Sometimes you try out a new place and everything works. Mi Mero Mole, on SE 50th and Division, is that place.
Mi Mero Mole - with the awesome URL of mmmtacospdx.com - is owned by Nick Zukin, the same Nick who is the Zuke in Kenny and Zuke's Deli and Sandwichworks, and who also has gained quite a following in the Portland food scene via Twitter (@extramsg) and articles (like this one on burgers), plus the portlandfood.org messageboards.
However, his first love is Mexican food and Mi Mero Mole specializes in one thing: guisados. What is that, you may ask? It translates roughly as "stew," but there's more to it than that. In Mexico City guisados come in literally hundreds of different flavors and they are served on tortillas. (Don't kill me if this isn't 100% accurate, there isn't a lot of information out there about them.)
Mi Mero Mole (roughly translates as my own mole, or can be interpreted as the same sentiment but more forceful) has a menu that changes every so often, featuring a few of the different guisados at once. Check the menu link and you can see how many will be in rotation, plus others.
The building is not well signed, so unless you know where it is you may miss it. There is a sign in the window that says "Albierto," but not one that says "Mi Mero Mole" that either of us recall seeing. Mi Mero Mole is also not officially open yet; instead, until sometime in January this is considered their soft opening. Given the pedigree of the owner and the food involved it was already on our short list, but then they did a special where we could get a dozen tamales to take home for $24 (more on them later), so we figured we'd get dinner too and check it out.
The decor is minimalist, but still a little homey - think relaxed neighborhood hangout. The current menu is on a chalkboard on the left when you walk in and you order at the register, then your food is brought to you. All of the tortillas are made fresh and there is a small salsa bar if you feel like adding some to your meal. They serve beers, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks. Each guisada can be ordered as a taco, a burrito or as a plate, which comes with sides of beans and rice. Currently meat guisados are $2.75 each and vegetarian ones are $2.50, but that may change when the official opening comes.
Wifey and I started off with an order of chips and guacamole, just like we did at Mextiza. Mi Mero Mole's guac was more traditional, but still very creamy and quite tasty. The chips were excellent (perfectly salted!) - I could eat a bag of these without stopping. However, they seemed to be best fresh; we ate them throughout the meal and towards the end they got a little stale. Shrug. They were awesome.
Funny story: Nick actually took our order and brought us our food. We happened to sit at a table without ideal lighting and when he saw us getting ready to take some pictures, he asked us to wait, went behind the counter and grabbed a small light, and let us use it to take pictures. We need to get one of those - thanks Nick!
We ordered four guisados - the taco version - in all. Wifey and I split each one and as you can see by the pictures each taco was well-filled. The first two were albondigas (beed and pork meatballs stuffed with boiled egg and stewed in chipotle tomato sauce) and pollo con nopales en salsa verde (chicken and cactus paddle - prickly pear - stewed in tomatillo and serrano sauce.
Both of those were excellent, but the pollo con napales was on another level. Neither of us had ever eaten prickly pear before and the cactus added so much flavor - it was amazing. I could go back and eat four of just those.
The second plate was rajas con crema (roasted poblana chiles with sauteed onions in a sour cream and aged cheese sauce) and cerdo en adobo (pork in a sweet and sour chile sauce). Again, both of these introduced us to new flavor profiles and were outstanding.
It's a good thing we liked the cerdo en adobo, because that was the same flavor as the dozen tamales we ordered. They were still warm when Nick handed us the tray, and when we got home we opened them up.
Aren't they pretty? They looked so damn good I wanted to try them that night, but the four tacos and chips left both of us pretty full, so we had them for lunch the next day. Here's a look from the open end of the tamale.
And with it unwrapped and split down the middle.
Simply put, these are amazing. The masa used to wrap the filling is the best I've ever had. Neither of us claim to be experts in Mexican food, but we like it and did spend a week eating Oaxacan food in Huatulco a couple years back, so we'd like to think we can recognize good stuff - and this is fantastic.
Frankly, Mi Mero Mole is a must-visit - and it's not going to hurt your wallet. For a dozen tamales, four tacos, and the chips and guac my total bill was $37.75 plus tip - and $24 of that was the tamales. Where else can you get a fantastic meal for two people for $14?! Even if the prices do go up, Mi Mero Mole would be considered steal.
Since I'm reviewing this place so close to Mextiza, I know a question that may come is how the two compare. They don't, actually. Both have excellent food and I'd go back to either one, but I'm getting a different kind of Mexican food at each one.
If I had to choose one though, it would be Mi Mero Mole. We'll be going back for sure.