "Pechuga de Pollo," chicken breast marinated and topped with grilled onions.
The most popular Cuban dinner, he said, was "Lechon Asado," pork marinated with "mojo" then roasted and shredded and served with grilled onions.
That was my favorite, too.
Traditional sides are black beans and rice, but also available are sweet plantains, yucca, tostones, vegetables and salad.
He said many of his customers are neighbors and regulars, including two who own nearby restaurants.
"Julian Lopez is one of my best customers and said I would do well here," Mr. Lemus said.
Another secret to his success is good tasting fresh food.
"I love cooking," he said.
The Ormond Beach location serves beer and wine and also homemade sangria. The Palm Coast restaurant has a full bar.
The décor includes flags from Spanish-speaking countries and colorful table coverings.
Mr. Lemus' favorite Mexican dish is Fajitas and the combination dinner allowed us to sample chicken, shrimp, pork and steak. The Fajitas are made with onions, red and green peppers and chopped tomatoes. They are served with warm tortillas, homemade pico de gallo and guacamole, sour cream and shredded cheese.
The plantains were outstanding, cooked when ripe. The dried plantains also are homemade, sliced thin and fried in vegetable oil.
He wouldn't give all the ingredients for his salsa. He likes to leave a "little bit of a secret."
Two of my favorite things came at the end of the meal.
What Cuban meal wouldn't be complete without Flan, and his recipe didn't disappoint. The fried ice cream goes well with the Mexican dishes.
The finishing touch was authentic dark Cuban coffee. I also tried Expresso Cortado and the Café con Leche.
Los Amigos is open straight through for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Call (386) 615-5430 for more information.