The nose starts to run and the tongue begins to burn, but the senses demand more. More beans, more corn and more chile. These are the holy trinity, says Jo Lerma-Lopez, owner and chef of Luna Mexican Kitchen, the newest restaurant on The Alameda in San Jose.

Lerma-Lopez and her husband have put a lot of time into the 50-year-old building. The space is now equipped with two indoor seating rooms and an outdoor patio with heaters. As the owner and chef, Jo makes sure everything is authentic.

“We wanted real Mexican food, with everything made from scratch,” Lerma-Lopez says. “We are paying respect to the history of Mexican food.”

The restaurant emphasizes communal style dining, and the menu features parrilladas, or mixed grilled meats. The family entree is served in a giant, steaming pot to share with three different meat options: carnitas, steak fajita, or adobo chicken breast. Portions come in a quarter-pound ($16), half-pound ($26) or full pound ($39). This dish, along with several others, also has a vegetarian option.

Whether a guest enjoys a parrilla or a signature margarita, the idea is to encourage feasting together. “We are under one moon,” Lerma-Lopez says. “The more we are different, the more we are the same.”

That being said, the only spirit on hand is tequila. Shelves behind the bar are stacked with two levels of quality. So far, the Paloma ($13) has been a hit with its refreshing grapefruit juice. Guest are drawn to the beautiful, custom-made terracotta clay pots the beverages are served in.

We started with the bacon-wrapped camarones ($12), and the prawns were juicy, sweet and smokey. This was followed by the Queso Flamedo ($9.50), an appetizer served in a miniature hot cast-iron skillet. House-made corn tortillas are served with or within almost every dish. The corn undergoes nixtamalization, a process of soaking the kernels before they are hand-ground into masa. Although portions are a bit on the small side, each dish is hearty.

The appetizers, partnered with signature corn tortillas, came out sizzling hot. The top layer of the Queso Flameado is a mixture of cheeses, with chorizo simmering underneath. While it’s not too spicy, it could pose a challenge for those with sensitive palates.

The Mole Poblano Enchiladas ($14) had an enticing aroma of cinnamon and chocolate, and the side featured green cilantro rice and lightly salted pinto beans. For dessert, we tried the choco flan ($6), a traditional flan base topped with a dense, rich, flourless chocolate cake.

Luna Mexican Kitchen
1495 The Alameda, San Jose.