By Andrew Z. Galarneau
Good news for lovers of authentic Mexican food: a little place on South Park Avenue has a menu listing dozens of Mexican specialties you can't get in Western New York. I went to Valle of Mexico (1586 South Park Ave., 822-8880, firstname.lastname@example.org, cash only, no credit cards) last night on a scouting mission. (Check out the menu, below.)
First, the good news: Valle of Mexico's kitchen is home to a Mexican cook who has not yet learned that Buffalo will not buy real Mexican food. As such, I think lovers of real Mexican should encourage him to persist in his endeavors, so that his little place gets the chance to grow into a neighborhood favorite.
It could, because it has good stuff: Above is the "picaditas con carne" ($4.95), little discs of corn masa dough topped with refried beans, griddled beef, dry cheese and chile sauce. A terrific snack with just enough heat.
Plus, there are tacos. The menu lists 12 types of tacos at $2.50 a throw, including lengua (tongue), cecina (salted beef) and suadero (brisket), but those were not available.
We made do with these. Clockwise from the top: carnitas (fried pork), birria (beef in chile sauce), chorizo (chile laced pork sausage) and carne enchilada (chunks of pork in another sauce) and al pastor (pork and pineapple). Al pastor, carnitas, and chorizo were my favorites.
The Bad News, Numero Uno: The menu should be considered aspirational, more of a suggestion of what the restaurant might be capable of, its potential. The menu lists 15 tortas, the Mexican sandwiches featuring crusty rolls stuffed with taco meats and other fixings ($6.50). But they didn't have the bread, so no tortas. It lists pork ribs in verde or rojo sauce ($11.95) but it'd take another 30 minutes to get them ready, I was told.
Bad News, Dos, et. al.: The place has been open two weeks. Cash only. Outside we were greeted with a do-it-yourself sign, and an open front door that stayed that way.
Inside it's been decorated in a Mexican motif since it was El Gran Coqui, but the air is still. So slow that since I was not reviewing the place, I decided not to try any seafood just yet. Service is rudimentary. The meal took over an hour, and we were the only table, and thus had their full attention.
That said, there were more moments of wonder. The first sign that the cook has not been to Gringo Mexican U. is the salsa with the complimentary chips. The red isn't tomato-based, it's chile-based, and packs a wallop. The green tomatillo number is somehow even hotter.
Besides those picaditas the antojitos (appetizers) section includes huaraches, another topped-masa treat, thinner and bigger. The huarache with egg and meat ($7.95), below, was homey and breakfastlike, with a tangy chile kick.
The mole was outstanding, registering bitter notes of chile, chocolate, toasty sesame and dried fruit.
At $14.95 the chiles rellenos didn't make me happy. Maybe it was the red bell peppers in place of poblanos.
The chicken milanesa ($11.95) looked ragged but was rather tasty, the coating not quite overcooked and the chicken still tender.
So clearly there is a lot to be explored on this menu. I didn't even test the absurdly long list of fruit drinks and other beverages, 16 desserts or the dozen soups on the menu (posole, chilate de pollo, birria de res, mole verde de res, caldo blanco de res, pozole de pollo, etc.) Not to mention consome de chivo (goat soup), barbacoa (braised goat) tamales, a dozen huevos (egg) dishes, fried nopales (cactus) and cebollitas, or green onions.
Half of it won't be available on any one day, and that might be a good thing. Judging from my first glance, there are probably more treasures worth finding here. Let me know if you pick out something terrific, with a picture if you like, at email@example.com.
Here's the menu: