Unholy molé

Jose Vargas grabs a plate of chicken fajitas from Maria Carbon at the newly opened Coco’s Mexican Restaurant.

Jose Vargas grabs a plate of chicken fajitas from Maria Carbon at the newly opened Coco’s Mexican Restaurant.

Photo By David Robert

Coco’s Mexican Restaurant

1499 North Wells Ave.
Reno, NV 89512

The best thing about this place is the salsa. The salsa is my first test for a Mexican joint. If the salsa’s great, it speaks highly of the food to come. But this time, it was totally misleading. At Coco’s, the salsa is terrific. It’s spicy, with a nice cilantro flavor and just a touch of sweetness, but my subsequent expectations for the rest of the meal were not fulfilled. Everything else was mediocre. It was very disappointing.

Coco’s is located across from the Reno Livestock Events Center, near where Wells becomes Oddie. It’s a neat location that feels simultaneously central and out-of-the-way. The building is surprisingly spacious with big, greenhouse-sized windows and a Southwestern peach and mint color scheme. The place has an old coffee shop vibe, and there’s a mix of tables, counter seating and booths. The restaurant would have felt family-friendly if there were anybody else there. But my girlfriend, Sara, our friend Paul, and I had it to ourselves.

The waiter was very nice, but he had the strange habit of coming over to our table and just standing there, smiling blankly. I kept wanting to say, “Hi, can we help you?” which is backwards from what I normally want out of a customer service experience. There wasn’t a language barrier or anything like that, and I feel a little guilty picking on him because he was very nice, but the guy was just awkward.

At one point, before serving us our lunch, he stood there smiling blankly for 20 seconds and then laid out our silverware, one piece at a time, in what I’m pretty sure was slow motion: One fork for you. And one fork for you. And one fork for you. And one spoon for you. And … it was ridiculous.

I had the chicken fajitas ($8.50), with rice and beans. The accompanying corn tortillas came out piping hot, but there was no pico de gallo or guacamole or sour cream, just grilled strips of chicken and onions and bell peppers. It tasted good, just a little simple and without the wallop of the best fajitas I’ve had.

Paul had the similarly moderate chile relleno ($9.50). Sara probably fared the worst of the three of us with the molé poblano ($8.50): chili and chocolate sauce on boiled chicken. The best molé sauces can be very impressive, with a subtle harmony of seemingly dissonant flavors. I love the use of chocolate in a savory sauce. But though the menu at Coco’s boasts the molé has “more than twenty ingredients mixed perfectly,” it sure doesn’t taste that way. It was way too sweet, like they poured Hershey’s syrup on a piece of meat. Kind of gross.

The food, as I said, was mediocre. It certainly wasn’t so bad that I felt embarrassed eating it, nor would I absolutely refuse to go there again, but I don’t see myself craving a return visit anytime soon.

But the salsa is good, and they serve Coke in a glass bottle with the different (and better) south-of-the-border Coke formula. But there are a bazillion Mexican restaurants in town, and those aren’t really the best of reasons to recommend this place over any of the others.