Thursday, February 2, 2012

Update: Taquería La Oaxaqueña

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 11:12 AM

It's hard for me to believe Taquería La Oaxaqueña is over 10-years-old now. My only visit before this week was back in 2004, I think, at the original location. It was a shoebox where eating the much-praised tyaluda meant elbowing several people.

In 2008, the restaurant moved to its present, roomier location in Jonesboro. Creative Loafing named it the best Mexican restaurant in Atlanta that year and the next.

I have a particular fondness for the state Oaxaca, especially its mescal-inspired wood carvings (before they became an industry of kitsch). If you have the scary opportunity to visit my home, you'll be greeted by a large Oaxacan statue of a winged demon sticking its enormous tongue out at you. Oaxaca's celebration of Day of the Dead is legendary, although, like the sculpture, it's been unbearably commercialized, too. But you absolutely must check out the Christmastime Night of the Radishes. You're gonna love radish sculptures of saints a lot more than tortilla portraits of Jesus.

None of this seductive locura shows up in the ambiance at Taquería La Oaxaqueña. But the food is for the most part good. Frankly, it's not as good as I remember, but I have a feeling that's an effect of improved Mexican dining around town.

I ordered my usual test of Mexican street food: a plate of chicharrones and a taco of carnitas. I wasn't happy when the server told me there were no chicharrones available that evening. She was delightfully sympathetic, funny and she gave me a chance to practice my Spanish and remember my time in San Miguel de Allende.

I did get the carnitas taco and the chunks of pork were way more authentic than the usual around town, mainly because they had a crispy exterior. I'm not sure they were fully cooked in a skillet, but they'd obviously spent some time in one.

Instead of the chicharrones, I ordered another test of Mexican kitchens — chicken mole. Oaxaca is especially famous for its seven varieties of mole. Making it is a complicated, time-consuming task of blending numerous ingredients. In the US, if you mention mole, most people will immediately say, "Oh, that's the sauce that has chocolate in it." Yes, it can, but most varieties do not.

Even if you do encounter a chocolate-containing black mole, it's a relatively minor note — not the Hershey's over chicken many novices expect. Taquería La Oaxaqueña does indeed serve an almost unbearably rich, black (dark brown?) mole. It is house-made and worthy of "Like Water for Chocolate." A simple dab of the stuff with a rolled tortilla will flood the palate.

Others at the table ordered flautas and a plate of pork al pastor. Sorry, but the latter simply was not the real thing. It was little cubes of pork with al pastor seasonings. It was not Mexico's marinated pork slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie topped with a hunk of drizzling pineapple. But, honestly, the fake stuff is predominant in most taquerias in the Atlanta area. A notable exception was Zocalo in Grant Park, which closed. And the so-so El Pastor has closed too.

One of the most compelling features of Taquería La Oaxaqueña is its salsa bar, with red sauces of varying colors and piquancy — be careful of the clearly labeled super-hot — plus a startling tomatillo sauce, and all the right condiments.

Dessert was a slice of ultra-dense flan topped with a maraschino cherry.

Still worth the drive from Marietta? If you're craving a specialty such as the pizza-like tlayuda, maybe. (I have never shared other foodies' passion for these nacho prototypes.) Give it a shot and let us know.

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