Reclaiming its 2017 crown, Isalita is a must-go for anyone craving authentic Mexican street food. One bite of a perfectly crispy, salty tortilla chip drenched in homemade guac and salsa or their tacos al pastor and you’ll quickly understand why. 

Adam Baru, the owner of Isalita and its sister restaurant Mani, told The Michigan Daily he was inspired to open Isalita after spending time in Mexico.

“Isalita was designed to be sort of a knocked-down traditional cantina with a big bar and food that was sort of street food-inspired,” Baru said. 

A patchwork of dozens of framed paintings coating the walls of exposed brick and green paint, Isalita feels like home while capturing a world entirely removed from the bustle of East Liberty Street right on the other side of the door. 

General manager Lauren Lavigne said she has loved seeing Isalita become a site of celebration — from 21st birthdays to graduation dinners, friends and family gather over chips and margarita pitchers to mark crucial milestones. 

“There will be groups of six or eight or 10 that will come in and split a couple of pitchers of margaritas,” Lavigne said. “We’ve had a lot of 21st birthdays, graduation events, things like that both in private dining rooms and also upstairs in the dining room, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Baru added that the students during the school year add a renewed sense of life into the restaurant. 

“We, as a restaurant, look forward to the school year starting,” Baru said. “The energy in there just changes, and it feels very much like the restaurant I always envisioned it to be. The rest of the year is great, but certainly, when the students are back, it does energize the restaurant in a way that you sort of miss during the rest of the year.”

Daily Staff Reporter Samantha Rich can be reached at