At Juan's Restaurante, it seems as if Chef Juan Mondragon cooks with two themes in mind, pleasurepalate says. The first is to show off the cuisine of pre-Hispanic Mexico, which results in a menu of 10 sophisticated moles and many other culinary delights. The second would be to offer a tremendous variety of recipes made with nopal (or prickly pear cactus), which supposedly has various health benefits.
The tasty nopal empanada is stuffed with squash blossom, and it's a bright green color because the pastry is made with cactus and lime juice. It's delightfully light and flaky, pleasurepalate says, due to the fibrous nature of the cactus. The nopal empanada stuffed with huitlacoche is earthier and smokier, and the crunchy cactus salad has absolutely no sliminess to it whatsoever.
For those who are more meat oriented, Juan's serves an incredible cochinita pibil taco. The spicy pork is marinated in mandarin orange juice. "It certainly woke up my taste buds and made them stand at attention," pleasurepalate says.
Then there are the must-try moles. Chef Mondragon developed his recipe with the help of LA's famed mole-master, Rocio Camacho. Among the varieties offered at Juan's are pumpkin seed, huitlacoche, guava and passion fruit, and pine nut and almond. pleasurepalate was fascinated by the subtle differences between the mole negro, a chocolate mole, and the smokier mole poblano. Both were rich, complex, and dark.
pleasurepalate's absolute favorite was mole de nopal, which had a wonderful green herbiness. "As a food lover, if you've never had mole, you're truly missing out on something special," pleasurepalate says. "When done right, a mole sauce can show complexity and have layers of flavor that would simply amaze you."
Juan's Restaurante [Inland Empire]
4291 Maine Avenue, Baldwin Park