Let it Be Hot in the Kitchen and Cool in the Valley: El Molcajete Mexican Grill
I like my Mexican food sizzling and the Rogue Valley not sizzling. Since I lost my home in the Almeda fire, I have poetic license to say this. And there is a fire safety point to my story along with a great restaurant review.
On a Wednesday afternoon, my friend and I met at El Molcajete Mexican Grill on North Phoenix Road. This is one of their three locations in the Valley, and the owners have creatively morphed the dining room into a split indoor and outdoor arrangement. Taking advantage of the sunshine and open air back at a restaurant for the first time after more than 365 days of ordering in, felt fantastic. Even if we were just looking out at a sea of cars, being outdoors in the springtime was a delight. More so when the Margaritas arrived— salty and refreshing. Ahhhhh.
A few sips into my drink, I was pleasantly surprised to see some tasty sounding vegetarian options on the menu; I opted for the Veggie Enchiladas. My friend bemoaned how she cannot find any decent chile rellenos outside of Colorado (I agree) and decided on the Street Tacos. When the plates arrived, they were bigger than the table would allow! The middle of the patio table, reserved for night-time ambience and heat (I guessed it was a propane apparatus), took away space. We did not get to experience this part, but I bet it would make for a great evening vibe if you did not flip a hot plate into your lap or set your tacos on fire.
Two large enchiladas filled with steamed broccoli, zucchini, carrots and colorful peppers and onions topped with melted cheese accompanied by white rice and whole pinto beans were on my entree plate; ready for me to feast on whole-heartedly. They were robust and offered a good profile of combined flavors, but they could have brought more heat. Ask for hot sauce or let the waiter know you can handle more. Otherwise, my plate was delicious and satiating. I may have missed the Mexican coleslaw that the menu mentioned, or it was not there, but I was full even with a healthy menu option.
Equally satisfying, were the Tacos al Carbon my friend ordered, which was also enormous. Each well-filled Taco held together beautifully during bites. She was beyond satisfied and since Mexican food is a favorite of hers and she worked in the food and beverage industry for many years, this is a huge compliment. Dessert was complimentary and covered in whip cream with a drizzle of chocolate, so I was thrilled.
After feeling full, happy, and warm, we ventured up the concrete walkway toward the Cupcake Factory, which is in the same plaza. There was a strong smell of smoke. Was it from the establishment we just left or controlled burns? No such luck. The dirt, near the sidewalk, itself appeared to be smoking. Being extremely fire aware, I enthusiastically stomped the ground and kicked the dirt. My friend did the same. Moments later, the wisps and swirls reappeared. Had I eaten the worm from the Tequila bottle and experienced visions?
A Cupcake Company’s hard-working employee joined our quest to put out the underground fire. It took a carafe of water and diligent ground scraping to clear the air. Our forensics revealed that someone had dumped a smoldering ashtray out on a small patch of earth that included mulch. Wood that is quite flammable. In fact, it can create embers underground that would be invisible from above until ignited.
So, let us all be advised to keep the heat in the kitchen whenever possible, do our part to report fires, and stay vigilant while we enjoy what the Valley has to offer for food and beverage. Keep the heat in the kitchen this Summer! Ole!
El Molcajete Mexican Grill
960 N. Phoenix Rd., Medford