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Oct 30, 2011 06:41 PM

Monte Alban - SJ Oaxacan/Salvadorean, Diamond in the Rough

Restaurante Monte Alban has an unassuming storefront on the other side of downtown San Jose. Inside, the brightly colored walls match the brightly colored & brightly flavored foods.

Their extensive menu features five different kinds of mole, served with chicken or pork, and a side of rice. Their signature mole negro was $9.99 (they also sell packets of the sauce to go for $9); the others were $7.75. I chose the pipian (pumpkin seed) mole with chicken.

I was not prepared for the huge plate that arrived within minutes. It had an extremely generous portion of chicken, with a full leg and thigh, smothered in what must have been at least a pint of housemade pipian sauce. The sauce was rich, complex, and all over the place, a perfect accompaniment for the most tender & moist chicken leg I've ever bit into -- so tender it fell off the bone. The chicken, which tasted like it had been poached in a stock, could probably have even held up by itself. There was just no room in the dish for any blandness to poke out. This was also served with three oversized homemade tortillas. To reiterate -- $7.75.

They had about a dozen pupusas and I ordered the pumpkin flower one ($1.99), although totally unnecessary after seeing how generous the mole plate was. This was very good too and stuffed with pumpkin blossoms.

I tried a few salsas from the bar, the red chile with garlic and onion salsa (extra spicy) and the green avocado salsa (less spicy.) The chicken mole sure didn't need any extra flavor, although these went well with the free side of chips they served. I didn't try the pico de gallo.

Everything veers to the salty side. This was not a problem for me. Will have to be back to try the rest of their moles and perhaps their Salvadorean dishes. Perhaps the huitlacoche (corn smut) if I'm feeling adventurous. They also have standard Mexican fare but I have a hard time believeing that can top their moles.

Their menu features a bunch of unusual drinks, like tepache (fermented pineapple drink) and chilacayote (pumpkin water), which I didn't partake in since I don't like sugary drinks too much.

I haven't been this excited at a new discovery since the halibut soup from Crab House in Santa Clara. Not sure what their hours were, but there was a full house at 6 PM on a Sunday.

Restaurante Monte Alban
960 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95110

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  1. Wow, we nearly posted at the same time, this place does make you want to enthuse to everyone. It is really great to have Monte Alban! I need to read the Spanish circulars more often since I think this place had been around for awhile.

    I'm wondering whether Monte Alban will suffer the same fate as Juquilita on Yelp -- folks see the 5 stars reviews, but don't seem to notice that it's for the Oaxacan specialties and then complain about the boring tacos and burritos.

    Juquilita Restaurant
    577 W Alma Ave, San Jose, CA 95125

    Monte Alban
    980 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95110

    3 Replies
    1. re: zartemis

      According to their press release, they opened December 2010. Their hours are 10 am - 10 pm daily. I updated the restaurant record with that info.

      Do they serve alcohol, beer only or nothing?

      Here's your report with the great photos

      1. re: rworange

        They do serve beer, but I don't recall if they have anything else. Although the Tepache is likely at least somewhat alcoholic (as most naturally fermented juices are) it is common to mix it with beer and they offer that as well as straight tepache.

        1. re: zartemis

          Oh yeah, tepache needs added beer, IMO

          I was disappointed I never had the chance to try the real stuff last year when I lived in Guatemala. I was confused when I saw the big orange tepache drums on the Guatemalan side of the border. When I asked why since this was a Mexican drink, I was just told because that area was just near Mexico.

          I have to guess visiting Mexicans liked to mix it with Guatemalan Gallo beer which has an alcohol content of 13%. Though that is just a guess for the reason it was near the border.