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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | IN THE MOOD

Mole

April 30, 1998

Moles are complex Mexican sauces made with ground chiles, some kind of nut or seed and any number of other ingredients, such as garlic, chocolate, bananas, raisins, tortillas and bread crumbs--to name just a few. Moles tend to be as individual as the cooks who make them. Here are just a few to sample:

* Mexico City: Sylvia Solis is passionate about mole at this family-run Los Feliz neighborhood restaurant. The first moles, she'll tell you, were prepared by the Aztecs, and later versions were adapted by nuns, who tempered the chile heat for Spanish dignitaries and also introduced Old World spices to the mix. Mexico City (the restaurant) makes the classic Central Mexican-Pueblan version, mole poblano, which uses plantains, raisins, pecans, almonds, crisped tortillas, tomatoes, cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, bread and four or five varieties of chiles. This mole is served with chicken and as an enchilada sauce. Mole verde, far simpler but very rich, is made from pumpkin seeds, serrano chiles, cilantro, lettuce, dried tortillas, onions and garlic and is served over stewed chicken. (Moles, $9.95.) Mexico City, 2121 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 661-7227.

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* Guelaguetza: Oaxaca is known as the land of seven moles, and in these two Oaxacan cafes, at least four are always available. Try the riveting mole negro, made with four chiles, sesame seeds, tomatoes, garlic, onions, bananas, raisins and untold spices. It's served over chicken or a plump chicken tamale. The red mole coloradito--also contains an assortment of chiles and spices, along with chocolate, sugar and peanuts; you can eat it with chicken or pork spine (backbone). There are also green (verde) and yellow (amarillo) moles, the last a strictly Oaxacan specialty made from ground pumpkin seeds. (Moles, $7.) Guelaguetza, 3337 1/2 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0601; 11127 Palms Blvd., Palms, (310) 837-8600.

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* Merida: At this popular Yucatecan restaurant nestled in a courtyard off Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, the chicken mole is made in the classic Puebla style. The sauce is concocted, on the premises, with about 25 ingredients, including plantains, peanut butter, chocolate, bread, tortilla and fully 11 chiles. Watch for turkey mole specials--turkey was the Aztecs' own mole meat. Mole is served with rice, beans and tortillas. (Chicken mole, with bones, $8.90; boneless, $9.90.) Merida, 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 792-7371.

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* Monte Alban: Another modest Oaxacan cafe tucked in a mini-mall, Monte Alban serves four kinds of mole: negro and an excellent coloradito (red), both of which are served over plump chicken breasts. Mole amarillo, made from dried chiles, pepper and cumin, can come with beef or chicken and the verde, made of lettuce, parsley, chile and cumin, is ladled over chicken or pork spine. All come with rice and three handmade tortillas. (Moles, $5.75 to $7.99.) Monte Alban, 11927 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 444-7736.

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* Border Grill: Specials featuring mole run every week or so and include chicken in a black mole made from six kinds of chiles and Mexican chocolate. Also look for lamb sauced with a red mole made with ancho chiles, adobado sauce and brown sugar. (Mole specials, $8 to $15.) Border Grill, 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655.

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* La Caban~ita: Up where Glendale and Montrose meet is La Caban~ita, a cozy Yucatecan restaurant, where you can get a classic mole poblano made with ground chiles, peanuts, chocolate and a couple dozen spices, served with chicken. The mole verde is made from ground squash seeds, tomatillos, cilantro and poblano chiles and is served over chicken or pork. (Moles, $8.25.) La Caban~ita, 3447 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, (818) 957-2711.

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