The snowy peaks of California’s Mammoth Lakes echo with Latin jazz and the clinking of forks, coming from a Cuba-Rican eatery by the name of Dos Alas. Restauranteur Cristi Quesada-Costa discusses falling in love with the region after uprooting from her life by the ocean and dishes out her insider’s guide to the most rewarding and diverse local experiences.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, there was nothing I enjoyed more than our family reunions, which were frequent and always revolved around food. Everyone in my family is a good cook. My dad’s family is from Spain and he was an amazing cook, so awesome Spanish food was central to my upbringing. And my grandmother made the best Italian food I’ve ever had. I learned to cook from watching them, and I try to replicate that cosy Latin family vibe at Dos Alas, which mixes classic homemade Cuban, Puerto Rican and Spanish recipes, whether you’re sitting down for our top-selling piñón pastelón, a sweet plantain and ground beef pie, or grabbing a sandwich made with guava glazed ham and garlic roasted pork. Customers often say they can taste the love in the food, which warms my heart.
I’m also told often that our food is a refreshing change to the burgers, wings and pizza that can seem the norm around here. There are other interesting places to eat too though, like Austria Hof, Dish Bistro for bison burgers and for healthy food; Elixir.
My husband Alfredo loves to ski here, and it’s been our second home since we started buying properties here in 1998, but we moved here full-time in 2015. Before that, I’ve never not lived by the ocean, whether in San Juan, Florida where I studied, or LA where I spent 25 years in the corporate world and set up my own advertising and experiential marketing agency. But the majestic mountains surrounding us here fulfil my need for extraordinary views, and I love the dramatic changes between the four seasons here in the Eastern Sierra, the fall foliage colours in particular just blanket the landscape in bright yellows, oranges and reds, it’s beautiful. And I swapped dolphins for deer, coyotes and bears.
The skiing here is amazing – Alfredo and I even skied down Mammoth Mountain for our wedding. We had over 700 inches/17.7 metres of snow this year, a record, and we have crazy long seasons sometimes, even into July. Then mountain biking season follows. I always tell visiting friends during the warm months to go to the Lakes Basin which has a bunch of lakes back to back. You can cycle out there, there are hikes, fishing and kayaking, and so many photo opps, which makes the creative in me happy. My favourite easy hike is around Convict Lake, the views are just spectacular. And saltwater Mono Lake, with its calcium ‘tufa’ spires rising from the water, is like going to Mars. There are plenty of more challenging hikes close by too.
The Devils Postpile National Monument is another must-see, it’s a geological formation of massive, 60 foot-/18 metre-high basalt columns that you can access in the warm months. And then there’s an easy hike down to Rainbow Falls, a beautiful 100ft/30m waterfall. And we have lots of natural hot springs – the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center as you come into town can tell you where to find them.
Mammoth Lakes is a really small town, with a tight-knit, friendly community of around 7,000 people, so you might not expect much diversity here, but it’s very open to new influences. My patrons’ excitement about the diversity I’ve brought to town with Dos Alos has surpassed my expectations, especially at our weekly jazz and bossa nova live music nights on Wednesdays. We have some cool artsy events, like the Mono Arts Council’s Arts on the 4th in July fair featuring artists and craftspeople from all over California. Another highlight is the Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza, which has bands playing in the woods, craft breweries from all over showcasing their brews and tents where artists show their work. Then there’s Mammoth Reggae Festival, Mammoth Margarita Festival, Mammoth Rock N Rye… Then in winter we have Elevation, a LGBTQ ski festival. It’s very well-liked and I get a lot of really fun clientele that week.