Warning: Don't read this entry on an empty stomach!
The first time I had authentic chicken mole
with its tantalizing, spicy chocolate sauce was at the Mexican
pavilion at Epcot Center in Florida soon after the entertainment
complex was built in the early 1980s. Oh, my! I was a convert,
and started ordering similar dishes in "real" Mexican restaurants after
returning home to Atlanta, where I lived at the time.
It's been several years since I've
savored the spicy sauce in an entree. When I discovered a recipe
for a chicken dish with mole in a
local publication on our recent trip
to Phoenix, we purchased the ingredients and prepared it in the
camper -- it's that easy! I'll include the recipe at the end.
MEXICAN FLAVOR TREATS
Jim and I don't eat at restaurants very often, either
at home or when we're traveling in our camper. There are several reasons. At home,
we're a long way from town and the restaurants we like. We enjoy
cooking together and it's easier to control quality and
calories when we do our own food preparation. Plus, it saves a
lot of money. When we're traveling we also do most of our own
cooking. We can carry a fair amount of food in
the camper's refrigerator, freezer, cupboards, and pantry. We usually carry TOO much with us on trips
(the extra weight doesn't help our pitiful gas mileage), but I'd rather stock
up on staples at home and just pick up perishables when we need
them along the way.
Occasionally, however, it's fun to find local ethnic restaurants
with tasty, healthy food when we're traveling. We like to focus
our search on regional specialties -- like Mexican food in the
Southwest, seafood on either coast or the Gulf, Asian
restaurants on the Pacific Rim, that sort of thing. We usually "do" lunch
because menu items are
less expensive than at dinner time.
Colorful mural inside the La Margarita
Restaurant in San Antonio, TX
Here is my very personal take on the restaurants we visited on our recent Southwestern
trip. YMMV: your mileage (opinion) may vary!
PHOENIX / MESA, AZ
The first time we visited the Mesa YMCA (Phoenix area) it was
We asked a couple of the staff members if they could recommend a good
place for lunch. We were willing to drive several miles, if
necessary, to find quality ingredients, low-fat cooking, and
good flavor. To our surprise they both enthusiastically recommended a
Mexican restaurant named Rosa's only one block away at
University and N. Mesa. How convenient is that?
Wow -- wonderful, authentic Mexican food that met all of our
criteria! It's not the cheapest place
in the world, but the quality is excellent and we highly
recommend it. We went two times for lunch. The first day I had a
tasty combination with spinach enchiladas, black beans, and a corn medley. Jim
also enjoyed his chicken enchiladas with refried beans and rice.
The next time he had the spinach enchiladas and I had the
biggest salad I've ever seen -- lots of grilled and marinated
pieces of chicken breast served on a large bed of
spinach and assorted greens with red bell peppers, onions, mango
strips, and croutons. It was so big Jim had to help me finish
Hey -- I had to save some room for the large chocolate frozen
yogurt from Costco that we had for dessert!!
SAN ANTONIO, TX
We weren't quite as lucky in San Antonio. We tried two different
restaurants there for lunch:
La Margarita Restaurant and Oyster Bar is located in the historic Market Square
area along Produce Row. It was a chilly, misty day so we ate
inside the colorful restaurant. Although it was busy at lunch on
Friday, we didn't have to wait for a seat and our waiter was attentive and prompt.
A waiter walks toward the La Margarita
Restaurant on a wet January morning
We both chose our waiter's
recommendation of one of the daily specials. We started off with
tortilla chips, spicy salsa, and a tasty bean soup for
appetizers. The good-sized entree was tender pulled pork, rice,
guacamole, and hot tortillas. The price was right for all that
food -- only $5.95 each! It was good, but not as good as
Rosa's in Mesa. (But then, Rosa's was $9 or $10 for the lunch
entrees we had.) And we even had two singing mariachis during
lunch, perhaps the ones in the first photo above?
When we toured the fabulous
Riverwalk we had lunch right
along the river (I mean, RIGHT along the river!) at Casa Rio
the first restaurant in the area with riverside dining and
gondola rides (they don't have the gondolas any more).
Colorful umbrellas mark the location of
Casa Rio Mexican Restaurant along Riverwalk
Since it was warm and sunny that day, we ate outside with all
the birds that were hoping we'd drop some food on the pavement.
The best thing about lunch was the ambiance -- watching boats
and people go by, protecting our lunch from the hovering birds, below,
laughing at the antics of the ducks across the water, marveling at the brilliance of
the idea to create this beautiful concept downtown. There
are lots more photos of Riverwalk in the
January 28 entry.
Our food was only so-so at Casa Rio, however -- our least
favorite of any of the restaurants mentioned here.
Our serendipitous choice for lunch in Galveston was right on the
mark. We were on a Gulf island and we wanted fresh local
seafood. I don't know if any of it was local (forgot to ask!),
but it was definitely fresh and delicious. We were both happy
with our choices from the Saltwater Grill, located across
the street from the 1984 Opera House in the Strand Historic
Bar area at Saltwater Grill (we sat at a
According to a brochure we picked up, the menu at the Saltwater
Grill "changes daily for lunch and dinner and highlights the
various catches-of-the-day from around the world." Our waiter
explained that the restaurant's specialty is a unique kettle
cooking process, so we chose savory Cajun dishes from that part
of the menu. We were both raving about our meals during and
after lunch, and can highly recommend this restaurant. Hope
you're not real hungry right now! Here's what we ate:
Jim had Little Daddy's Gumbo for $7.99. I don't think
he'd have room for BIG Daddy's Gumbo, which was twice as big for
$14.99. This is a dark roux seafood stew with a generous
helping of shrimp, oysters, and crab. It was filling. My choice (bouillabaisse)
cost $3.00 more but I got more food! This is a
Cajun/French-style stew with shrimp, snow crab,, clams, mussels,
and some kind of white fish in a delicious saffron-flavored
broth. It was much lighter fare than Jim's dish. I was
pleasantly full, but not stuffed.
HERE'S THAT RECIPE I PROMISED
I like to pick up free local papers and magazines when we visit
a new town or city. "Alternative" sources of information like
this can be quite enlightening. In one Phoenix publication I zeroed in
on an easy recipe for Chicken Chili Mole and bought the
ingredients we didn't have on our next foray to Wal-Mart and
Costco. It is great with rice,
beans, a salad, and corn bread or muffins.
Not only was this recipe absolutely delicious (lots of herbs,
spices, dark beer, jalapeno pepper, cheese, and unsweetened
chocolate -- how can it NOT taste good??) but we also discovered
in the article that Costco carries one of the most wonderful
varieties of cheese we've ever tasted: Chipotle Cheddar.
We used it in the chicken mole recipe and found many other ways
to enjoy it: sliced and eaten alone or with crackers;
melted in grilled cheese sandwiches or tuna-noodle casserole;
grated on salads, fried eggs, regular chili, burritos, etc.
It really adds a zesty flavor without overwhelming your taste
buds or sinuses.
We bought a second big chunk of the cheese before leaving
Phoenix but it was gone by the time we got to San Antonio. This
is another city close to Mexico, so I didn't think there would
be any trouble finding chipolte cheddar at the Costco we visited
there. Wrong! They don't carry it. We didn't go to a Costco when
we buzzed through Houston, so don't know if they have it there.
Something told me that Costco probably wouldn't carry it outside
the Southwest, but I was surprised about San Antonio. I haven't
had time to investigate the ethnic grocery stores or specialty
food markets in the Roanoke area yet (we don't have a Costco
within a two-hour drive).
At least we can get it from the source if we start craving it
before our next trip to Phoenix:
Here's the recipe:
CHICKEN CHILI MOLE
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup dark or regular beer (or more broth)
2 minced cloves of garlic
2 T. tomato paste
1 tsp. each oregano and thyme or 1/2 tsp. cinnamon or allspice
or 2 tsp. Italian seasoning Salt, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne or 1 tsp. minced 2 cups shredded Jarlsberg or Chipolte
Anaheim or jalapeño
Cheddar cheese, divided
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken 1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate
breast, cut into small
* I've also successfully used plain chipolte seasoning or
a cinnamon-chipolte "rub" (for grilling meats, poultry, seafood,
and vegetables) when I didn't have any chipolte cheddar cheese
Heat olive oil in deep, large skillet and cook onion with
garlic, thyme, oregano, and whichever hot pepper seasoning(s)
you're using -- cayenne or chipolte powder, or minced fresh
Anaheim or jalapeño -- until
onion is just browning. Set aside onion mixture.
Add chicken to skillet and sauté
until no longer pink; return onion and add broth, beer,
and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and season with cinnamon (or
allspice) and salt. Simmer 10 minutes.
Stir in one cup cheese and grated chocolate until melted. Serve
immediately over rice and beans. (I usually just add rinsed,
canned black beans near the end of the simmering stage and mix
it in with the chili, rather than serving it separately). Pass remaining cheese. Serve with corn
bread and a salad. Serves 6. (Ha! Jim and I get two good meals
out of it = serves 4 runners.)
Mmmm. Think I'll go mix up a new batch for supper . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil