ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are many regional Mexican cuisines – enough that to simply call a restaurant “Mexican” could be missing many of the nuances of the vast country. At Delicias Cafe, the food is definitely central Mexican with focus paid to cheeses, sauces and meats instead of the fish-oriented coastal regions.
The cafe recently opened in Albuquerque after years honing the trade in Las Cruces and El Paso; it occupies the former Perennials space and is a welcome change. Delicias is a city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua from where the original owners hail. To get there you’d drive from Albuquerque to Ciudad Juarez, and then drive the same distance again, due south. Thankfully, no such road trip is needed when you can have all their homemade food seven days a week.
Central Mexico is home to dishes unlikely to appear on your average Mexican-American restaurant menu. The first is Sopes ($4.60), a starter with a hearty masa base and fillings of chile-stewed meat or refried beans. They serve that undeniable desire for salty-crunchy appetizers, just like egg rolls or bruschetta.
LOCATION: 6001 San Mateo NE (near Osuna), 830-6561, www.deliciascafe.com
HOURS: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Related somewhat to Sopes are Gorditas ($7.85 meal plate), also a small masa patty but split and filled pita-style with goodies like meat, cheese or beans. Delicias’ are a little greasy, but gordita newbies should still give them a whirl.
All that tender and tasty fried masa is incredibly filling and might threaten the main course – sharing is a good idea unless your entrée is a small bowl of the Caldo de Res, a beef and vegetable soup without equal in all of Albuquerque.
Heartier entrées start with enchiladas in varieties that could seem strange to a New Mexican food fan but are normal in Chihuahua. They are still filled with meat or cheese, but you’ll see that’s the only similarity when the plate of folded corn tortillas arrives looking almost like smothered tacos. Your sauce choices are as enveloping as a grandmother’s hug, from mole to suizas to chile verde ($7.40). These silky sauces range from the tangy sour cream suizas (named after Switzerland) to a rich and mildly spicy chile verde.
Mole Poblano is tricky to get right, especially at short-order restaurants. The complexity demands a long time cooking and just the right ingredients, which means that many restaurants use too much chocolate or salt to cover up other faults. Luckily, Delicias is closer to the real deal than most – the sauce is just a little too sweet but still quite good, with layers of spices to round out each bite.
You can have this sauce over chicken, but my recent favorite is Chilaquiles Mole ($6.40), a breakfast platter of the gods. Here’s how you make Chilaquiles: put a bunch of soft corn tortillas in a hot pan and dump sauce all over it, cooking and scrambling it into softness. Top with some eggs and I call that a darn good breakfast.