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Otaez Mexicatessen, Oakland CA

August was stuck at school for Open House, so Zach went out to dinner with his little brother Will.  Coincidentally, August took herself to a Mexican restaurant close to her campus, and Zach and Will found Otaez Mexicatessen on Internatinal Blvd.  Zach and Will, though, had the better experience.

steak torta

steak torta

Strips of carne asada were perfectly cooked for this torta.  Will says it was tender enough that he could bite through without pulling out the strips.  The lettuce was crisp, and the tomato and avocado were ripe and fresh, and because of the freshness there was no veggie juice soaking into the bread.  The bread was soft on the inside with a firm crust, giving but heavy enough to maintain the sandwich.  Zach and Will didn’t expect to find scratch-made french fries because A) it’s a Mexican restaurant, and B) few restaurants make fries from scratch; according to Will, “If you like In-N-Out’s french fries, you should definitely give this mexicatessen a shot because they tasted fresher and more flavorful.”

sope de pollo

sope de pollo

A sope is like a thick tostada, and this one came piled with stewed chicken, made with onions, peppers, and chile.  Topped with fresh lettuce, mozzarella, and grated cotija cheese, this must be eaten with a knife and fork.  The tostada-like shell was crispy and crunchy on the outside, with a somewhat chewy and tender center.  The sides of tangy sour cream and fresh, rich guacamole were excellent.

chicken mole

chicken mole

Both sweet and spicy with nice heat and a smooth, rich texture, the mole was delicious.  Tender white and dark meat chicken was great for pairing with the mole, and the thick tortillas that came with were ideal for pinching mouthfuls.  The savory rice and beans, like the tortillas, were scratch-made and tasty.  Will even made a mini burrito with the mole and the sides of rice and beans.

taco dorado

taco dorado

The “golden taco,” or taco dorado, is fried for a crispy shell.  However, it wasn’t at all greasy.  Flavor-packed steak, fresh veggies, and two kinds of cheese (mozzarella and cotija) filled it.  This is everything you could want in a steak taco, and Zach wants to return specifically for these.

chile relleno

chile relleno

Crispy, tender, gooey are the strongest adjectives for the chile relleno.  The pepper was mildly spicy, not overpowering the combination of textures.  Gooey cheese gushed from the tender pepper with a crispy fried exterior.  The sauce was thick, whereas most restaurants’ sauces are watery, so it was great to have some substance that didn’t soak through the pepper.

nieve frita

nieve frita

To finish the dinner, Zach and Will got fried ice cream for dessert.  It was a scoop the size of a women’s softball lightly coated and deep fried, then placed over a scratch-made deep fried tortilla.  The strawberries were sweet, fresh, and ripe.  Huge, simple, delicious and inexpensive, this was one impressive postre.

For very fair priced, authentic, and sumptuous Mexican food in an unexpected place, come to Otaez Mexicatessen.  Based on the boys’ experience and this writeup, August can’t wait for her own opportunity to try the comida sabrosa.

Memo’s Mexican Cuisine, Concord CA

Ten years strong, and why don’t more people know about this?  We had heard of Memo’s, in fact at one point lived around the corner from it.  We finally came because we craved Mexican food and our friend Allison had strongly urged us to try it out.  Tonight we were in for many surprises, including a huge deal for some people with dietary concerns: with few exceptions, most of the items here are vegan and gluten free!  Even more amazing is the fact that everything, and literally everything, is scratch-made and generally a la minute.

mexican rose margarita

mexican rose margarita

Memo’s is not a tequila bar, but the libations they serve are of quality.  Zach likes pomegranate so he ordered the Mexican Rose Margarita, with tequila, fresh pomegranate, and Cointreau.  It was sweet and crisp, using a high quality tequila with nearly zero aftertaste.

nopal cactus salad

nopal cactus salad

This cactus was a refreshing treat.  If you’ve never had nopal cactus before, it’s something different but good.  It is tender and slightly crisp like a pickle, and most of the flavor is from the marinade.  With fresh nopales marinated in vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, then mixed with onions, tomatoes, olives, and cilantro, this is a salad ideal for a summer day.  It is kind of a special item, so the menu does say availability may vary; try it if you can.

combination plate

combination plate

The items to choose from were not entirely typical, so Zach ordered a pork tamal(e), a chicken sope, and a pork gordita for his combo plate that also comes with beans and rice.  The beans were fabulous – smooth in texture but rich in flavor, with various spices and a mildly spicy aftertaste, which we found out came from a habañero sauce.  Another awesome thing is that avocado oil is mixed in after the cooking process, just before serving.  Additionally, the beans are lard free; in fact, no lard is used in any cooking in this restaurant.  The tamal/tamale had a tender and fluffy masa, which was loaded with flavorful pork.  The mole sauce was completely smooth and rich in so many flavors, “it was an amazing experience” (Zach).  The sope shell was crisp from grilling yet still giving and had great texture, and there were spices mixed into the masa as well, not just in the chicken.  Layered on top were some of the fabulous refried beans, and the chicken was white meat and succulent, topped with fresh pico de gallo.  The gordita had a shell similar to the sope but it was split and filled with rich, juicy pork, then sprinkled with a soft cheese that melted easily, and topped with the same pico.  At each bite, he “was looking forward to the next.”

chicken pipian

chicken pipian

A traditional wedding dish in the state of Zacatecas, chicken pipian made August’s palate dance.  Chicken breast is served in a sauce of blended pumpkin seed, nine chilies, and twelve herbs, with the same beans and rice on the side that Zach had.  The pipian sauce was wonderfully spiced, but not spicy at all.  It was almost sweet, but there were so many different flavors within it, each bite was a relish.  Two tortillas went towards sopping up the pipian, but even on their own they are great; like everything else, they were scratch-made.  If you’re looking for something really special that you probably won’t find anywhere else, you really ought to try this.

memo's chocolate cake

memo’s chocolate cake

Except for the whipped cream, this cake is vegan!  Even further, this goes so many steps beyond a regular chocolate cake.  Into the most, decadent layers of cake, frosting, and glaze went three different 100% cocoa chocolates, nine chilies, honey, rosewater, rosebuds, thyme, and more.  August may have found a new favorite desert, because this is so chocolatey it will satisfy your cravings for a while.

Founded, owned, and run by a proud yet humble father-daughter duo, they try to make you feel welcome and like a VIP.  You will see both of them throughout the night – most likely they will bring your plates to you.  If you’re looking for some excellent Mexican food to be catered for your work or an event, this is the place to call; if you’re looking for great Mexican food period, come on in.