It is shocking to find the elegant, upscale plating and delicate flavors of Las Cazuelas in a quiet corner of a large strip mall. It’s especially surprising given menu prices that are not much more than at a taco truck. Las Cazuelas (named for the large circular pans that decorate the walls) is a mom and pop restaurant serving food the proprietors know well and love dearly. You can taste the harmony.
Things start well with bold habenero-tomatillo table salsa that sets into a perfect gel. The chips that come with it are mediocre, which probably is a good thing. You don’t want to destroy your appetite on salsa. More, better things are to come.
Enchiladas de mole Poblano is a grand meal, the mole very traditional and well-balanced. It leads with chocolate — not too sweet — and finishes with smoky chile. Rice and creamy beans make this the type of plate you’d expect in a high-end Mexican restaurant.
As good as the enchiladas are, we actually prefer snacks at Las Cazuelas. Traditional Poblano bread-based bites are thoughtfully presented like gastropub small plates. Chanclas are basically wet sliders: pulled chicken and avocado sandwiches on spongy bread completely doused in a chili sauce with charred crumbs of chorizo. They are artistically crowned with halos of onion. The sauce is more bitter than sweet and tastes mostly of dried chilies. Molletes are sometimes described as Mexican bruschetta. These dressed rolls show a clear Spanish tapas influence. Halved bollilo rolls are spread with creamy refried beans then topped with a layer of milky mozzarella cheese and pico de gallo.
Make sure to save room for at least one taco arabe. This Poblano specialty, a creation of Lebanese immigrants, is a puffy flour tortilla filled with cumin-marinated pork. Classically, this is done on a shawarma-like vertical spit, but here the meat simply is marinated, chopped, and finished with chipotle sauce that mimics the chili sauces of the Middle East. The meat is seasoned heavily with epazote, which plays very well with the cumin. The spicy, herbaceous meat and the smoky hot salsa bring new flavors to a familiar snack.