Casa Mezcal opened this past spring as a three-story mansion dedicated to Mexican arts, music, and mezcal—known in most drinking circles as the smoky, brash cousin to tequila. The bar recently installed a lunch and dinner menu, serving up cuisine that's equally bold and unapologetically Oaxacan.
Fried grasshoppers, a Mexican delicacy known as chapulines, had been offered as a free bar snack when Casa Mezcal first opened, but are now only offered in the chapulqueso ($7), a mass of melted cheese and grasshoppers atop fresh greens, tomato, and basil. Served with warm tortillas, the gooey mixture resembles a quesadilla—except with crunchy, salty bits of grasshopper in it. Intimidating as they may look, the chapulines are quite innocuous, with a flavor and texture reminiscent of miniature dried shrimp.
But the squeamish have plenty of other food options, including tacos, soups, salads and other traditional Mexican dishes. The waitress is quick to recommend the tlayuda ($13), a classic Oaxacan street dish that more or less resembles a Mexican pizza. A blue corn tortilla, which owner Ignacio Carballido claims is handmade with freshly ground corn from Oaxaca, is topped with a layer of refried black beans, Oaxacan cheese, tomatoes, onions, avocados, roasted jalapeños and a choice of chorizo, chicken, or tasajo (thinly shredded beef), then roasted until the tortilla becomes brittle. The plate-sized dish, big enough for two or three people, hits all the right notes of crispy, salty, spicy and meaty necessary for a long night out on the town.
A night of Oaxacan specialties would not be complete without mole, a complex sauce that's a pride and joy of the region. At Casa Mezcal, a cazuela (clay pot) of verde (green), rojo (red) or amarillo (yellow) mole with beef or chicken is just $9 with rice, beans and tortillas. The deep, earthy flavors of the mole play well off of any of the bar's many mezcal cocktails, which come with chili-spiced oranges. But if it's just too early, go for an ice-chilled limon con pepino agua fresca, a house-made lemon and cucumber refresher that is sure to perk up anyone's day.
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