New Yorkers love to whine about the Mexican food here. I sorta understand why: Chipotle and Qdoba easily sell more burritos (which, incidentally, were pretty much invented in California) than every other Mexican restaurant in Manhattan put together.
Don’t get me wrong: I like a good Chipotle burrito as much as the next guy. But I love mole and fresh tortillas and the bazillions of interesting Mexican dishes that go way beyond tacos and burritos. Hell, UNESCO declared Mexican food one of the world’s great cultural treasures a few years ago.
The UNESCO declaration focuses primarily on the traditional foods of Michoacán, which are tough to find in New York, but if you venture to the South Bronx, you can find Mexican regional treasures of a different sort: Oaxacan food, served by the wonderfully warm family that owns La Morada, a charmingly quirky restaurant with purple walls and an outstanding book collection.
Like any good Mexican restaurant in the United States, La Morada offers a familiar array of tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, as well as the glorious sound of… holy crap, are they hand-making my tortillas and pounding my guacamole right now? Killer.
The tamales are pretty good, too:
And the gorditas – blissfully obese corn patties stuffed with cheese, salsa, and veggies — might look pretty familiar, but La Morada also makes the gorditas by hand for each order:
And I’m sure that you’ve seen chicken stewed in a green sauce, but this is a little bit different: it’s green mole sauce, made with green chile and (usually) pumpkin seeds, among other ingredients:
And I’ll admit that mole blanco isn’t exactly the most photogenic thing ever: it just looks like cream sauce. And mole blanco usually does contain milk, but the list of other potential ingredients is fascinating: peanuts, sunflower seeds, white pinion nuts, white corn tortillas, banana, onion, or apple, depending on the exact recipe. We ordered ours atop a chile relleno, a moderately spicy fried chile stuffed with cheese:
And then there was barbacoa — roasted lamb:
But one of my two favorite dishes was the mole oaxaqueño – a ferociously red sauce with a hearty dose of chilies, typically blended with raisins and nuts, among other ingredients. Ours was served with pork and a side dish of lousy photography:
And then there are the vegetable enchiladas. No big deal: you’ve had enchiladas before. But these are stuffed with vegetables and… hibiscus. Yes, hibiscus: the reddish flowers – also known as sorrel, jamaica, or bissap – used to make a wide variety of teas and punch-like beverages that are popular throughout south Asia, Latin America, Africa (including Guinea), and the Caribbean (including Trinidad & Tobago).
The hibiscus is a nice touch in an enchilada – a little bit citrusy, but not overpowering, and way more interesting than most California-burrito fillings. Sadly, you won’t find hibiscus burritos at Manhattan Chipotle locations just yet – but the South Bronx isn’t that far, right?
308 Willis Avenue, Bronx
Subway: 3rd Ave – 138th Street (6 train)