Mole all the way
Before El Mariachi became 124 Street’s one and only Mexican restaurant, it was my go-to place for Mexican groceries—primarily ingredients for homemade chili powder, but also tortillas, hot sauce and the occasional frozen pupusa. Back then it would have been hard to imagine it as restaurant. There was nothing particularly decorative about its utilitarian shelves and glass-doored coolers, as well as its apparent no-eye-contact policy with patrons who didn’t know their ancho from their arbol.
After a lengthy chrysalis stage where the front window was swathed in brown paper and groceries could only be had through the side door, El Mariachi relaunched at the beginning of May as a full-blown restaurant with a little grocery nook in the back. And it’s fair to say it might be competing for the title of most colourful restaurant in Edmonton. All of the table tops and chair backs are hand-painted (in Mexico—I asked) with folksy scenes in most of the hues available to the human eye. Cacti, sombreros, guitars, serapes and other trappings of the mariachi lifestyle are rendered on embossed wood in lively detail. It’s quite impressive.
No less impressive is the array of authentic Mexican cuisine laid out on the menu. While there were many items I had not made acquaintance of—including some fabulous and unique-sounding seafood dishes in the $22 range—I was tantalized by the sight of enchiladas enmoladas ($16.99) and my co-diner could not resist the allure of fish tacos ($11.99 for four). Had I needed to make a second choice, I probably would have delved into El Mariachi’s list of tortas—hearty Mexican bunwiches with refried beans, avocado and succulent slabs of meat. Next time.
(Also next time: we’ll avoid the booth in the northwest corner of the restaurant directly under a TV, which at the time was playing a concert by Hispanic-American pop star Romeo Santos.)
The no-eye-contact policy seems to have been suspended as well, as our server was attentive and friendly. She was quick to deliver a complimentary basket of housemade tortilla chips with roasted tomato salsa, and wasted no time retrieving a glass of horchata ($2.99) from the huge glass jug on the counter. Horchata is a beverage made of milk, almonds, rice and cinnamon that has no right to be as refreshing as it is, and El Mariachi’s version was nice and sweet. I could have gone for a cerveza myself, but it looks like, at present, the establiment is not licenced.
The house makes a variety of hot sauces—six to be exact—that they present with each meal. There were salsas made from roasted peppers, tomatillos, roasted tomatoes, regular tomatoes and a couple I couldn’t readily identify, each with its unique flavour profile and spice level. Experience has taught me that yellow generally means “proceed with caution” in the realm of Mexican hot sauces.
We’d just finished sampling the hot sauces and chips (and trying to cool the resulting burn with horchata) when the entrees arrived (on plates embossed with El Mariachi branding, no less). Co-diner’s tacos were itty bitty after the fashion of Tres Carnales but there were four, double-layered corn tortillas topped with golden nuggets of fried whitefish served with cilantro, onions, cabbage slaw and lime wedges, and they filled her up.
My portion of enchiladas in mole was very generous—four tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken, smothered in rich, dark mole sauce and topped with cheese, spears of white onion and sesame seeds, with creamy refried beans and rice on the side. Mole is notoriously ingredient- and labour-intensive and though I’ve always known that cocoa was part of the preparation, I’ve never had mole that tasted so chocolatey. The balance of cumin, cinnamon, chilies and who knows what all else quelled my initial reservations.
We also enjoyed an order of chips with their chunky guacamole ($7.99), wherein the avocado was mashed up with diced onion, tomato, cilantro and lime. I’d call it a promising, if not astonishing, intro to El Mariachi’s new incarnation. Hopefully they can find their niche in Edmonton’s increasingly crowded Mexican food marketplace.
10991A 124 St., 780.705.7278