Mere blocks from the Harlem River, Mott Haven's La Morada has the distinct honor of not only being the Bronx's most purple restaurant but, perhaps more importantly, its only Oaxacan kitchen. Up until the restaurant's emergence in the spring of 2010, the absence of legitimate Oaxacan cooking was one of the bigger blemishes on the city's culinary scene. One might have assumed that even decent fare would have caused a ruckus, and yet there has been decidedly little noise about La Morada since they slipped into the Village Voice's 2012 Choice Eats festival. Something, I suspect, that cannot be explained by the lack of fried grasshoppers.
Stepping inside, it's easy to imagine that you are in the owner's Washington Heights apartment or, maybe, back home in Oaxaca's Colonia Reforma district. From the paintings on the walls to the bookshelf and open kitchen, the space is constructed in a way that speaks truth to their credo: "prepared with the thought of serving a family member rather than a customer." This sentiment blankets the dining room. The daily menu is not extensive, featuring the typical antojitos but lacking the province's distinctive molotes (empandas made from fresh masa). And while there is an "ensalada morada" ($6), there is, sadly, no purple mole to match.
In our guide to eating excellently and epicly along the 6 train, we suggested starting your crawl here at The Purple House with, say, one of five moles ($10) or—if you had intended to make a day of it—chilaquiles. So, what about them? Chilaquiles are usually yesterday's tortillas cut into chips, lightly fried, and drowned in often repurposed sauce; La Morada's are soft, not soggy but supple, and sporadically garnished with chili seeds.
Given the basic option of "green or red" sauce, I opted for the heat of the roja. But those with a tart tooth should not fear fessing up in favor of the verde. Offered plain ($6.50), with two eggs ($8), or with a choice of meat ($10), I opted in favor of chorizo. Beans can be had on the side, but a long day of eating made the idea unappetizing. And although I would've liked a lime wedge or two for squeezing, the flavor would have been equally improved by the addition of a slight hangover.
Even decent chilaquiles are a boon, the kind of food that can make you feel okay again—if just temporarily—after you wake up feeling particularly low. These are good ones; though not entirely without flaw. The cilantro only comes through on occasion, and some might admonish Morada for putting out tortillas that are not crunchy enough for their taste. But you know what? Iceberg lettuce! Rounded out by a slight sweetness, I found the heat to be just right: prickly and quick to act, resting on the tip of my tongue. Taken with a glass of horchata ($3), there aren't many better ways to start off your day in the Bronx.
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats column. He firmly believes in the power of pork. Keep abreast of his latest finds and nonsequiturshere, or contact him directly at chris.e.crowley [at] gmail.com. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.