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The Mole Grail

Ortega’s chicken mole is the gold standard

Chicken mole enchiladas
Chicken mole enchiladas
Place

Ortega's Bistro

141 University Avenue, San Diego

The salsa tastes like a blended version of spicy carrot slices
It doesn’t get any better: the chicken mole
Handmade flour tortilla, delicious alone and delightful with the mole
Carnitas burrito. All dishes come with seasoned rice and beans.

Each time I am seated right away upon arriving at Ortega’s (which is every time), I’m amazed I didn’t have to make my way through a crush of people waiting to get in. I can only assume this is because I tend to go during the day — that perhaps it’s much more crowded at night — because I can’t think of any other reason the place isn’t constantly packed.

The space is comfortable in its Mexican country-home theme, and the service is prompt and friendly. And the food! It’s among the best Mexican food I’ve tasted this side of the border, and I’m not the only one — this kitchen has won multiple diner’s choice awards, and Gordon Ramsay has praised Ortega’s fare.

The dishes here are how I imagine they would be at a 200-year-old hacienda in Puebla, Mexico. Ortega’s chicken mole is my gold standard: sweet, spicy, and multi-dimensional with the classic Puebla-style three-pepper blend (ancho, pasilla, and mulato), which is the flavor pool in which tender chicken swims (its succulent meat separating cleanly from the bone with the slightest effort). It’s topped with sesame seeds, a drizzle of crema, and a spoonful of salsa fresca.

On a recent visit, David ordered the chicken mole enchilada with the same awesome sauce, except his toppings also included a generous sprinkle of a cotija and queso fresco cheese blend.

I wouldn’t order the enchilada for one major reason: I don’t want to do without the giant, flour tortilla that comes with my dish — fresh, handmade, and served in a quaint blue metal pot. It’s the consummate complement to that sauce.

On this same lunch outing, our friend Katie got her handmade flour tortilla in the form of a carnitas burrito. She let me have a bite, and after tasting the meaty, creamy, chewy combination of slow-roasted pork, tomatillo, avocado, pico de gallo, and jack cheese, I almost considered getting the same burrito on my next visit in lieu of the mole. Almost.

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Chicken mole enchiladas
Chicken mole enchiladas
Place

Ortega's Bistro

141 University Avenue, San Diego

The salsa tastes like a blended version of spicy carrot slices
It doesn’t get any better: the chicken mole
Handmade flour tortilla, delicious alone and delightful with the mole
Carnitas burrito. All dishes come with seasoned rice and beans.

Each time I am seated right away upon arriving at Ortega’s (which is every time), I’m amazed I didn’t have to make my way through a crush of people waiting to get in. I can only assume this is because I tend to go during the day — that perhaps it’s much more crowded at night — because I can’t think of any other reason the place isn’t constantly packed.

The space is comfortable in its Mexican country-home theme, and the service is prompt and friendly. And the food! It’s among the best Mexican food I’ve tasted this side of the border, and I’m not the only one — this kitchen has won multiple diner’s choice awards, and Gordon Ramsay has praised Ortega’s fare.

The dishes here are how I imagine they would be at a 200-year-old hacienda in Puebla, Mexico. Ortega’s chicken mole is my gold standard: sweet, spicy, and multi-dimensional with the classic Puebla-style three-pepper blend (ancho, pasilla, and mulato), which is the flavor pool in which tender chicken swims (its succulent meat separating cleanly from the bone with the slightest effort). It’s topped with sesame seeds, a drizzle of crema, and a spoonful of salsa fresca.

On a recent visit, David ordered the chicken mole enchilada with the same awesome sauce, except his toppings also included a generous sprinkle of a cotija and queso fresco cheese blend.

I wouldn’t order the enchilada for one major reason: I don’t want to do without the giant, flour tortilla that comes with my dish — fresh, handmade, and served in a quaint blue metal pot. It’s the consummate complement to that sauce.

On this same lunch outing, our friend Katie got her handmade flour tortilla in the form of a carnitas burrito. She let me have a bite, and after tasting the meaty, creamy, chewy combination of slow-roasted pork, tomatillo, avocado, pico de gallo, and jack cheese, I almost considered getting the same burrito on my next visit in lieu of the mole. Almost.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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