Readers urged me to try the mole (“MOHL-ay”) at La Olla Restaurante on Calle Reforma (No. 402) in Oaxaca, and my Moon guidebook noted it has become a favorite with visitors and residents from the United States. The latter may be a plus or minus depending on whether you want to be with a local crowd or with other Estadounidenses. (That’s the preferred name here for folks from the U.S. — “estados” means “states,” and “unidos” is “united.” I’ve found that others who live in The Americas sometimes resent that U.S. residents claim “American” for their own.)
There was no crowd when I visited La Olla but the few who came in were not Latino, so maybe the guidebook is correct.
All that aside, the mole was the thing.
But first I have to rhapsodize about the soup, crema de flor de calabaza, a creamy broth made with squash, a big yellow squash blossom, corn, roasted pumpkin seeds and a bit of the local quesilla (soft white cheese). It tasted as good as it looked (60 pesos, or about $4.30 U.S., for a big bowl).
The Mole Negro de Fandango (their fancy name for it) also came topped with a squash blossom, which was a pretty complement though not as exciting as it might have been had I not just finished that soup.
The mole leaned harder on the chilies than some, with appropriate creamy chocolate texture. It was quite good, but at 135 pesos (still a bargain at $9.65 U.S.), I’m more inclined to keep raving about the Comedor Maria Teresa mole at about a quarter of that price.
La Olla wins points for presentation, though, with rustic terra cotta for the salsas, a woven basket for tortillas and a sky-blue tin pan for rice (which, to air a pet peeve, was as white as North Dakota in January). The service was friendly and fast.
OK, my mole taste buds feel like they’ve been stomped on by a merry band of folk dancers from the zócalo. I’m calling it this way on the Oaxaca Mole Challenge:
- Restaurante Los Pacos for flavor (the smokiness — from smoky chilies I’ve heard about? — whether “tipica” or not, is a terrific addition). And the combination plate that gives you samples of six classic moles is a treat.
- Comedor Maria Teresa for value and just plain happy feeling.
- La Olla for presentation (and great soup). Viva la squash flowers.
Thank for the tips, readers, and feel free to add more.