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Rocio Camacho's moles star at Mole de los Dioses

Mole de los Dioses has two locations, Huntington Park and Sun Valley, serving up Rocio Camacho's moles, which include traditional and innovative varieties.

May 28, 2012|By Bill Esparza, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Rocio Camacho was catapulted into mole fame when she started cooking at Moles La Tia in East Los Angeles, where her moles ran the gamut from traditional Pueblan and Oaxacan varieties to unconventional riffs on the genre — say, passion fruit, beets with hibiscus flower, or coffee. Now she has opened Mole de los Dioses ("mole from the gods") in two locations, dashing between the pair of restaurants daily to turn out her devotional cuisine.

It's no surprise that Camacho facilely commands the most baroque of the mole genre: a 27-ingredient mole poblano with dark chiles, nuts, seeds and a little sweetness from raisins. The darker, spicier mole negro with 32 ingredients, including burnt tortillas, avocado leaves and the smoky chile chihuacle, displays a mastery of the cuisines of both Puebla and Oaxaca. But the mancha manteles ("tablecloth stainer") may be her finest: Deftly toasted tropical fruit, cloves and almonds cling to grilled pork, riding the sweet side of ancho chiles.

A dozen moles, including the chef's own creations, such as the passion fruit and mezcal-tinged mole de aromas, are on the menu at any given time to be poured over your choice of seafood, poultry, meat or vegetables — it's mole democracy. Camacho and chef de cuisine Javier Estrella prepare the moles. "I only show my recipes to the ones that really care about this tradition," says Camacho.

Camacho began cooking at 8 years old in Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, with her grandmother, and then attended the Instituto de Arte Culinario before coming to the U.S. She has worked in top L.A. Mexican restaurants, most notably La Casita Mexicana in Bell, Moles la Tia in East L.A. and La Huasteca in Lynwood, and consulted for Juan's Restaurant in Baldwin Park. In October, Camacho opened the first Mole de los Dioses in Huntington Park and then partnered with La Nopaltilla Factory owners Alonso and Elsa Arellano to open a second branch in Sun Valley in January, complete with a beer and wine license.

Both are colorful, warm dining rooms decorated with an Aztec theme — the Huntington Park location small and cozy. But the Sun Valley Rocio's is a three-in-one restaurant: There's a cantina, a family seating area and a lounge where traditional Mexican artists perform.

There are a handful of pre-Hispanic items on the menu, such as caldo de piedra, or "stone soup," in which heated river rocks imported from Oaxaca are submerged in a soup bowl to boil scallops, fish, shrimp and octopus reddened by a pinch of achiote (annatto seed) paste.

Take a break from carne asada and go with the carne de chango, or "monkey meat" — no, it's not really monkey, but the sweet aromatics of smoked green sugar cane and guava leaves impart lasting impressions on the pork. "You'll never lose that flavor," says Camacho. There are also dishes that feature huitlacoche (corn smut) and a rich, creamy soup spiced with umami-intensive grasshoppers.

Breakfast is taken seriously here too. There are some typical plates on the menu, but we've never been introduced to the wonders of crispy chilaquiles in squash blossom sauce — not on this side of the border anyway. Nor had we tasted the classic rabo de mestiza ("mestiza's tail"), a piquant tomato sauce with charred poblano strips and melted cheese with a poached egg. Camacho's silky mole poblano ladled over fried eggs is brilliant — this should be on more menus.

Mole de los Dioses is one of the most ambitious Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, yet dining here feels as easy as table-side guacamole. It's just that here, the guacamole might be seasoned with passion fruit and habanero.

food@latimes.com

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