A few reviews ago, Ryan decided he was not interested in any restaurant that served Chapulines (grasshoppers). I still had a hankering to try it, so my friend Steve agreed to be a fellow guinea pig (despite the fact that he's a vegetarian). There are three things that set Oaxacan restaurants apart from "Mexican" restaurants: Tlayudas, Chapulines, and Mezcal, so we ordered all three!
The standard chips and salsa routine was original in two ways. First, they served amazing refried beans (creamy and cheesy) and second, it was accompanied by a thin, rather spicy salsa that you just can't get enough of. Thank God it came in a squeeze tube so you didn't feel like a total pig by asking for your third salsa bowl refill.
Steve was talked into trying a shot of the imported Mezcal (complete with an uncomfortably large worm). After extracting the worm and making faces about it the entire time, he downed the shot, sucked the lime like it was candy, and remained that animated the rest of the dinner.
The Tlayuda was our appetizer. Imagine a "Mexican pizza" but with a thin, very crispy corn tortilla, creamy refried beans, Oaxacan string cheese (think of a love child between brie and mozzarella), tomatoes, avocados, cabbage, and features mashed pork (tender, juicy strips of grilled pork). We ordered it half vegetarian and half meat so we could both sample. We both thought it was good and probably something we'd order again.
As for the Chapulines, we learned their grasshoppers are organically farmed off alfalfa and corn, come in two sizes (regular and tiny), are flash-fried then tossed with chili powders, lemon juice, and salt. It took me several tries to grow a set large enough to overcome my generally unadventurous tastebuds. It wasn't until the owner stopped by for one of her frequent table visits and said, "It's like 'regular time'", which apparently meant eat it as if it were just another regular day. "It's regular time" has now become my new favorite phrase! As for the Chapulines meal experience, imagine eating spicy sunflower seeds with the shells still intact. That said, I doubt I'd actually order them again though they do enhance the "authenticity" of the restaurant and definitely provide something you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Steve ordered the Vegetarian Empanadas for his entree. For me, I always think of empanadas as a tender, flaky dough filled with a savory or sweet stuffing. However, the Oaxacan version is more like a stuffed quesadilla with a double-thick tortilla. It did have zucchini, but Steve said, "It really was pretty bland and dry" and suggested it could have used extra cheese and plenty of refried beans.
My entree was the Mole Negro con Pollo and was quite good! The mole was complex, slightly sweet, and poured steaming over an extremely juicy chicken breast that was so large, I was surprised it wasn't still on the bone (whew!!). The rice was buttery and spicy, though the small side of the fantastic refried beans just wasn't enough to completely satisfy.
The quick review from Steve was "underwhelming", while I thought it was "good". The restaurant itself is understated at best and located in a strip mall, but the service is genuine and the owner loves to share stories of her hometown.