Los Angeles has long been a serious place for mole, and it got a big boost in the ’90s when a bunch of Oaxacan restaurants began to open one by one and offer a range of traditional moles. That was followed by Mexican chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu’s 1988 opening of La Casita Mexicana, which brought a classical treatment of mole to Los Angeles. In 2008, chef Rocio Camacho went off-script, offering traditional Oaxacan moles as well as her original creations at Moles La Tia (the restaurant where we first learned of Camacho): tamarind, hibiscus flower, and huitlacoche moles; people began to come in and have mole tastings.
It’s extraordinary to be able to enjoy more moles here in L.A. than in some states in Mexico, and now, the pastoral style of mole that you find on the streets of Mexico—and South Central L.A.—have found a home in Boyle Heights.
Las Molenderas (named for the women who make traditional tortillas on a metate), open for seven months, has hit the perfect balance between tradition and the pocho (Mexican-American) tendencies of Boyle Heights. Their handmade moles and pipianes (pumpkin-seed based dishes) are made from recipes that have been in the Morales family for generations.
Pochos aren’t programmed to eat just mole, so Marisol Feregrino and her business partners/parents Lucio and Estela Morales carry mole tacos, mole and cheese fries (a current trend), and mole burritos for those pochos saying. “Hell no, I ain’t down with eating sauce, fool, but them fries look bomb.”
So if you’re “whatevers” with mole being the star attraction, the house-made fries covered with mole and cheese will do just fine. But for the purists and pochos like myself who romanticize traditions in Mexico, get the delicious mole poblano, or the spicy, smoky mole poblano de chipotle. The moles here are thick and bear colorful streaks of fat that you only find in slow-cooked, home-style Pueblan moles that up until now I could only get at underground restaurants here in L.A. You can only find pipian rojo the way they prepare it at Las Molenderas from the traditional cooks that participate each year at the Feria de Los Moles, unrefined as it is in the pre-Hispanic kitchen. In a few weeks, Las Molenderas will introduce their pipian verde, a green pumpkin-seed dish.
Las Molenderas offers fried eggs with the mole of your choice; mole and eggs is something I’ve only had in Mexico City, and have been impatiently waiting to see it here on a restaurant menu. They serve it on the side because the Boyle Heights crowd doesn’t always want all that mole on their plate, but mole is the dish, mi gente. No worries, with smart menu items that will appeal to locals, Las Molenderas offers deep tradition that’s approachable to all—it’s artisanal mole for the masses.