There’s a tie for Austin’s best mole: The cooks at Las Manitas once took a class in mole-making from Diana Kennedy, and a version of the famous cookbook author’s own recipe—lush with chiles, chocolate, and spices—is offered at the laid-back cafe Friday through Sunday, atop enchiladas or by the pint to go. Also inspired by Kennedy’s book, the deep-flavored mole poblano at upscale Fonda San Miguel combines toasted chiles with the perfect amount of chocolate. If you have many spare hours, you can prepare Manuel’s mole sauce at home —or you can enjoy the rich, 24-ingredient, mahogany-toned extravaganza at either of the restaurant’s stylish locations. The folks at small, colorful Garibaldi’s personally bring several uncommon chiles from Mexico City for their fine mole, which has a nice coarseness and a medium-chocolaty flavor. Güero’s russet version emphasizes the chiles and downplays the chocolate and sweetness; sample it amid the restaurant’s photos of mustachioed Mexican revolucionarios.
The city’s stellar mole poblano shines at suave Nuevo Leon. Made from ancho and poblano chiles and myriad other ingredients such as sesame seeds and nuts, this thick, satiny sauce has an almost magical balance of tart and earthily spicy flavors. Combined with tender, juicy chunks of chicken breast, it’s a powerfully rich, addictive dish.
Settling down to a comforting plate of chicken mole at fun, funky El Asadero is like being wrapped in a favorite abuela’s hug. The velvety, sienna-colored sauce swathing a succulent chicken quarter speaks of long, patient cooking that has blended a wealth of chiles, fruits, and seeds with a hint of chocolate.
Houston simmers with countless styles of mole poblano, but few restaurants get both the mole and the meat just right. Irma’s, a Warehouse District classic, does: Fork-tender chicken is blanketed in el mejor mole in town, with tobacco overtones, a peppercorn bite, and a dark-chocolate kiss. The city’s most unusual mole poblano can be found at upscale Hugo’s, whose chef pairs a burgundy-hued “red” mole, a family recipe, with duck. His fiery, sumptuous ancho-and-guajillo sauce is balanced with house-made chocolate and puréed almonds, plantains, and tomatoes. Looking for mucho mole? Breasts of succulent, bone-in chicken are drenched in it at comfy Pico’s, where the 27-ingredient sauce is thick with dark chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, and smoldering chiles.
The thin variation on classic mole poblano that’s served with chicken at spartan Las Cazuelas has only the slightest hint of chocolate—but no lack of kaleidoscopic flavor.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY
Earthy and elemental, with a lovely balance of bitter and sweet, the deep-auburn mole at Poncho, in Pharr, could hardly be improved upon; enjoy it with chicken or atop chicken or cheese enchiladas in the agreeably rustic dining rooms with their leather-and-wood equipale furniture.
At El Mirador, the city’s top mole has its own distinctive, nutty essence and a slightly gritty texture from ground ancho and guajillo chiles. The restaurant’s yellow and terra-cotta-colored walls warm you up on even the chilliest day.
See the Directorio for directions to any of these restaurants.