Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
As I continue to compile adages, razors and conundrums relating to food, I’d like to propose the Taqueria Correlation. This framework holds that the higher the prices and the nicer the ambience, the greater the chance of things going off the culinary rails.
I thought I’d put this correlation to the test at Lyons’ Mojo Taqueria, a moderately priced eatery with a casual atmosphere that’s certainly inviting in a bright and airy way.
The menu is solidly rooted in such old taco standbys as carnitas, Baja fish and chicken tinga. But there’s also an array of new-school fillings like Korean beef and fried avocado. Tostadas are also on tap, as are a variety of main course plates, including enchiladas and carne asada.
Service is top notch here, and the staff’s attentiveness and speed were closer to what one would expect at a fine dining establishment than a humble taco joint just off the main drag. Drinks and chips were promptly refilled and the casually dressed staff uniformly exuded the kind of professionalism that only comes with hard-earned experience. It’s also worth noting that Mojo was surprisingly busy during a weeknight dinner, and it certainly had the feel of a popular locals’ hangout.
From the expansive starters selection, we kicked things off with a $10 offering of chips, salsa and guacamole. While the crisp and thin chips weren’t of the warm variety, they still delivered when it came to crunchy satisfaction. A tomatillo chipotle salsa was dark scarlet with a spot-on mix of smoky and fruity tones. The guacamole was less successful, over seasoned with cumin, and closer in texture to pureed rather than chunky.
Redemption came in the form of a small $5 order of queso fundido, augmented by tomato and mild rajas peppers. This addictive cheese dip prompted our table’s need for additional chips given its wonderfully rich and creamy flavor. I would definitely order this on future visits, and would be likely to spring for the addition of chorizo the next time around.
Another fine starter was the $4 elotes, corn cut into easy to manage chunks and dressed with seasonings of lime and chile pepper, cotija cheese, cilantro and chipotle aioli. Mojo successfully balanced these assertive ingredients, adroitly mixing tart, creamy and spicy elements in a way that still played up the corn’s compelling sweetness.
As main course options go, two tacos with beans and rice are available for $11 and for another two dollars one can opt for a taco trio. When it came to the beans, my companions and I preferred the black variant over the charros, which suffered from the same over-seasoning issue as the guacamole.
The individual tacos were uniformly fine, all spotlighting high quality ingredients and first rate preparation. A Korean beef take featured tender sweet and savory meat, nicely set off by lively kimchi. Grilled fish showcased optimally prepared seafood, accompanied by appropriately bright cabbage slaw, accented by lime and cilantro. Another winner was the surprisingly hefty fried avocado, crusted in panko and enlivened by pico de gallo. Last but not least, an excellent braised chicken tinga spotlighted moist and tender poultry carrying warming tones of chipotle and tomato.
Simply put, the $13 short rib burrito was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. I spent an extra buck to have it served Christmas-style, drizzled with both green chile and a red mole-like sauce. While the green chile was more acidic than I would have liked, I enjoyed the smoky complexity of the red sauce, a fine condiment.
This formidable burrito, about the size of a U.S. Navy zeppelin, was most generously proportioned, and I had the leftovers for both breakfast and dinner the next day. The star attraction was the tender and flavorful meat, which retained an appealingly moist texture and was matched to a just-right amount of black beans and rice.
One of my dining companions unequivocally stated that a deceptively humble $5 order of churros was a new personal favorite. It was hard to argue that point, as the piping hot churros possessed a pleasantly crispy exterior, dotted with sugar and cinnamon, and a delightful cake-like interior, garnished with a most potent dark chocolate sauce.
Mojo does a nifty job of staying true to Mexican street fare traditions. Furthermore, this compelling spot makes me rethink the Taqueria Correlation. This inviting taqueria successfully and creatively builds upon traditional offerings in a most successful manner while offering ambience and service exceeding that of most holes in the wall.