Lopez was the first restaurant that Brad Friedlander ever opened. It was in 1980 and it was located on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.
Since then, Friedlander has opened more than a dozen restaurants. But since the original location closed more than three years ago, people have constantly been asking when Lopez would be making a return.
“Lopez was my first restaurant. It's unique. There's nothing like it. There's almost nothing like it in the whole country, outside of maybe Chicago,” Friedlander says. “I just love Mexican food. I have a real passion for it. I found some young people that have a real passion for it. Just seem to make it the right thing to do.”
The people got their wish as Lopez opened to the public on Nov 30 with little more than a Facebook post letting people know.
The result was a packed house as early as 5 p.m., with a significant crowd through the dinner rush. Opening night made it clear that people were being honest to Friedlander about their feelings for Lopez. The restaurant has seating for 50 people in the dining room and bar area combined, and at times on opening night, it was filled.
What sets it apart
One of the biggest differences in Cleveland’s food scene between the time Lopez first opened in 1980 and the present day is the presence of Mexican food. It’s hard to go more than two miles in any residential area without encountering some sort of restaurant serving it.
Lopez isn’t a restaurant like the more common Mexican-themed chains. It’s high-end Mexican cuisine that features a variety of items that aren’t found in many other restaurants. It’s going to cost a little bit more, but it’s going to be worth it.
Nearly everything Lopez serves is made from scratch in its kitchen.
“Nothing is coming out of a can here,” says Friedlander. “And, you know, to my fault, I just like to do stuff from scratch and I'm real passionate about food.”
Lopez has a great bar area to the left of the front door with hand-blown glass light fixtures above every other seat. The view from the bar is that of the restaurant’s liquor mixed in with artwork. There’s a view to the outside as well.
The dining area itself is clean and minimalistic. The tables and chairs are all a matching shade of wood with the tables along the side sticking out from the wall rather than being based on the floor.
Above, there are plants and a simple row of lights in the ceiling, giving the area enough light to enjoy the meal but not so much as to overpower the experience.
The most unique piece of art in the restaurant is a famous Roy Lichtenstein piece titled “Drowning Girl” as a nod to Friedlander, given that the caption is “I don’t care. I’d rather sink than call Brad for help.”
Lopez features a variety of appetizers and entrees with distinct Mexican flavors. As is the case at any Mexican restaurant, starting with tortilla chips and your choice of guacamole ($12) or a salsa flight ($10) is a must. The scallops tostada ($16.90) are a great seafood option to get things started.
The menu at Lopez has a couple of traditional Mexican soups as well as three salads, including the Mexicali Salad ($12) that can have protein added to make it more of a filling meal.
As far as entrees go, the tacos al carbon ($18-$29) are among the favorites in the restaurant and the bistec is the most popular of the four kinds. The carne asada ($42) is cooked to order and marinated to perfection, but the whole snapped ($38) is certainly the most visually startling of the list, as the whole fish – head and all – is fried and served with tortillas and black beans.
The house-made habanero sauce (available to take home for $10 per bottle) is recommended as the best way to add flavorful heat to any entree.
Lopez does have a trio of desserts available as well, with the traditional Mexican flan ($9) as the highlight of the group.
Lopez’s margaritas ($14) are the highlight of the drink menu and come in four flavors. There are also a couple of drinks that can have a kick added to them, including the pina picante ($12).
As of now, Lopez does not have a Sunday liquor license, which is the reason for only being open six days per week.
Lopez is open Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
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