Mole and mulitas: Mexican's more than tacos
By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
By Helen Wu
Lisa and Mario Barron say they simply serve home cooking, but the casual Beretania Street eatery has a smart menu with some surprises.
Zesty ceviche ($7), the red snapper tangy with lime juice, is an ideal way to jump-start dinner.
Combination plates ($8.50 for one item, $12.50 for two, $15.50 for three) arrive with a choice of fluffy Mexican-style rice and creamy beans, or soup or a house salad.
Mole — that sweet-and-savory sauce made with chocolate — isn't easy to find in Honolulu, and Los Chaparros prepares a good version ($13), with tender chicken breasts smothered in a sauce of assertive depth.
Reason to go on the weekend: pozole rojo ($5.50 small, $6.50 large; available weekends only), tender morsels of pork and hominy in a soothing, meaty sauce.
"We went from one kind of salsa to another," says Lisa, summing up the couple's story: they met on the dance floor. Now, they're shaking things up with salsa in a bowl.
BREAKING THE HEX
Was 3046 Monsarrat cursed? None of its previous occupants — Pronto, Zazou, Wild and Raw — survived long. But Mi Casa's Ken and Angelica Selvidge seem to have broken the hex. The casual, earthy eatery with crayon-colored chairs is thriving as an affordable Mexican option outside the cookie-cutter mold.
The family-owned and -operated place serves homey food.
The Selvidges focus on using fresh ingredients and doing as much as they can in the handmade tradition. This means using fresh fish such as opah for their moist, grilled fish tacos ($4.25) topped with guacamole. Salsas don't contain any fillers from canned products. The kitchen also doesn't use lard or MSG.
As for their corn tortillas, the Selvidges make them with fresh masa (dough made from dried corn cooked in limewater, then ground), yielding a soft, almost fluffy, delicate wrap.
The Selvidges also introduced O'ahu to the mulita ($5.95), a quesadilla-like affair with a choice of fillings plus cheese in between two corn tortillas, which are then grilled to produce a toasty outside. Stuffed with juicy, tender pork carnitas and accompanied by a side of black bean salad that reminded me more of a slaw, the mulita manages to whet the appetite for something bigger or provide a filling snack.
Portions here aren't oversized plates covered with gooey cheese. Offerings are reasonably sized, but those accustomed to the stereotype may find them small. Combination ($7.95 to $12.95) and some specialty ($9.95 to $11.95) plates served with pinto beans and rice would be better choices for these folks than a la carte items.
If you're looking for a laid-back hangout where you can suck down a BYOB cerveza or mango agua fresca ($1.89) with your cocina Mexicana, this is the place, especially at the few outdoor tables.
A TOUCH OF BAJA
Tracy and Winston Gabriel modeled Baja Tacos after taquerias in San Diego and in towns in the Mexican state of Baja California Norte — Tijuana, Ensenada and Rosarito — where Winston learned to cook Mexican food.
Baja goes through about 100 pounds of chicken, 90 pounds of rib-eye carne asada, and about 70 pounds each of carnitas (roast pork), pork adobada (adobo seasoned) and shredded beef a day, which is the capacity of its refrigerator. You can often see Francisco, a Tijuana native who cooked at Los Jalapenos in Chula Vista, Calif., working with his son, Caesar, in the kitchen.
The fresh food has character, and the kitchen isn't afraid to spice it up. Sopes, which Winston describes as Mexican pizza made from masa, arrive as a hot pair with a soft inside and slightly crunchy exterior piled high with chicken or beef, bean spread, sour cream, lettuce and a perky sprinkle of cotija cheese.
Juicy adobada soft tacos have pork spiced just enough to make you sweat comfortably. Baja's also makes a mean chicken enchilada.
The carne asada burrito ($6.50) was tender, thin chopped beef and guacamole with onion, tomato, cilantro and minced green chili, zesty and a little wet.
Highlights: free condiments (tart and hot pickled red onions, green tomatillo salsa, red Roma tomato salsa and pickled jalapenos with carrots); the adobada soft tacos ($3.75); the chicken enchiladas plate (3 for $6.50), carnitas tostadas ($3).
Reach Helen Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, service and ambience in relation to price. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. Reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. The Advertiser pays for meals.