LUNA offers an authentic and delicious twist on Mexican fare
I have to admit that the stereotypical rice and beans and enchiladas drowning in saucy cheese has, over time, made Mexican fare a big yawn for me.
Even the sizzle and spit of a fajita platter or a football-size chimichanga has fallen into the ho-hum category.
So, I must thank LUNA for breaking me out of this culinary rut and, at least for me, making Mexican food interesting again.
LUNA offers the familiar standbys but has also thrown a sombrero into the “Modern Mexican” food movement that spotlights regional dishes and more authentic ingredients like cacao, agave, squash, cactus, pumpkin and a whole world of chilies.
Side-stepping combo plates, LUNA slaps down a chef’s menu that lets you know something special is about to happen here.
On our visit, executive chef Armando Cobian pulled out a few A-listers for serious consideration: pan-seared Atlantic salmon over grilled sweet corn, chayote squash and toasted pepitas atop a pool of mole verde made from pumpkin seeds and green chilies ($18); an angus ribeye ($23) or bone-in pork chop ($19) marinated in a chile ancho and guajillo adobo; ceviche starring Ahi tuna ($12); and creamy sweet corn and poblano pepper soup ($7).
We ordered the featured salmon and pork chop dishes and I was interested to see how the same vegetable medley would play out for both fish and meat. I wasn’t so sure with the first bite, but by the third forkful, I was in taste bud heaven. This perfectly seared salmon filet was taken to new heights with hits of sweet corn and texture from the squash and pepitas, plus a balanced tinge of tartness.
My husband was also impressed with his pork chop and the Hispanic-inspired veggies, but the dark and handsome mole poblano truly deserves credit as a standout, waxing rich with cacao and deep notes of earthy peppers.
I have always been a huge fan of Mexican flan, but again, LUNA raised the bar on this custard dessert with the infusion of oranges. Unexpected but somehow perfect, since Mexico has led the world in cooking with citrus.
All across its weighty menu, LUNA seems to have made ramped-up Mexican its mission.
Fresh guacamole made tableside is a favorite on the appetizer lineup. There’s also Ceviche de Salmon, marinated in lime with oranges, capers, red onions, avocado, cilantro and habanero chilies. And there’s a trio of mini corn masa boats filled with savory meat and black bean mixtures that incorporate fried plantain, mole and salsa verde.
LUNA’s platos fuertes (main plates) do a democratic service, representing fish, fowl, meat and vegetarian.
Grilled natural chicken breast (LUNA serves only natural chicken and pork and grass-fed beef) can be ordered with sweet plantains, mole poblano salsa and toasted sesame seeds or the Pollo Al Chipotle ($16) features roasted tomato chipotle salsa and Oaxaca string cheese. There’s sauteed shrimp in a roasted garlic mojo ($18), marinated New Zealand lamb chops ($19), slow braised pork, roasted poblano peppers and beef tenderloin tips.
Of special interest to vegetarians, a taco and enchilada entree go way beyond the usual spinach stuffing by pumping up the green goods factor with fire-roasted corn and peppers, squash, peas, onions, carrots, zucchini and black beans.
And if you should be craving eggs one day, LUNA’s lunch menu offers Huevos Rancheros with roasted tomato jalapeno salsa, plantains and queso fresco and Chilaquiles Tapatios ($10) where corn chips are sauteed in the tomato-jalapeno salsa and topped by two eggs, cheese and herbs.
LUNA has a full bar, and by all reports the house margarita ($5 on Sunday) is one of the best in town. You can also order tequila flights, either vertical (three tequilas of different ages from the same distillery) or horizontal (three tequilas of the same age from different distilleries).
In the retail mix of a shopping plaza, the sophistic-rustic decor inside LUNA is a refreshing departure from blaring colors and serapes with wood wall treatments and a host of upturned woven baskets that serve as light fixtures.
LUNA’s motto is “Mexican Del Corazon,” which means “Mexican of the heart.” It’s a promise that you can see, taste and experience here.
4450 U.S. 17 Bypass, Suite D6-D7
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday