Momocho was one of the first places in Cleveland that I had put on my list. I saw it on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (apparently… because I just had to Google it to figure out where I had seen it…). It was a place that I hadn’t been to for a couple reasons. First, it’s on the west side of town and I live and work on the east. And while it is only 20 minutes away at best, it’s still a bit of a haul. And second, I didn’t have anyone to go with that would justify making that haul (same reason I haven’t been to Lucky’s Cafe). But, thanks to recent developments, I’ve since rectified the second excuse which in turn solved the first. So having no reason not to make the trek all the way to the west side…which is seriously maybe four more minutes than my commute home anyway…it was time to give Momocho a try. It helps that they have a happy hour that Ashley really likes…
To properly enjoy happy hour, I started by leaving work early…figuring that’s part of the reason it’s called happy hour. But I got there arguably too early, so we decided to stop and grab a beer at Market Garden Brewery. Of course we couldn’t really decide what we wanted, so we just ordered the build your own sampler. You get to pick six of their beers, and they bring you a pour of each. It’s a great way to try the variety that they offer for not too much money. The winner for me was the Wallace Tavern Scotch Ale, narrowly defeating the Pearl Street Wheat (which would have probably won on a hot summer day instead of a cool, cloudy spring one). After finishing our samples, and paying our tab we headed off to Momocho for some happy hour grub.
So why did it take me three paragraphs to finally get to Momocho? Because the moral of the story is don’t be late to happy hour, especially if you want to sit in the bar. Turns out if you have good food and good drinks people will show up, and they aren’t going to be in a hurry to leave. Who would have thought? We ordered a couple of margaritas and tried to loiter near the bar hoping that someone would leave before 6:30 so we could swoop in and grab a table or bar stool in enough time to order some of the half-priced taquitos. Didn’t happen. But, undeterred, and faced with the option of multiple available seats at like 6:40, we decided to stick it out for the full price meal. I mean we were there and Eric Williams is in fact a James Beard award nominee. Seemed rude to go somewhere else…
The goal of the evening was taquitos, and that’s where the attention went. I was drawn to the machaca (coffee and ancho beef brisket) and pibil (braised pork) while Ashley’s eye wandered to the atun (tuna) and the pescado (mahi mahi). We ended up with beef and tuna options. But fearing that wouldn’t be quite enough food, and hardly a fair sample of Chef Williams’ cuisine, we decided to go for a chile relleno as well which actually came out first. Between the fact that we were hungry and the fact that it smelled so dang good, we were easily three bites in before it even dawned on me to take a picture…which is why you see a half eating chile (you have to pronounce it cheee – lay to get the full effect). The chile was stuffed with roasted vegetables, fried, topped with a melty, gooey, fantastic gouda and served on top of a slightly sweet, slightly spicy tomato sauce. It had a little bit of crunch and a little sweet heat, and was just fantastic. I barely had time to take the picture before we polished it off (and you may even be able to see a fork coming in for another bite…).
Now came the taquitos which couldn’t have been more than five minutes behind. These weren’t exactly what I was thinking when I heard taquitos. I was more of the mind of three rolled and fried, crunchy snacks. You were thinking that too, weren’t you?? Don’t lie… Instead what showed up was a bowl full of beef, onions and peppers, two sauces, and a whole container of warm corn tortillas. Literally, build your own little tacos. I started with a slather of guac, a heaping of beef and veggies, and topped it with a little salsa verde. As I took my first bite, with juice running down my hand, I realized why this was a favorite happy hour spot. The flavors were nice. The meat wasn’t too over-spiced, the peppers and onions gave a nice bit of texture and a little acidity, and the guac was cool and creamy. The only drawback was that the meat was a bit dry (though this was remedied later as I got to the meat that had been sitting there soaking the braising juices at the bottom) and the salsa verde was a just a little bland.
After a couple taquitos, I finally remembered that I had company and she had something different that she was willing to let me try. So I made another taquito with a little bit of perfectly seared Ahi, some blood orange marmelada, and a little bit of guac. Now that was an awesome bite. The tuna was moist and meaty and cooked perfectly. It was completely balanced by the sweet from the marmelada and the creaminess of the guac. I have to admit, I was a little envious of her choice.
We pretty much made our way through both dishes before finally throwing in the towel. And while offered dessert, we declined in favor of heading out in the search for something different. I thoroughly enjoyed myself that evening. The food was good. The company was great. And I was very happy that I had skipped work and made the trek to check it out. I’m looking forward to the opportunity for a return to try the many different taquitos (the chicharones, pibil and pato are all high on the list) as well as the dish that initially landed it on my radar…the smoked trout guacamole.