Spoonful worth savoring
Sacramento, CA 95817
There are certain aromas, tastes and textures that take me back to Sunday morning walks down to the corner store with my cousin. We’d each have a few dollars balled in our fists ready to exchange for bowls of pozole made by a family friend who set up shop in the parking lot. It was our little breakfast tradition. We’d head to the makeshift condiment station stocked with all the traditional staples: cilantro, diced onions, radishes, oregano, limes. The right combination of flavors made each spoonful worth savoring—and I was reminded of those Sundays on a recent Saturday at Mezcal Grill.
A family-owned Mexican restaurant whose original location opened in 2009 in South Natomas, Mezcal Grill now has a second home in Tahoe Park. Housed in the former Cafe Lumiere space (RIP stuffed hash browns), the shaded, outdoor patio is brightened by dozens of green succulents—and bonus—the scent of delicious smoky meats from MoMo's Meat Market across the street.
My attention focused back to brunch once a large bowl of deep red Pozole ($11.99) was placed in front of me. Garnished with crisp, matchstick radishes, thinly sliced green and red cabbage and a lime wedge, it checked a lot of my boxes. Large pieces of tender pork filled spoonful after spoonful with generous portions of hominy all submerged in a rich and savory broth. But this simple soup—or stew—doesn't pack enough heat on its own. Instead, it's served with a side of dried, whole red chiles, which I crushed until I found my desired spiciness.
Also included on Mezcal's brunch menu: avocado toast. But we ordered the Molletes ($11.99) because it's kinda similar—only if regular bread were replaced with toasted bolillos layered with creamy refried beans, grilled al pastor, melted Jack cheese, pico and sour cream. An order of Molletes is like an open-faced sandwich that puts fancy toast to shame—and the crunchy ruffles on the toasted bolillo firmly held unctuous, grilled pork that had hints of pineapple, as it should.
Our friendly server also recommended another special, the Mezcal Fillet Al Mojo de Ajo ($14.49), which was a delicious pan-seared tilapia with crispy edges that gave easily under a fork. The fillets were finished with diced garlic, butter and finely chopped cilantro that made each bite herbaceous, bright and slightly tart.
During a dinner visit, we ordered the Molcajete Fiesta Mix ($29.99), a trio of arrachera (skirt steak), shrimp and chicken baked in a stone mortar (molcajete) so that all the flavors and spices meld together in delectable umami harmony. Although the steak was juicy, and the chicken was well seasoned, the shrimp was not only overcooked, but left unclean and in its casing. No bueno. Everything is served over a bed of chicaronnes, sponges of flavor as they soaked up all the yummy broth. But still, clean the shrimp—and remove the casing.
Mezcal Grill has its highlights with influences from various regions such as Michoacán found in its pozole. But it also has some kitchen kinks to figure out (shrimp) before it settles into the neighborhood. It's simple food that when done well hits strides tasted in dishes such as its citrus-laden tilapia with delectable garlic sauce that has since been committed to memory, with a side of rice and beans.