Having grown up for a few years in Tucson I know a thing or two about Mexican food. One thing I know is the odds of finding authentic Mexican food in Connecticut are no better than the odds of being struck by lightning while riding a unicycle on a high wire.
There are tons of Mexican restaurants in this state, but they are all bogus, chains (Taco Bell), or just plain bad. So How did Mexicali Rose sneak into a strip mall in Newtown, Connecticut, many years ago and become the cult favorite that it is?
The answer to that question is one word: Minerva. Minerva Hidalgo, with her husband, Marklin Hidalgo, are the heartbeat of this fall-down fabulous place.
It is a small restaurant, maybe eight tables, and the décor is Mexican tchotchkes, South of the Border kitsch, Technicolor calendars, and a help-yourself soda fridge featuring Mexican Coke (the drinking kind).
As soon as tortilla chips and dynamite red salsa hit the table, you know that whatever will follow will be sensational. It is an abbreviated menu, not filled with extraneous stuff no one need bother with, but what is there is the real McCoy. Let me start with mole (rhymes with olé). Good mole is difficult to make and harder to find. There are many different moles (poblano and negro to name two) but all the great ones have between twenty and thirty ingredients: chiles, chocolate, tomatillos, and anise are a few. The mole at Mexicali Rose is blazing with different taste layers. It comes on a huge slab of roast pork, and it is tempting to not even touch the pork, but slurp up the entire mole. You can get a side of mole, and ask for some tortillas to dip it in and you have a meal.
I rarely order shrimp in Mexican restaurants because they usually are not good. Again, Mexicali Rose is a revelation. Huge fresh shrimp are slathered with a creamy white poblano sauce and served nestled in a tortilla with perfect refried beans and Spanish rice on the side. This is a dish that I order every time I am here. I just can’t get enough.
My vegetarian friend Noreen told me that the meatless dishes at Mexicali Rose are also sensational, and she was right. Cloud-like burritos burst with avocados, queso fresca, beans, lettuce, toasted pumpkin seeds, and salsa. Black Bean soup, made from scratch, is sprinkled with cilantro, sour cream and raw onion. It is simple and really the perfect food for cold weather.