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Mi Mexico

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Some foods possess delightedly appealing appellations. Macaroni, beignet, polenta come to mind. Others have less appealing, almost repellent names: eggplant, squid, yucca, Patagonian toothfish. Those in this group, however, are typically marketed as aubergine, calamari, cassava, and Chilean sea bass, respectively. Some foods suffer from a language misfit. This is especially true when the word is not translated, but simply adopted. Such is the case of the Mexican two-syllable dish mole. Mole comes from the word molli, the Aztec word for a sauce that contained chilies, ground pumpkin seeds, cornmeal, and many other ingredients. This complex sauce varies from region to region throughout Mexico depending on the local ingredients incorporated. "Guadalajara has the biggest selection of food from all the states (of Mexico)," said restaurateur Jose Tobar, a native of Guadalajara. "And our moles are better than anywhere in Mexico." For the love of Guadalajara moles, Tobar opened the 180-seat Mi Mexico, Fine Mexican Dining in March 2002 with partners Jesus Mendez and Javier Lopez. The restaurant has been upfitted from its former occupant, an Asian buffet spot. The exterior colors of this free standing building are brilliant yellow and blue. "The colors of Guadalajara," Tobar noted. Tobar has been in the restaurant business for 15 years. Most of that time was spent in Seattle, Washington, where he started Margarita and Azteca restaurants. He explained it was a family operation and that his brothers-in-law own all the Charlotte-based Azteca and Zapata restaurants. At Mi Mexico, diners are warmly welcomed. The interior is colorful, convivial, casual, and bold with Mexican floor tiles, artifacts, and music. Long tables line one section while booths cluster beneath windowed walls. Servers are fluent in English and seem adept in describing the dishes on the extensive menu, which is in English. On the menu are the typical, wearisome items found in Amerigo-Mexican joints: nachos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, wings, tacos, and Jose Cuervo Gold margaritas. There's even a burger. The Beef Ranchera Quesadilla appetizer is a fine rendering of a traditional dish with a platter-sized flour tortilla oozing with seasoned ground beef that is slightly tamed by a dose of cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream and fresh guacamole. The Enchilada Suiza entree with chicken was highly acclaimed at my table, but again was another large platter filled edge to edge with food. "So what's so good about the food here," my table whined. True, anyone can order the same dishes at every Mariachi Mexican place that opens its doors in Charlotte (which at the current rate will make the coffee shops and bagel wars a few years back look downright tentative on their takeover of Charlotte). If the notion of sour cream, beans, rice, cheese and more cheese sends you scurrying for something better, look further in the menu to discover the gems. What Mi Mexico is well versed in is Tobar's take on moles. In Mexican cuisine, moles can vary from a Mole Coloradito, a red mole, with ancho chilies, garlic, and cinnamon, to a dark Mole Negro with six kinds of chilies, chocolate, and spices, among other ingredients. Mole Poblano, Mexico's most popular mole, is offered here, although made with chicken not turkey. This mole is a still-life of Mexican flavors: dark and sweet with pasilla chilies, chocolate, sesame seeds, peanuts, tomatoes. An even better dish is the Chicken Pipian, a mole native to Guadalajara. Pipian, which is made with pumpkin seeds, not sesame seeds, and doesn't have the bitter undertones of chocolate, is light in color and proves an aggressively flavored melange. The chicken strips in the mole are meant to be bundled in corn tortillas, but are flavorful enough to stand on their own. This is a great treat for $10.75. Entrees range from $9.25 for Carne Machaca (beef and scrambled eggs) to $11.95 for grilled Mexican Pawns. Using the term "Fine Dining" in the title of this restaurant is a stretch. However, finding a good selection of moles in Pineville was a happy surprise.

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