"I feel like I'm in a time warp," my friend Linda said after a few minutes contemplation over our plate of chicken mole at El Gallo de Jalisco. "I feel like I'm a kid again and I'm back at my grandmother's house in Monterrey eating her mole." The sensation was so strong, she immediately began regaling me with stories of her childhood in a little colonia there.
She told me how they'd listen for the death squeal of a pig every day with anticipation: "That meant snacks in two hours!" she laughed, as she recounted the feeling of fresh, hot chicharrones melting across her tongue. And she told me how her aunt sent her four blocks uphill every day -- a long way for a little kid -- to get tortillas from the best tortilleria, even though there was another one only one short block away. Linda tried to slip the closer, inferior tortillas past her aunt a few times, but never with any success.
The best food is not the most expensive dish in a restaurant. It's not foie-topped or necessarily fancy at all. To me, the best food in the world is food that is evocative of another, fonder time. It's food that dislodges memories and knocks loose feelings long forgotten.
That's the kind of food you'll find at El Gallo de Jalisco.
That lunch spent listening to childhood memories of Monterrey might have never happened if it weren't for a reader who promised me that the scrubby little taqueria I've passed on White Oak for years was worth the stop. She wrote:
I know you probably get a million recommendations a day on places to get eat, but El Gallo de Jaliso is legit. I am hesitant to email you this valuable information because after you eat there and write about it my favorite Mexican food spot will be infested by the hipsters and yuppies who live in this area.
To be honest their chilaquiles and migas lack big time, they are nowhere near as good as La Guadalupana's, but their mole is mind blowing. I have eaten quite a bit of mole in my lifetime and theirs is some of the best. I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, my Mom works in Mexico, and my whole family is Mexican. I know Mexican food and this is the real deal. This place reminds of all the little restaurants I ate at in the Valley and Mexico, unpretentious and simple.
She put it as well as I possibly could: El Gallo de Jalisco is simple, straightforward comfort food served in large portions for very little money. Between the two of us that day, Linda and I ate three tacos, a plate of chicken mole, a basket of chips and two aguas frescas for less than $15.
And although the tacos -- lengua, barbacoa and chicharron -- were fine for what they were (I prefer mine with cilantro y cebolla and a salsa that packs some heat), it was the mole that really endeared El Gallo de Jalisco to both of us.
Silky and rich, with only a hint of cocoa, the mole was the complete opposite of the overwhelming moles that spark and dazzle with intricate blends of a thousand different roasted spices and dried chiles. This was village food, easy and comforting. The dark meat of the chicken soaked up the simple sauce easily, and a salty spread of refried beans across a hot tortilla was all the chicken and mole needed to come together in harmony.
Mole is so often an acquired taste for people that there's an expression in Spanish akin to saying "it's my cup of tea": en su mero mole. I didn't like mole the first few times I tried it, especially the strongly flavored mole poblano that's so common here. The soft, subtle mole at El Gallo de Jalisco is a perfect jumping off point for anyone who's wary or mole or who's never had it before.
Of course, it's equally perfect for taking trips down memory lane, too. Just remember to bring cash -- no credit/debit cards are accepted here.