Chocolate for dinner

Mezcalito Oaxacan Cuisine

You won’t regret the mezcal ice cream spiked with agave alcohol.

You won’t regret the mezcal ice cream spiked with agave alcohol.

photo by rebecca huval

Good for: regional Oaxacan specialties in a casual environment
Notable dishes: Mole rojo dishes, empanadas de amarillo

Mezcalito Oaxacan Cuisine

5065 Pacific St.
Rocklin, CA 95677

(916) 701-4772

When I lived in Mexico for a year, I quested after the perfect mole rojo: a chocolate oil slick of decadence and cinnamon, cloves, cumin.

Oaxaca had the best. It’s called “the land of seven moles,” though there are as many as 200 variations in the central Mexican city. I remember staring at the baroque flying buttresses of cathedrals cast in volcanic rock while eating a mole that tasted of mystery and darkness.

I haven’t found any American approximations that have hit the same mark, but darn it if Mezcalito Oaxacan Cuisine in Rocklin doesn’t come dangerously close. Opened in December, the small casual eatery is full of the culinarily curious even at 3 p.m. on a weekday. The friendly staff lines up to welcome patrons and bid goodbye. One waiter was so empathetic as to notice that my mother was cold and turn on the heat lamp by her.

The menu had a long list of Oaxacan classics such as Tlayudas—the crispy tortilla topped with beans and fixings that looks like a salad on a pizza—and sopa azteca, also known as tortilla soup. The seafood and vegetarian offerings were generous, as were the appetizers with regional specificity like molotes—a stuffed corn pastry—and empanada de amarillo.

The latter ($8) contained thick, crumbly (read: real) masa tortilla that oozed with unctuous quesillo with a texture like melted string cheese. Mushrooms carried a pungent fungal essence that reminded me of another Mexican dish I haven’t had in ages: huitlacoche, or corn smut, an edible and delicious (I promise) corn disease! The accompanying salsa roja tasted smoky and roasted.

Another highlight was, of course, that mole rojo. The enmoladas ($12) carried it best, with corn-filled tortillas that revealed shredded chicken with only the choice bits, in other words, no tripe. The mole was dark with the telltale chocolate that Oaxaca is so known for, while notes of raisin, cloves and cinnamon still shone through. The “Oaxaca’s Favorite” ($14) roasted chicken didn’t quite soak up the mole with the same pleasing thickness, though the meat itself was juicy.

The chicken chile relleno ($13) hit so many high notes: tangy red salsa, fried and fatty batter on the outside, a mild sting of chile stuffed with sweet pockets of chicken, studded with raisins.

Less fantastic? The pastor wrap ($9), where the ingredients suffered for their proximity. The tortilla got soggy, the cooling effect of the guacamole and sour cream wore off quickly, until it was all an inert mass of room-temperature, squishy ingredients. Separately, the pork itself was marinated marvelously, but the wrap concept was, to me, a flop.

But that doesn’t take away from the rest—and oh, the dessert menu. The platanos fritos ($6) were presented with an artful scattering of deep fried bananas, abstract splotches of caramel and raspberry sauce and your choice of ice cream. Choose the mezcal flavor, there’s no other choice with that alcoholic bite softened by the honeyed agave.

In conclusion: Get the mole. Sit in the airy tent outside, and don’t be shy about the heat lamp. It’ll have you feeling like you’re in Oaxaca in no time.