The chef (Guadalupe Elizalde) and her husband (Nick Cervera) have built this little empire over a period of twenty years, starting with the humble Taco Taco, which opened in 1992. The first Móle (in the West Village) came in 2007, followed by branches on the Lower East Side, in Williamsburg, and now the new Móle across the street from the place that started it all, Taco Taco, which has since closed.
I visited with my family on my own dime a couple of months ago (although the owner knew who I was, and gave us the best table in the house), and again later on, at a dinner hosted by the publicist. This review is based on a composite of the two visits. Prices shown are from the regular menu.
There’s a broad selection of Mexican classics: nachos, guacamole, enchiladas, tostadas, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, and so forth. You can eat heartily and inexpensively, as almost every entrée is $22 or less.
The two owners now have four kitchens and four dining rooms to look after, and quality sometimes suffers. Two dishes were common to both visits. One was better the first time; the other was better the second. Appetizers generally fared better than entrées.
The food menu runs to five pages, which is probably too long. It’s hard to make so many things consistently well, especially when the chef can’t be in four kitchens at once.
None of the four Móles has had a professional review that I can find, but on various websites there are multiple reports of poor service, which I clearly cannot judge, as I was known to the house both times I visited. (Móle’s Zagat service rating is just 18, which is not a great score.)
Fresh Guacamole ($10 small; $15 large) is made tableside, although we saw this bit of theater only on our first visit. You’ll be asked if you want mild, medium, or spicy. We asked for medium both times, but on the second visit it didn’t have much “pop” at all.
Sopa de Tortilla ($8; above left) was one of the best dishes on either visit. It’s an intensely spicy tomato soup with strips of crisp blue corn tortilla, cheese, sour cream and onions.
Huitlacoche is a black fungus that grows on corn: the word is derived from cuitla, which means “excrement” or “rear end.” Anyhow, it features prominently in Mexican cuisine, though most American restaurants don’t serve it, as it looks gross. At Móle, they serve it wrapped in crepes ($12; above center) slathered in a creamy poblano sauce, so that the diner doesn’t actually see that the corn is black. (See Wikipedia for examples of other preparations, the likes of which I haven’t seen outside of Mexico.)
Tostada de Tinga ($10; above right) is a flat tortilla with bean spread, spicy shredded pork and onions, topped with lettuce, sour cream, and cheese.
Neither of two entrées impressed us. Perhaps the chef erred by sending out two items that were so similar. Pescado a la Veracruzana ($22; above left) is flounder with tomato, onion, olives, capers and shrimp; Bisteck a la Mexicana ($21; above right) is skirt steak with tomato, onion, jalapeño and cilantro. In both, the saucing and accoutrements were too heavy-handed, and we got very little flavor from the flounder or the steak.
Móle poblano is a complex sauce with about 20 ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate. The restaurant serves it on two dishes, the Enchiladas de Mole Poblano ($22; above) and the Chicken en Mole Poblano ($22), which we didn’t have the chance to try.
The owner says that the sauce, which isn’t easy to make well, comes from the chef’s mother, who ships it to New York from Mexico. The first time we had it, the taste of chocolate was overwhelming. The second time, the flavors were in better balance. (The right-hand photo is a good illustration of typical portion sizes, as opposed to the tasting portions in most of the photos.)
It’s truly a family affair at Móle, as the chef’s sister is responsible for desserts. We loved the Pastel Tres Leches (above middle), a white cake drenched in three kinds of cream. The Belgian chocolate cake (above right) was also quite good. A crème caramel flan (above left) was fine, but you’ll find better examples elsewhere in town.
At the bar, there are around 100 tequilas and mezcales. Most are $14 or less and suitable for pairing with dinner. There’s also a pretty good cocktail list, including the ridiculous “Sex in a Mexican Prison” (tequila, cranberry juice, lime). What the ingredients have to do with the name is beyond me, but I ordered and enjoyed it, which I suppose is the point.
I haven’t been to the other Móles, but I believe this is the largest and most lavish of the quartet, although no one would call it fancy. The dining room seats 75, with an additional 20 outdoors in good weather. It was doing brisk business both times I visited—once on a weekday, the other on a Saturday.
The kitchen swings and misses at times, but you can put together a solid, inexpensive, and enjoyable meal here.
Móle (1735 Second Avenue between 89th & 90th Streets, Upper East Side)