Dos Alas’ Eclectic Eating Experience
Dec 30, 2022
Mammoth Lakes Tourism food writer Lauren MacLeod reviews the fresh and favorite restaurants of the Eastern Sierra – and tells the stories behind them.
The warm atmosphere of Dos Alas CubaRican Cafe & Lounge, complete with eclectic art and vibrant salsa music, is the perfect cure for any frosty Mammoth Lakes evening.
I sit at the bar across from matching mugs that proclaim, “I’m not loud, I’m Puerto Rican” and “I’m not loud, I’m Cuban.”
After ordering a house-made red sangria, Dos Alas servers take turns visiting my space at the bar, recounting one tale after another of restaurant history, Mammoth lore, and the woes of shoveling out driveways.
It doesn’t take long for Cristi Quesada-Costa, owner of Dos Alas, to welcome me.
The Beginning of Dos Alas
“I had it on my bucket list for a long time [to open a restaurant],” Cristi recalls. “I used to do a lot of dinner parties and friends always said, ‘you have to open a restaurant!’”
The restaurant’s name came first. Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tio called the sister islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba “dos alas de un pájaro con un mismo corazón,” or “two wings of a bird with one heart.”
So began Dos Alas.
Next came the meals. “[My husband] worked every holiday at Footloose…so I cooked holiday meals for everyone there.” Cristi recalls.
Soon enough, word spread about the new chef in Mammoth Lakes. Before opening the restaurant, over 40 people had joined her weekly focus group, eager to sample the recipes.
Through Dos Alas, Cristi shares the “two wings” of Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisine with a small town in the Eastern Sierra.
“Nobody’s vegetarian, right?” Cristi jokes. Of course, Dos Alas offers plenty of plant-based options, but I’m here to taste anything.
Escabeche is a cold, ceviche-like Puerto Rican dish. Everything gets cooked first, then soaked in a sauce of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, fresh garlic, oregano, pepper and olives.
The most popular mix at Dos Alas is shrimp and octopus, a meaty blend full of savory, tangy flavor.
A critical addition to Puerto Rican cuisine arrives at the table: pique hot sauce. Many variations of the staple condiment exist, but this one features fresh garlic, oregano, and serrano peppers. The smoky, tart sauce has a gentle slow burn that could turn any hot sauce denier.
“I sell bottles of it…when I have time,” Cristi remarks.
These are green plantain fritters which are fried, crushed, then fried again into a crunchy pancake. It comes with mojo sauce (made with fresh garlic and olive oil) and “mayoketchup.”
“Mayo ketchup is exactly what it sounds like, mayonnaise and ketchup…which is what all Puerto Ricans eat with fried food for some reason,” says Cristi with a chuckle.
“You go anywhere in Puerto Rico, you will find these skewers,” shares a server who is also from the island.
Both chicken and pork skewers are perfectly seasoned, juicy, and easily torn apart by hand. Definitely don’t forget to add pique.
Out comes the first Cuban dish of the night: the iconic Cubano sandwich.
Typically, a Cubano is made with ham, cheese, pickles and mustard. I’m initially skeptical about a dinner sandwich, but Cristi quickly dispels my reservations. It’s sweet and savory, dripping with meat, and complete with perfectly toasted buttery bread.
“Everybody that comes here, even from Miami, says it’s the best Cubano they’ve ever had,” says Cristi.
She credits her success to two culinary choices: first, Cristi makes her own guava-glazed ham and garlic-roasted pork in-house. Second, the meats are pan-seared to caramelized perfection before being panini-pressed between two slices of fresh bread. The stacked pieces of seared meat give the sandwich a more sophisticated look and taste.
“Everything’s homemade, except the bread…Von’s makes it fresh for me,” Cristi says, casually adding: “I have the baker’s cell phone and I text him when I need bread for the next day.”
Piñón is the signature dish of Dos Alas–and it takes nearly all night for Cristi to make a batch.
Much like a lasagna, this Puerto Rican favorite showcases layers of seasoned ground meat (picadillo), sweet plantains, and eggs to hold it all together.
The picadillo is akin to a hearty meat stew with a little extra spice; it’s moist, flavorful, and could easily be a dish all on its own. But the accompaniment of crispy, sweet plantains clearly shows why the meal creates repeat customers.
Even if you didn’t save room for dessert, I promise you did.
The server prompts, “Smell it first!”
The aroma of toasted coconut and sweet cream was nearly overwhelming. The dish combines more special-order bread, coconut cream, a coconut crust, and toasted coconut flakes on top. It’s a can’t-miss fusion of sweetness, softness, crunch, and warmth.
“Retirement!” Cristi jokes. For the sake of locals and travelers alike, I sincerely hope not.
- Make a reservation. Dos Alas is open 5-9 pm Wednesday through Sunday, and they’re nearly packed open to close.
- Pair your meal with house-made red Sangria for a truly authentic flavor experience. If you’re more of a beer aficionado, don’t miss June Lake Brewing’s Deer Beer Brown Ale.
- Order many dishes and share with friends. Each hearty dish presents its own unique flavor.
- Bring home your leftovers (ideally rice, beans, and picadillo) and top them with a fried egg. “People are always like ‘no I’m good, I’m so full’ and I’m like ‘you’re full now, but tomorrow morning you’ll regret leaving it behind,” says Cristi.