When was the last time you ate at a food cart and had your meal served on a real plate? Not just any plate, but a custom-made ceramic plate from Puebla, hand-painted with the cart’s name on it? Not only that, but the rice comes mounded in a pyramid shape, and the mole-enrobed whole chicken leg comes adorned with a fresh orchid?
All that praise is just for the presentation at Mole Mole Mexican Cuisine, which opened at 2231 NE Alberta St in late August this year. It’s a family business, with daughter Brenda Flores taking orders and serving customers, mother Alejandra Rendon prepping ingredients and washing dishes, and twenty-year kitchen veteran and father Roberto Flores cooking the cart’s massive menu of dishes. Seriously, where else can you find mole negro, mole verde, a full menu of tacos and burritos including Yucatecan cochinita pibil and the ever-popular quesabirria, soups including pozole, tortilla soup, and my favorite, the elusive carne en su jugo, plus creative salads like roast cauliflower in sikil pak? The dishes even span multiple regions of Mexico, from Yucatán to Puebla to Jalisco to Guanajuato.
Usually, with a menu this big, I figure there are going to be hits and misses. But all three dishes I ordered floored me. The portion of pollo en mole was massive, from the giant piece of chicken to the overflowing sweet, nutty mole, sided by fluffy rice and creamy beans. Carne en su jugo, a Jaliscan soup boasting bacon, pinto beans, and steak topped with avocado and radish in a beefy, tomatillo-laden broth, deserves to be a Portland winter classic just like pho. My friend and I slurped up the soup and dipped our rolled-up tortillas with fervor, spooning the tender steak and crisp bacon into our mouths. And while I most often see sikil pak (a smooth pumpkin seed purée) served as a dip with chips, here it’s the base for a roast cauliflower and pumpkin seed salad, the veggies cooked to a nutty, caramelized crisp with creamy sikil pak tying everything together. The cauliflower salad had fellow food cart goers hovering around my table demanding to know: 'What is that?!' Meanwhile, as the rain poured down, we sat happily under the pod’s covered seating and sipped on creamy, not-too-sweet horchata and a twist on pineapple tepache—lose the fermentation, add blueberries and raspberries for a refreshing, punchy purple drink.
But these three dishes don’t even scrape the surface of Mole Mole’s offerings. There’s also green mole on offer, on its own or over enchiladas. Vegans and vegetarians can join the party too with dishes like tofu mole enchiladas, soyrizo burritos, soy tinga tacos, and vegan horchata. The chile rellenos look like fluffy fried pillows of heaven, according to Mole Mole’s Instagram.
There aren’t many other places in town where you can find pescado empapelado, or foil-wrapped fish, and the burrito del mar filled with shrimp or fish and topped with creamy salsa looks like an indulgent knife-and-fork deal. To drink, Brenda recommends the agua verde, which blends up honeydew melon and cucumber. She's also partial to the sopes topped with your choice of protein (a childhood favorite of hers) and the birria made with freshly sliced maguey leaves (a type of agave leaves).
We're still puzzled as to how a small cart can successfully juggle such a huge menu all while washing those pretty dishes at the same time. This is a spot we could see ourselves frequenting several times a week—and with a menu like this, there’s plenty to come back for.
Mole Mole Mexican Cuisine, 2231 NE Alberta St, 503-714-3662, @molemole_mexicancuisine