While the IE has scads of taco stands and fast food places where one can find tasty and interesting Mexican cooking, there’s a glaring lack of a creative and modern Mexican restaurant doing great things with the cuisine in a hip and fun setting . . . until now, that is. Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen in Corona is that Mexican restaurant we IE denizens have been looking for but it’s even more. Luna is one of the 10 best restaurants in the Inland Empire itself.
Opened by owner Francisco Perez 14 months ago, Luna was a revelation when I walked in. And an embarrassment. Why had it taken me so long to get here? The space is intimate without feeling small; there’s a glass tower filled with boutique tequilas—it’s groovy though, not clichéd. Service is attentive, thoughtful, and genuine, although servers do tend to hover near your plates towards the end of the meal—but no huge deal. A diner at Luna feels special and cared for.
Especially once you start eating. The restaurant does serve chips and salsa here. I’m sure mostly because people expect it. Hell, I expect it. The chips are airy and crisp, while the salsa builds in intensity as it lingers on the tongue. Salsa and chips seem like a throwaway item but at Luna give an insight into its philosophy—simple ingredients done elegantly. We washed down our chips with margaritas, not sour putrid concoctions but ones with names like El Diablo, a blackberry theme-apparently the devil likes blackberries, and El Pepino, the Spanish word for cucumber. Both are lovely.
The Ceviche de la Casa arrives next. Made of red snapper, mango salsa and a honey citrus marinade, I worried at first it might be too sweet, and that the mango was overwhelming the taste of the fish. The snapper manages to retain its flavors, while coexisting quite nicely with mango. Soon I was more worried that the ceviche was gone.
And not only because the appetizer had been so spot-on tasty; lately that’s the way it’s been in many a restaurant—the first course is fun, clever and unique, with the entrée a disappointment. Not the case at Luna. The Camarrones con Fideos came smothered in a sweet green pesto sauce. While the shrimp were cooked perfectly it was the fideos noodles with small chunks of vegetables like squash that made the dish. Unlike Spanish fideos that are dry and almost burned in the pan, these noodles (think a shorter squatter spaghetti) were wet, covered in said pesto sauce, tasting slightly citrusy, and sublime. My wife’s Carnitas de Lechon Pibil was a tender bit of pork that revealed contrasting flavors of sweetness and spice as I gobbled away at it—they’re carnitas that spring to life, instead of so many carnitas plates that serve as desiccated remains only suitable for heavy spices designed to hide the cheapness of the pork. The one disappointing part of the dish was the rice and beans that came with it. They’re tasty, but I wanted to see more from such a creative staff.
I don’t like dessert. I knew I would want to try dessert here. I’m glad I did. The Envuelitos de Crispy Banana was maybe a tad sweet when dunked in the strands of espresso pioncillo chocolate sauce but your mouth will thank you for trying them. When the cinnamon flour tortilla hits banana-yummy ensues. Anyway, a rave review for the creative Mexican restaurant we’ve needed our area.
Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen, 980 Montecito Dr., Corona, (951) 735-8888; www.lunammk.com. Mon-Thurs, 11am-9pm; Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat, 4pm-10pm; Sun, 11:30am-9pm. AE, D, MC, V.