Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fun Playing With Mexican Food at the Mall

Usually, the mall is not where I go expecting to enjoy cooked-from-scratch food made with real ingredients. For a while, the one exception to this rule had been the Richmond Mall, located at 651 Richmond Road, Richmond Heights, Ohio 44143. I used to love the Indian booth in the food court, which offered spicy made-to-order goodness, but that stand closed several years ago. I hadn't been in this mall in a very long time, then an errand at JC Penny's summoned me. Since it was lunchtime, I figured lunch would come from one of the less objectionable chains in what remained of the food court (the pizza place isn't bad).  

Then I saw the signpost, up ahead, where Arthur Treacher's had previously doled out greasy fried things for an eternity:


I'd never heard of it before - but surely, it was part of some new plastic-food franchise, right? Wrong!

While I perused the small menu, the young lady at the register told me a little about Rodrigo's. Family-owned by two men who dreamed of a full brick-and-mortar restaurant, but could only afford to open a food court stand, Rodrigo's Mexican Food offers food that is made from scratch, mostly to order, together with house-made condiments and a lovely selection of Jarritos (Mexican sodas) and Horchata (a Mexican drink made with rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon). Coke products are also available, on tap. One of the owners was around, but was in conversation with someone in the seating area and not behind the stand, so I didn't get to chat with him. But according to their Facebook page, Rodrigo's opened in August 2011.


Prices range from $1.99 for a single taco, to $6.99 for a Torta, or sandwich (the daily special pairs the Carne Asada (Steak) Torta with a fountain drink for $6.99). The previously slimy, smelly kitchen had been scrubbed to within an inch of it's life, and stainless steal equipment gleamed over the now-pristine surroundings, all visible through the service window. 

Sadly, on that first visit, not only were my cameras AWOL, but even my cell phone was absent, so no photos. I ordered one each of the three meat tacos, served on soft, warm corn tortillas that are locally sourced (not Orale, but pretty good). The Carne Asada, Carnitas (shredded pork) and Pastor (marinated pork - my favorite of the three) were all delicious, topped with a perfect dusting of cotija cheese instead of the usual plastic-shredded cheddar. I also ordered a side of beans and rice, and the friendly counter person offered me three house-made sauces to enjoy with my meal. Mild, medium and hot, all three popped with fresh flavors. The beans and rice didn't wow me, but the tacos and sauces sure did, and I promised to return with camera in hand soon. 

Today presented my first opportunity to return, for a late lunch. I asked about the Chile Rellenos - most places around here either make them and freeze them, or start with frozen product from food service, because they don't sell as well as tacos, burritos, etc. The young counterman assured me that these were not frozen, so Rellenos it was! When he asked if I wanted beans and rice, I said yes, but didn't expect much, especially since it was well after 2pm, when rice is often dry and hard. Then, the cook told him to hold on a moment, as he was about to hand over my tray, because there were corn tortillas on the grill for my plate! None of the beans, rice or tortillas were mentioned on the menu, so be sure to ask what's included before  you order and you may be pleasantly surprised. My tab, including a small tap pop, was about $8. 

This post is being written right after consuming this lunch, because it was that good! First, the food photos, with a caveat. The owner, who was working in the kitchen (and told me his name, but with his heavy accent and the mall noise, I'm quite sure I didn't get it correctly), said that he gave me two chilies instead of the usual one, because these were his last two and he needed to make more (the implication was that it didn't make sense to him to keep one older one around if he was making a fresh batch). So, please remember that this is a double portion of the entree:

Fresh, Grilled Corn Tortillas (3)


2 Chile Rellenos Stuffed with Cheese, Beans & Rice



Since there is nothing more watery-nasty than a frozen chile, and since I had seen a dish with my entree heat in the microwave, I prepared myself in case I had chosen poorly. But it hadn't been frozen. It had been fried and chilled prior to service (hence the microwave re-heat), but the flavors were spot on delicious. Even though the textures of both the pepper and the batter did lose a little, it was unmistakably Poblano and irresistibly tasty! The fried, cheese-stuffed pepper had been topped before the re-heat with a fresh sauce containing tomato, sauteed onions and more peppers, which had a perfect chile heat that was complex, yet mild enough for most diners. I loved every bite of this dish, and scooped up the delicious sauce with the tortillas once I was out of chilies (given the extra chile, three tortillas proved too many, however, for a one chile meal, the three tortillas would probably be just the right amount of food). 

And the beans this time were simply fabulous! Slightly smokey, with a lush mouthfeel, and served hot, these  beans weren't just forkable - they needed to be scooped up with tortillas until they were gone (as in, plate licking good)! The rice was soft and hot, and dressed with just the right amount of hot sauce to produce a gentle tingle. But those beans - I had to know what was in them! The owner explained that he renders pork fat when he cooks his carnitas down, and uses that lovely lard in his bean pot. Oh, yes.

I am already looking forward to trying a Torta, and perhaps some Flautas, Enchiladas and Burritos on future visits, and more of those silky beans. Fun playing with Mexican food at the mall??? Yes, you can, at Rodrigo's Mexican Food stand at Richmond Mall!

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