- Garett Fisbeck
- Tamales at Tarahumara's in Norman, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.
Though my trip to the popular Norman restaurant wasnt inspired by his question, it was a nice bit of serendipity that Oklahoma Gazette reader Barrett Nuzum asked me via Twitter, Is there any good, authentic mole in OKC? Wife and I were watching @oeta and now have a hankering.
Yes! Yes! Un mil times yes!
Mole (pronounced MOE-lay) shows up at several local Mexican restaurants, but if youre willing to drive a little way south, Tarahumaras Mexican Cafe & Cantina, 702 N. Porter Ave., in Norman is the version that stole my heart. The mole poblano ($9.75 lunch, $14.95 dinner) features big pieces of chicken covered in a creamy, dark brown sauce.
A brief confession about my eating habits: Watch your hands. Years of ever-shorter school lunch breaks and vying with my little brother for the last helping of mashed potatoes turned me into a voracious eater.
Usually, thats evident with Mexican food when the vortex that is my mouth devours a plate of enchiladas and a couple of tacos in a matter of minutes. Not so with the mole, and if youre a fast eater like me, I implore you to take a little extra time with this dish.
The slow-cooked sauce is sweet and bitter thanks to the prominent inclusion of chocolate in the recipe. The flavor is so rich and deep that it deserves the full attention of both mind and taste buds to parse every nuance on the tongue. It also masks some serious heat, which is another good reason to savor each bite.
The chicken is fork-tender and juicy, though its flavor is largely inconsequential because nothing can stand up to the sauce.
Those looking for a more subtle taste should consider Tarahumaras tamale dinner ($9.75 lunch, $12.90 dinner). The corn masa outer shell is mildly sweet, and it comes wrapped around your choice of chicken or pork.
The red chili pork is the tastier of two fillings if the tamales are served plain, as they come at lunch. But at dinner, either choice is good with the restaurants chili con carne over the top.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Sour cream chicken enchilada? at Tarahumara's in Norman, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.
Sour cream chicken enchiladas ($9.20 lunch, $11.85 dinner) only seem simple when theyre done correctly, as they are at Tarahumaras. The chicken is moist. The corn tortilla wrapped around it is soft enough to be cut with the side of a fork, yet strong enough to make the trip from the scorching plate (the server isnt kidding about it being hot) to your mouth without falling apart. Best of all, the sour cream sauce stays together. Theres nothing quite so disappointing as a fairly straightforward sauce that comes to the table broken (i.e. the fat has separated from the rest of the sauce).
Its a matter of attention to detail, which this Mexican eatery has down pat. Servers and cooks who are focused on the customer wont let a dish leave the kitchen looking sub-par. Tarahumaras is full of veteran employees who care about every step of the process.
Another example: Watch servers bus tables. NASCAR pit crews should come in to take notes on how quickly and efficiently each table is cleared, cleaned and set for the next group of customers.
Mexican restaurants are high-volume food service centers, and the team working at Tarahumaras clearly knows what its doing.
Watch them before the food comes, though, because itll be nearly impossible to take your eyes off the plate as your server delivers a sizzling skillet of costillas a la parrilla Tarahumara ($13.75).
- Garett Fisbeck
- Costillas a la parrilla tarahumara at Tarahumara's in Norman, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.
Similar to fajitas, this dish of grilled pork ribs comes with sliced onion and bell pepper slowly melting on a cast iron plate. But instead of strips of steak or chicken, diners are greeted with ultra-tender meat in a spicy sauce.
Check out the balancing act the cooks mastered with these ribs. Pick one up and it holds together, but apply any pressure from teeth or a fork and the meat falls right off the bone. Its the perfect compromise for those who cant decide between Mexican food and barbecue.
Though it doesnt come with all the flash and sizzle of costillas, theres something quite striking about a plate of chile Colorado ($9.75 lunch, $13.95 dinner). Maybe its that bold red hue that gives the sauce a signature flair. Or maybe its the way people began gulping water and pouring frozen margaritas in their mouths after a couple of bites.
The point is its hot. The sauce is either red because its made of slowly braised spicy red peppers or because its made of lava that hasnt had a chance to cool. Either way, the stew is delicious. Chunks of pork and potato soak up the sauce so each bite is a burst of fiery flavor.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Chile Colorado at Tarahumara's in Norman, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.
Chile Colorado is reason enough to get a frozen swirl (thats frozen margarita and sangria swirled together), but so is wanting a delightful beverage to start off a fun night out.
Tarahumaras is a perfect spot for a lively gathering of friends since theres plenty of seating inside and out and the noise level is right on for people who like to get a little loud. And theres a nice selection of Mexican beers served in big, frosted glass goblets for those seeking lower-point drinks.
Whatever you eat (or drink), save some room for a dessert of churros (three for $3.95). The cinnamon-and-sugar-coated fried treat has a crunchy texture that gives way to a creamy center. Strawberry syrup and whipped cream arent necessary, strictly speaking, but as long as one is indulging a sweet tooth, why not go all the way?
That go-all-the-way attitude is what makes Tarahumaras such an enduring favorite among diners in Norman. The food is outstanding, and the precision service is a thing of beauty. And, seriously, order the mole.
Print headline: Tara firma, Solid service and excellent food put Tarahumaras on sure footing for a successful future.