A group of nine Chowhounds met last week at Mission Villa Restaurant and were greeted with a menu that states "Food is our healing, healing is our food." Over the course of a couple of hours were many plates of delicious indigenous Mexican foods. Mission Villa is owned by Miguel A. Aguilar-Zapata, who served us himself.
Here's what we had:
- Quesadillas de huitlacoche (corn black mushroom). Served with Mexican cream and fresh home salsa. "a must". Everyone at the table agreed that this was one of the star dishes.
- Quesadillas de tinga, hongos (chicken or mushrooms). I don't remember much about this dish - another chowhound may be able to chime in.
- Sopes con pollo (chicken & chorizo). Delicious. The sopes were light and thinner than some, which was a plus in my book. The sope was a perfect base to set off the chicken with chorizo topping.
- Almejas Ahumadas (smoked clams with cilantro and red sauce). One chowhound declared this to be "canned clams with grandma's sauce". Great tasting, but not an extraordinary culinary feat here.
- Huevos de codorniz en pico de Gallo (Quail's eggs). Hard-boiled quails eggs in a pinkish pico de gallo sauce. Opinions on this varied from great to just so-so.
- Sope con Chapulines (grasshoppers) and Chapulines served alone. Chapulines are prepared by soaking them in water and lime, and then cooked with garlic and chile de arbol. The chapulines served alone were in a bowl with a serrano chile on the side. They were bit crispy and very small - approximately 15-25 would fit into a teaspoon. They were a taste explosion in your mouth, and great to snack on. Review from the table were positive, and I was surprised at how much I liked them, as I mostly just tasted them to be adventurous. Most preferred them loose in a bowl to the sope. On the sope, they were served with black beans and Mexican crema.
- Miguel brought us a tlayuda to try. This is a flat, thin fried corn tortilla that is fairly large in diameter - about 10" I would guess. It was mostly eaten with the chapulines, and different sauces.
Many of the dishes were served with a green salad and a green dressing that was wonderfully fresh tasting. The green dressing is created from greens in the kitchen - varies from day to day, dependent upon what they have. Leaves could be anything - carrot tops, spinach leaves, onion tops, malva. Malva is an herb that Miguel uses as a healing herb ... he said that it's "good for women" and it tastes very fresh and herbaceous. Further investigation tells me that Malva is also know and Musk Mallow - a perennial with a white or pink flower. Good for reducing inflammation and gastrointestinal irritations, and can be used in cooking.
- Enchiladas Aguascalientes. Mole enchiladas topped with green peas, carrots, potatoes, chorizo salad and Mexican cream. This was a hit. "Chew toy" says "I liked the heartiness of that dish best. Had an almost stew-like consistency and very balanced flavors. One of the few dishes that wasn't chili-heavy. Nice contrast with the other dishes." "Windy" stated "It was soft and spongy and not too soggy like a regular enchilada with too much sauce"
- Mole verde con pollo. Worked well with the rice. "one dimensional". "would have liked more spice". The mole is made with pepitas. Resulted in a delicious chicken. I personally loved this dish. It was the first time I had eaten mole verde, however, so I don't have much of a comparison point.
- Mixiote de Conejo (rabbit) and Mixiote Carnero (lamb). "Mixiote" refers to the preparation. Prepared in adobo and then wrapped in leaves - banana, avocado, or yerba santa in Mission Villa's case. Traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground. The conejo was wrapped in banana leaves with red sauce and avocado leaves. It had a good taste, but was a little dry. One chowhound stated "I would've like to chew that bone". The carnero was probably the least favorite dish of the bunch - too dry and chewy, though the spices used in the preparation were interesting.
- Tamal de Mole con pollo. Homemade tamale wrapped in banana leaves. When cut open looks dry and boring, but it is a "taste explosion". "Great taste." "Unexpected". This was a favorite.
- Ensalada de Nopales / Cactus Salad. Served very plain. Thick strips of Nopales with tomato, onion, avocado, and a little vinegar.
- Nopales con Mole. Even though the mole was put over the nopales, the nopales retained their crispness. A truly wonderful dish in the thick rich mole. Miguel prepared his mole with cacao beans, and it was definitely a star of the table. The nopales perfectly complemented the mole.
Many of the dishes were served with a delicious green rice. This seemed to be prepared with a chicken broth, and Miguel confirmed that it is the same type of green sauce as the dressing. Everyone agreed that the rice was wonderful. As with many of the dishes, it was surprising how much taste was imparted from a boring looking rice dish.
- Flan Mexicano. Not like any other flan I have tried. It was very dense, and you could "stick your spoon up in it". More like creamy peanut butter in it's texture. Delicious. Served decorated with edible rose petals.
- Tamal de Chocolate. This is a very old recipe. Made with cacao bean and cinnamon, along with the tamale masa. No added sugar. Interesting. As "ciaogina" said, "It's definitely chocolate, and definitely a tamale."
- Capirotada (Bread Pudding). With piloncillo (sugar cane), cinnamon, peanuts, nuts and raisins. This was fine. The complaint was that it was made with Mexican bread, which tends to get very soggy.
The dishes are from central Mexico - Guerrero, Moreles and Oaxaca States. Miguel believes that the most important thing about food from this region is the types of herbs that are used to flavor the foods. He uses approximately 30-40 on a regular basis.
Consensus around the table was that this restaurant was a definite "hit". We all left making plans to return. The graciousness of the owner definitely added to the experience. He was very generous with his time, and patiently answered our (unending) questions. He gave us a flyer with a history of the food and the restaurant. His biography says that he is an herbalist practitioner, educator and traditional chef. He specializes in organic and medicinal indigenous cuisine which he uses at his restaurant. At one point in the meal, he proudly declared that we chowhounds "eat like Mexicans" -- a compliment speaking to the fact that we ate lots of dishes family style.
2773 24th Street
(between Potrero and York)