Munch goes to La Catrina




It’s a cool and breezy late October evening and the street is empty on Broadway Avenue in Beechview, but inside a warm but tiny dining room, the tables are full and I am very clearly the only gringo in the room. This is as unlikely an occurrence in Pittsburgh as it is encouraging, which is to say: very.

They’re getting ready for the annual Dia De Muertos — Day of the Dead — celebration at La Catrina, which started Tuesday and goes through Thursday, and the room is festooned with colorful paper ribbons and decorations of brightly painted skulls.

The name and logo comes from La Calavera Catrina an iconic image from an early 1900s zinc etching by famous Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. According to Wikipedia: “The image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time … She is offered as a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who, Posada felt, were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions in the pre-revolution era. She, in particular, has become an icon of the Mexican Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead.”

Demetrio Aragon has toiled in Pittsburgh kitchens for 17 years since coming here from Mexico City, most notably at Nakama. He and his wife Angelica and their children opened the BYOB La Catrina over the summer in the former home of Crested Duck Charcuterie, and the colors complement the food here, which is full of the tastes and spices reflective of the Aragon’s heritage.

Mole sauces are a hallmark of Mexican cooking and often so chock full of ingredients (upwards of two dozen) and personal, almost no two are alike. The enchiladas de mole con pollo (chicken enchiladas in a mole sauce) at La Catrina was thick, rich and heavy on the chocolate notes – sweet but not cloying on the nose with a mildly bitter finish ($14).

A special of espinazo de puerco en salsa verde — or pork spine in green sauce — was excellent. It took a little work but was worth the reward to get the tender, flavorful hunks of meat hidden in the crevices of the porcine backbone cuts, and the sauce was more like a broth ($15).

The chicken tostados were like a pair of excellent open-face tacos on crispy tortillas with a house cream and queso fresco ($4.50). Likewise, the street corn on a stick dressed with a little mayo, queso fresca and a chili lime seasoning is an ideal snack, and a house pineapple water was a refreshing evening treat.

The huevos al gusto are eggs to order but I asked Mr. Aragon to surprise me and he didn’t disappoint with over-easy eggs (how do you say ‘dippy’ in Spanish?) on a bed of refried beans and fried tortillas, and topped with fresh salsa, queso fresco and a piquant house hot sauce. They were a perfect start to the day along with a cup of cinnamon-tinged Mexican coffee.

Surprisingly, the only thing I didn’t particularly care for were the chips and dips. The chips themselves were fine but clearly out of a bag and not house made. The guacamole was fresh and chunky but also kind of bland, and the Queso was so thick it could’ve doubled as spackling.

But those are fixable mistakes as La Catrina positions itself to become a mainstay in this South Hills neighborhood, where along with El Milagro and Las Palmas, they’ll be part of a trifecta of consistently solid Mexican fare. Though they’ve been open since June, they’ll have a formal ribbon cutting at 3 p.m. Thursday along with a traditional Day of the Dead offering table.

La Catrina: 1603 Broadway Ave., Beechview; 412-425-0352; https://www.lacatrina1mexicanfood.com/

Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com; Twitter @gigs412





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