It’s been long reported, and oft lamented, that the state of authentic Mexican cuisine isn’t sufficiently robust in our town. Last year, I toured northeast Las Vegas in search of one great Mexican dinner, and failed in my quest. But, happily for you, dear reader, and not so much for me, it turns out I was remiss in my judgment.
Which brings us to Los Molcajetes, the discovery of one of my peers, a man who also happens to be someone I pride in beating to the punch. He recently trumpeted the virtues of this place in his blog, arousing both my suspicion and my curiosity. And right he was.
Los Molcajetes is located in North Las Vegas, and a few friends who are intimidated by the neighborhood suggested I would be better served to go for lunch. That idea strikes me as silly, so I made it a point to go for dinner.
At dusk, Eastern Avenue is relatively quiet, populated by working people at bus stops, mothers pushing strollers and day laborers returning to their homes. Most street signs in this neck of the woods are in Spanish. Los Molcajetes, a cash-only, modestly decorated cottage, serves some of the best Mexican food in the city.
The atmosphere at Los Molcajetes is positively charming. The terra cotta tile floor and walls painted a dusky yellow are complemented by kitsch such as ceramic birds hanging from metal perches holding replicas of Corona beer bottles, a Diego Rivera-esque mural and a faux tile roof dotted with tiny sombreros shielding the kitchen.
Seating is on sturdy wooden chairs, and the tables are set with about five different kinds of hot sauces. If you come early for dinner—say, between 5 and 6 p.m.—then you’ll be spared the exposure to Spanish-language music blaring from the obligatory jukebox.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word molcajete, it is a small, three-legged cauldron, usually made of cast iron. Many Mexican restaurants use small, plastic versions of molcajetes to hold the salsa that accompanies the tortilla chips, and this restaurant is no exception. The complimentary chips at Los Molcajetes are served hot, with a watery salsa spiked with green chile. Don’t fill up on them. Better things are to come.
- Los Molcajetes
- 1553 N. Eastern Ave., North Las Vegas. 633-7595.
- Open Thursday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Suggested dishes: green chile burrito, $2.50; chicken mole, $8.99; combination molcajete, $16.99.
Eventually, you are going to order one of the giant house molcajetes, invented by a chef named Roberto Arte, who runs the restaurant along with his mother, Ovidia. But first, it’s a good idea to try some of the smaller dishes, such as the fish taco made with tilapia, or the green chile burrito stuffed with green chile pork, simply the best burrito I’ve had in Vegas.
There is also an abundance of seafood on this menu. Los Molcajetes also bills itself as a marisqueria, Spanish for seafood restaurant. So the menu is well-stocked with shrimp and fish, as well as the odd pulpo—or octopus—preparation. Shrimp, for instance, are done in 18 different ways, from a classic mojo de ajo, sautéed in a garlicky butter sauce, to a searing habañero sauce, laced with the lethal chile that makes men cry and women scream.
Fish, which could be snapper, sea bass or tilapia, depending on what is fresh that day, are done in classic Mexican styles, such as pan fried, in chipotle sauce, with onions or in oyster sauce, among many choices. They all come with plates of fluffy, fragrant Mexican rice, a puddle of goopy refried beans, lettuce, tomato, a halved avocado and either corn or flour tortillas, your call.
But since the star dish here is the eponymous molcajete, I’d advise going that route, at least on your initial visit. The cauldron is filled with your choice of beef, chicken, ribs or shrimp, in a dark red, spicy sauce, to which nopales, or cactus, green onion, avocado and a touch of, I’m guessing, habañero chile has been added. If you order the combination, which serves two or more, you get shredded chicken, beef that crisps up against the hot sides of the pot and lots of shrimp in the shell.
Take a tortilla and create your next mouthful. It’s a unique experience, to say the least.
If you’re so inclined, Los Molcajetes does a fall-off-the-bone-tender chicken mole, and good caldos, or homemade soups. Beer goes well with these dishes, as do Jarritos, sugary sweet, fruity sodas imported straight from Mexico—like the cooking.