Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Some people overcompensate for shortcomings by purchasing gargantuan SUVs or wearing blinged-out Rolexes. Me, I put an accent on the “a” in my last name. I’m half-Mexican, and proud of it, but that doesn’t really come through in my appearance. Even though I look about as Hispanic as Ron Howard when I go long stretches without adequate time in the sun, the soul food of my heritage resonates with my heart and my palate like no other cuisine in the world.
Whether it’s enchiladas or tortas, menudo or humble street tacos, any Mexican meal brings me back to my roots in a most delicious way. But there’s one dish I hold above all others for its rich soulfulness—molcajete. It’s portions of meats, cheese, scallions, and nopales (cactus paddles) smothered in an earthy, spicy chile broth that’s named after the vessel in which it’s served—a mortar fabricated from heat-conducting rock. The dish is relatively easy to find south of the border, but in my experiences, difficult to get in the States.
To date, the only place I’ve unearthed it in San Diego County is Mi Guadalajara (525 W. Second Ave.), a Mexican restaurant in Escondido sporting a lot of square footage as well as some really interesting architecture and interior design touches. Whenever I go there, I find it impossible to, one, not gaze up at the colorful mural work gracing the high ceilings, and two, order their molcajete.
They offer steak, chicken, or a combination of the two, but carne’s the best way to go. It stands up nicely to the bold spice of the condiment in which it swims, which has gotten increasingly aggressive over the years. The last time I enjoyed it, I left with purple lips and a thin mist of sweat across my brow. It was definitely a case of hurts-so-good.
As is tradition with molcajete, Mi Guadalajara serves theirs with a plate of accoutrements, which includes tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, rice, and beans. Add in the gooey queso and cactus strips and you have all you need for some killer build-your-own tacos. The only untraditional thing about this dish is the fact it’s served in a faux molcajete that doesn’t hold heat like the traditional stone variety. It’s safer, but leaves something to be desired.
On a recent trip to Tijuana to investigate a craft beer bar recommended by fellow contributor Ian Pike, I was whisked by several locals from said suds-hole to a grand and festive dining hall a few miles away. Upon reaching the middle of the restaurant’s multi-page menu, I found, splayed out like a sultry centerfold, an entire section devoted to different varieties of molcajete.
It sounds kind of silly—maybe it was the effects of the Baja-brewed imperial stout I’d just downed—but I suddenly felt like I was home. That sentiment only grew when I saw a long banquet table of diners all sporting their very own scorching stone cauldrons of peppery goodness. Lots of dishes evoke reactions of “yum” or “wow,” but only one brings on a sense of cultural pride for me the way a molcajete can.