Featured dish: Chicken mole from Three Amigos



The first time I had the chicken mole at Three Amigos (2917 Central Ave.), it was a revelatory accident. A plate arrived covered in a deeply rich, almost cordovan-colored sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. A molded mountain of yellow rice studded with peas and carrots sat sentry on the plate, surrounded by a generous pool of refried beans - the yin to the mole's yang. Hunks of hand-shredded chicken swam in the thick, all-consuming sauce. One bite was all I needed to know. It was warm and intense. Complex. Comforting. My taste buds didn't know where to begin. Notes of cinnamon and chocolate permeated my palate and an ever-present heat from the ancho chiles lingered and intensified after each bite. I slogged my tortillas through the pools of sauce, completely taken aback by what I was eating. It was that good.

Mole is considered the national dish of Mexico. It is a sauce made for celebrations and typically has no less than 20 to 40 ingredients, flavor that is built on tradition passed down over generations. Abuelas (that is, grandmothers) fire up la cazuela, a giant cauldron, for holidays and tend to the pot of simmering ingredients that have been roasted, spiced and carefully combined. Mole preparation is something that is passed down through families, a legacy left for the rising generation.

HOLY MOLE: Alejandra De la Cruz holds her signature dish.

When I inquired about the mole at Three Amigos, I was told to come back another time. The person who makes the mole, 27-year-old Alejandra De la Cruz, was off that day and she is the only one who knows how to make the dish.

De la Cruz is petite, with captivating almond-shaped eyes. She had never cooked professionally before she began working in the United States, but grew up in Mexico watching her mother and grandmother cook. She learned how to make mole at around eight or nine years old and practically intuits the complex flavors of the dish. Hers is a mole poblano, a blend of roasted ancho chiles combined with garlic, onion, tortillas, almonds, peanuts, raisins, plantains, chocolate and cinnamon. She shrugs off my praise, as if anyone could coax this kind of flavor from a sauce. The recipe is in her bones, a legacy passed down from her family for all of Charlotte to taste.

Got a favorite dish in Charlotte? Share it with me at [email protected].

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