Cleveland, Ohio           Date of Visit:  01/16/11      

I’m not certain where we heard of this Cleveland eatery. If it was you who happened to mention it to me, let me know…I owe you. Momocho doesn’t look like much from the outside but that all changes just inside the door. You would never have convinced me that a restaurant with a Lucha Libre theme could be tasteful and refined, until we strolled into Momocho. I wasn’t expecting Jack Black to stroll through the front door in tights at any point. The place is split into two floors with what I’m assuming includes two kitchens. When we called for rez the hostess mentioned, almost as an afterthought, there is a kitchen table that was open. North we went. The kitchen table is up a long set of very narrow stairs but the ascent is worth the climb. Culinary K2.

In the last year we went to Lopez on Lee, another Cleveland area Mexican restaurant. We started with a great guacamole but everything else seemed to fall short. Sure Rick Bayless of Frontera fame started the kitchen there but that was 30 years ago. Not bad but high expectations led to disappointment.

The Home of Mod Mex


I checked out the menu for Momocho online and it was as promising as Lopez, but could they deliver? We plopped down on two chairs literally one foot from the end of the small but kickin hot line. Cold table, tiny grill and stove top, two basket fryolator always working on chips, salamander and two guys putting everything together for the upstairs dining room. More on them later.

We started with a sampler of guac which included three choices from six offered that night. I had expected them to be smaller but they are three heaping bowls of flavored green scrumptious. We chose the goat cheese/tomato/chile poblano – thegarlic confit/blue cheese/chile verde – and the pickled corn/crab/chile chipotle. With the first taste of each bowl with the fresh chips and the chile verde I instantly thought we were in for a great time. All three bowls were packed with powerfully flavored ingredients giving them distinct flavors, just huge chunks of everything. But I remembered Lopez where the guac was really nice but the entrees suffered much by comparison. But hope springs eternal.

Right Against the Kitchen...Great Seats for Many Reasons

Spectacular and Inventive Guacamoles

Enormous and Kickin' Chile Relleno

We ordered a chile relleno made with poblano chile stuffed with smoked gouda, corn bread, charred tomato and covered with a chile guajillo sauce, cause Tom told us to. It was outstanding. A serious punch of chile all mollified by the cheese and other ingredients. Just like the guacamole it had forward aggressive flavors that were always in balance to keep things from getting too spicy or over the top in other ways. For entrees we ordered one option from the taquitos and one from the especiales.

The Taquitos Chancho was an adobo braised wild boar loaded with aromatic vegetables and spices. Tender, porky, bright and exciting. It was served with tortillas and a superb mustard crema that made the dish altogether indescribably delicious. Our linecook/server then brought us a small bowl of habanero pickled onions. I first thought screaming hot sweats but these purple gems exude the peppery taste of the habs with just a splash of heat and intense vinegary flavor. Load it all on a tortilla and just close your eyes. Your brain won't be able to stand the additional stimulation of sight. We also ordered the adobo lamb chops with jalapeno mustard crema, goat cheese guacamole and spinach. Oh my WORD! Not a single let down through the entire evening. The lamb was perfectly mid rare and that crema would be great on anything. Even the spinach was just wilted and seasoned to near perfection. We ordered entirely too much and since I have been eating a little better lately I couldn’t drive myself into my traditional Epicurean gluttony. We took home much more food than we ate and it was an outstanding lunch here on Monday.

The Excellent Wild Boar

That Mustard Crema and Habanero Pickled Onions!!!

Awesome Lamb Chops and Great Sides

We also ordered two desserts to go which were both fantastic. The Horchata was a vanilla bean and rice pudding topped with an almond brittle. I am not a fan of rice pudding…it always seems like someone is trying to stretch their pudding shortage. Even so, it was really good. I ordered the Capirotada which was a dense ginger snap and jalapeno bread pudding topped with turbinado sugar and sweetened whipped crema. Every bite, either in the restaurant or the next day was absolutely top notch. If you are looking for Mexican in Cleveland you are going to be hard pressed to beat the dining at Momocho. But what about the service?

Here was where Momocho truly shined. I still like to sit in the kitchen. It always reminds me of all of the things I miss about the life and the reasons I am happy to be doing other things. With our unconventional seating came our unconventional server. We got Tom. He has a unique job where he is responsible for half of the line and whatever two jokers happen to be sitting in our seats. A line cook server. If you know many line cooks this is a really interesting possibility. Tom is tall, lanky, bearded, tatted and on the ball. For two folks to keep the whole place moving and happy requires quite a dance. Tom never stopped moving hands and feet constantly tasked to one thing or another. That is until he would turn to us. He appeared completely interested and genuine totally focused on our evening as though the squirrel and the tickets hanging in the window didn’t require his attention. He made great suggestions. He also offered us small tastes of some things we didn’t order like the candied jalapeno and blood orange marmalade and a couple of smoked gouda tamale dumplings. Some places might frown on giving away a couple ounces of sauce or a couple puffs but the smart ones know, if they are good and they are, we will be back…several times, with strong hankerings to try so many different things on the menu.

Stellar for Rice Pudding

Capirotada To Go, Delicious

Poor Tom Had to Pack a Dozen Containers

He quickly loaded our uneaten portions without outward judgment for our goofy over-ordering and held things cold for us until dinner was over. When he packed our entrees he must have heard us talking about the two mustard cremas and he topped off our little plastic cups of both and the salsa verde without fanfare. In the middle of a busy service he proved to be consistently thoughtful, precise and caring. He was fun and funny without ever devolving into anything unprofessional. I was so struck by his performance this night that there is a bit more about him in the Random Thoughts section under the heading an ode to Tom.

Momocho turns out to be everything I had wished Lopez on Lee had been…and so much more to boot. I can’t wait to return and I am hoping our fellow diners from the Lopez trip will join us…I just don’t know how all six of us are going to fit into those two seats.

A Sample of the Smoked Gouda Tamale Dumplings...Another Taste Ensuring Our Return




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