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great mole in san francisco?

  • j

So, I've never actually eaten mole, as far as I know (I'm from the northeast and grew up eating a lot more caribbean than mexican food). I know there are a zillion different kinds and I'd like to try some. (I live in SF, in Hayes Valley, no car.) Any recommendations? I should admit upfront that I can't really deal with super-spicy food... hoping that doesn't disqualify me right off the bat. Thanks!

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  1. I work in the same building as Maya (at 303 2nd). They have a nice dinner menu with a lot of options including mole. At lunch they are a real bargain IMO. For around $5 you can get 3 shredded chicken mole tacos at the bar where they do a brisk takeout business.

    1. First, mole isn't that hot. It's a deep rich combination of many chilis and spices, including chocolate in the mole negro.
      Second, a plane flight to Oaxaca isn't that expensive, really. A recent thread showed there is no great mole in SF. That's public transit all the way, baby, BART to the airport! Go to the abastos market west of town and sample the pastes. Mole is often eaten just with tortillas - one of the places in the zocolo is better than the others. There is no practical customs limit on mole paste.
      Third, la oaxacana, on mission, has mixed reviews but is a good place to start (far cheaper than maya). I remember tres agaves near the ballpark being passable.
      Fourth, it's all about the fresh paste. If you go to a mexican grocery and see hand-packed plastic tubs near the meat department, just snag one. Simmer chicken in the paste (with some adulteration), and you've got mole. For bonus points, try to get someone there to explain how to prepare it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        I had a conversation with a young East Oakland Chicano guy a few weeks ago while waiting in line at Andy and Cindy's Thai Food stand at the Tuesday Berkeley Market. He told me that there were 2 main kinds of mole, 1 hot and 1 not. He recommended the mole at an E Oak place with a Spanish name for the word parrot.

        I had my favorite mole again at Guerrero's on San Pablo and Allston in W Berkeley. A Chicano friend said that their cooking is very close to home style. Their mole is not spicy, but redolent with several spices. I can also vouch for their albondigas soup and their red salsa. I usually get the mole.

        1. re: chocolatetartguy

          I decided to try to actually find the name of this restaurant and I think it is Taqueria Los Perico's in San Leandro, which I think is just over the border from East Oakland. It's Spanish for parakeet, not parrot.

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          Taqueria Los Pericos
          101 Pelton Center Way, San Leandro, CA 94577

      2. Yep, either walk to La Oaxaquena on Mission, take the Hayes bus up to Nopalito, or explore the different tubs of mole paste at Mission mexican delis. I bet La Palma Mexicatessen has fresh mole paste. As bbulkow suggests, you can find plenty of recipes, but you basically doctor it by dissolving it in good chicken or turkey stock and adding chocolate/nuts/chile to your own tastes. Then toss in whatever poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.) you are using, pre-seared as your taste dictates, and serve with some nice spanish rice.

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        La Palma Mexicatessen
        2884 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        La Oaxaquena
        2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA

        16 Replies
        1. re: SteveG

          Does the paste already contain chocolate, chile and nuts? If not, what does it contain? Can I just use the paste + broth + meat? Should I add any fresh vegies or spices?

          Thinking of getting some on my next trip down to the mission.

          1. re: boris_qd

            It depends on which kind or brand of mole you purchase. Some have little flavor and need a lot of doctoring. Others do not.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Any recommendations on flavorful ones that don't need a lot of doctoring?

              1. re: boris_qd

                Back by the butcher counter nestled in with the cremas, Los Pinos has a bulk packed mahogany-colored mole paste that is POTENT. It's marked "Mixteca" on a plain white label, maybe you can find it elsewhere.

                A few years ago I bought a fruity mole paste from Primavera. Maybe those who've been to El Molino Central can comment on whether it's still available.

                Several vendors at The Flea Market in San Jose when I strolled thru there a few years ago offered mole pastes in many hues imported from Oaxaca. I didn't try any but they're probably a good bet.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/547574

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                Primavera
                17070 Sonoma Hwy, Sonoma, CA

                Los Pinos Deli & Market
                3 Tarman Dr, Cloverdale, CA

                The Flea Market
                1590 Berryessa Road, San Jose, CA

                El Molino Central
                11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  This topic comes up a lot, but the only hit that seems to repeat for San Francisco city proper is La Oaxaquena.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/657324
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/357172

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                  La Oaxaquena
                  2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA

                  1. re: SteveG

                    What about the mole Poblano at La Torta Gorda?
                    http://www.sfweekly.com/2010-08-11/re...

                    Does Primavera bring the mole paste to the Ferry Building farmers market on Saturdays?

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                    La Torta Gorda
                    2833 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I tried the mole Poblano from La Torta Gorda a week or so ago and have to say that it was just ok. There wasn't much depth of flavor and seemed a bit sweet for my taste.

                      I'm no expert but was suprised how the review contrasted with my experience.

                      The quesadilla however was excellent.

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        Interesting. I had the mole poblana on enchiladas last week and found La Torta Gorda's far better than most. Not as sweet, but still had fruity accents that gave it extra complexity in the treble ranges, and showed a bit more heat than most of the dark styles. I liked the sauce, but the dry, unseasoned, flavorless chicken in the enchiladas didn't do much for me.

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                        La Torta Gorda
                        2833 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    2. re: SteveG

                      I bought a 500 gr. bag from La Oaxaquena. They don't make it themselves but import it from Mexico. To me it seemed quite expensive (It was something like $12 for the bag but actually I forgot what I paid). I haven't had a chance to use it yet.

                      The instructions say:

                      Fry the puree of 750 gr. of tomato cooked previously strained, add the black mole juquilita paste food, mix it until dissolve it, immediately add half liter of chicken or pork stock soup. enjoy it. (if you do not like very hot add more sugar or chocolate).

                      The last bit is strange since according to the ingredient list it doesn't contain chocolate - unless "black mole" means chocolate? The bag says "Black Mole Paste Food" from Juquilita and the ingredients read (exactly):

                      mulatto chili, mexican pasilla chili, (black mole), soya bean oil eatable, salt, male banana, sesame seed, toasted garlic, onion, thyme, clove, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, oregano, fried peanut seed, nuts, almonds, sugar

                      The company details from the bag:

                      Mole y Chocolate Juquilita S. de R. L. de C.V.
                      Locales 279/280 sector 3 Mercado de Abasto
                      Oaxaca, Mexico, C.P. 68090

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                      La Oaxaquena
                      2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        This is indeed a find. The address is a stall number in the Abastos ("everything") market in Oaxaca. A number of stalls in Abastos sell Mole, but with all the competition and vendors who go back generations, I would consider this the real deal. If you want to see the market in google earth, search for Central de Abasto, Oaxaca, México .

                        When I was their buying mole, the women at one of the stalls had some kind of convoluted thing about tomato similar to the instructions. I've tried a few times to use tomatoes, blanched, strained, and it never beat simply the paste and chicken broth. YMMV.

                        1. re: boris_qd

                          Chocolate burns at the temperatures used to caramelize and blacken the other ingredients in a mole negro, so chocolate is added at the end of its preparation. You're "finishing" it in your own kitchen, without paying for importing chocolate.

                    3. re: boris_qd

                      Canyon Market in Glen Park sells a decent mole, in their prepared foods case by the pizza dough. You could enjoy it with roast chicken without doing any extra work.

                      Remember there are many different styles, from Puebla to Oaxaca. I wouldn't recommend that someone who's never eaten mole start from the paste to make it themselves.

                      I was just at San Miguel (Guatemlan) and noticed they have mole on the menu, but didn't try it.

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                      Canyon Market
                      2815 Diamond Street, San Francisco, CA

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        Good mole paste, you should just be able to add stock, no doctoring required. Think of it like buying pre-prepared BBQ sauce. When I was in buying paste in Mexico, the woman was saying something about reconstituting with fresh tomatoes - blanch, liquify, and mix. I never got that technique to work for me.

                        As I was burning through the 5lbs of mole paste I brought back from oaxaca, the technique I settled on was: 1/2 sear chicken breasts, take them out of the pan, slice cross-grain to about 1/2inch thick pieces (not easy, as the chicken surface will be around 300 degrees); in the pan (which has a little drippings) warm the paste thinned slightly with broth to a only very slightly watery consistance at high heat, after that warms, lower the heat, drop in the chicken and slow simmer for 20 or 30 mins. The increase of surface area by cutting means more mole taste in the meat, proper cross cutting means you end up with tenderness and easy to eat bits. Don't be shy about adding salt to wake up the mole, and sugar, but don't add citrus or wine - tart or sour just doesn't work. Sauteed onions (sweet) are a strong addition (not authentic).

                        Use tortillas to mop up the sauce; a breakfast in oaxaca is simply a thick mole sauce and tortillas (with the nuts & stuff onboard - kind of like a warm and more liquid nutella). Tortillas you buy around here need to be warmed otherwise the taste is plastic and machine-made.

                        The common condoment is sesame seeds. They're sprinkled on top as a finisher, and always unroasted or very very lightly roasted. More for show, as the light white sprinkles show the blackness of the mole.

                        Oaxaca Negro Mole is one of the most potent styles. Oaxaca has mole like the thais have curry, wide variety of color, taste, consistancy. Most are not particularly spicy, should have a rich deep complex taste, although some states have a more watery and hotter style. Mole typically has a variety of different chili types and sometimes nuts and a few spices.

                        Always go to the deli counter or prepared food area and find the little plastic containers that have a deli stamp and just say "mole" or "mole rioja" or whatever. The consistancy when you get it home should be about like wet, fresh, slightly oily playdough. Double-bagged in plastic, it will last at least 6 months. This will be the stuff that the store has imported or has some connection to a good local maker. Because of the variety of styles of mole, you'll have to shop around. I've bought mole online (like Zingerman's), but you get only a few ounces. Mole should be bought by the 1/2 pound and used very liberally for best effect. Let us know if you find something good.

                        Being a paste like it is, mole is a good stock on hand for everyday cooking, as it can add a depth and richness to just about everything. Drop a dollop in soup, lime-mole marinade for a white fish, base for a salad dressing, etc. Do try with sweet dishes. It's one of those secret artillery shells of fast home cooking, like dried morels and thai green curry paste and minced garlic and toasted sesame oil.

                        As pointed out, you're better off eating out a few places before trying it at home. I do remember Maya's mole being very good back in the day, having mole tacos at the bar is a cheap sample (the dining room is expensive).

                        Mole is worth investigating. Remember that the origin of chocolate is in tobasco state, next to Oaxaca. To my taste, oaxaca mole negro is one of the most evolved uses of chocolate humanity has yet concocted - and yet, mole is even more than that.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Thank you, bbulkow, for the detailed explanation. I really learned a lot.

                        2. re: boris_qd

                          At La Palma last week I saw bulk packed mole poblana and mole verde underneath the display of chicharrones. The mole verde paste was about $16/lb, the poblana was quite a bit less. I didn't buy any to try, but wanted to mention it, if that's a convenient location for you.

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                          La Palma Mexicatessen
                          2884 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            I wonder what's in the mole verde that would make it so expensive. I don't remember pumpkin seeds for a pipián being too pricey, and pipián is less labor intensive than many other moles, but maybe theirs are made from fresh pepitas?

                  2. I really like the Mole Enchiladas at El Delphin.

                    1. A lot of people like the mole at La Fiesta in Mountain View. I know, not in SF but if you're down there, worth a try and house made.

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                      La Fiesta Restaurant
                      240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ML8000

                        La Fiesta is solid. Not great, but solid. Menlo Park's Cafe del Sol isn't bad either, Palo Alto's del Sol I find weak.

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                        La Fiesta Restaurant
                        240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041