The Best Damn Mexican Stew Ever

Photos by Matthew Piel
The Stop: Othello

The Vibe: Three mini malls surround the Othello stations--each containing storefront after storefront of Vietnamese restaurants. And between the signs advertising pho or banh mi are banners in Vietnamese script over salons, jewelry, and video stores. But Asia isn't the only continent represented in this 'hood.

The Café: One year ago a man named Jesus, who goes by the handle "Chuy," decided to open a small café among the pho shops featuring the cuisine of his native Mexico. He declared his presence by naming his new restaurant "Chuy El Mexicano"--literally, "Chuy the Mexican." (7142 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 722-1810.)

At least that's the story according to a regular at the bar named Luis. We never saw hide nor hair of Jesus/Chuy. Instead one woman with very little English was running both bar and kitchen solo.

My café car companion and I ordered two beers off the all-day happy hour list--a can of Tecate for $2.50 and bottle of Pacifico for $3--and asked if there was a menu. The woman pulled out a four-pager then informed us that almost none of it was available. We could have tacos or fajitas--but only beef or chicken. She also offered nachos as an option and something called molcajete--also available in beef or chicken.

Having never heard of that last dish, I ordered it, assuming it was some variation of the kind of simple chicken or beef taco menu you maintain when you've only got one woman managing an entire restaurant by herself.

She nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. We settled in with our beers and watched a Spanish-language sketch comedy called Cero en Conductá wherein adults dressed in sailor-style prep school outfits sat in a classroom, told what sounded like dirty jokes to my high-school-Spanish-trained ears, and hit each other with sticks. God bless Univision.

And then the molcajete arrived. A spicy boiling gravy filled with carne asada and onions spilled over the sides of a giant stone bowl. This was not what I was expecting. We spooned the meat, onions and gravy into tortillas fajita style.

Apparently "molcajete" is the equivalent of a mortar and pestle. According to all-knowing Wikipedia it's used to bake stews of sorts. But exactly what went into our molcajete at Chuy's remains a mystery. All I know is that it was thick, delicious, and we used an extra order of tacos to sop up as much of it as we could after the meat ran out. Tragically, a few drops were left behind; the stone was just too hot to lick.

After digesting it all over a couple more beers, we waddled back to the station to make the ride home, vowing to return.

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