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« Preserving the Harvest Canning Workshop @ Wakeman Farm | Main | Friday Froth: GermaNY »
Sunday
Jul282013

Delicious Dives: Los Poblanos, Mexican in Norwalk

One bite into the tacos al pastor at Los Poblanos, and my husband and I looked up at one another in amazement. Whoa, this is really good. Tender plump bites of orange-hued pork shoulder, coated with ground chiles and herbs, mixed with bits of sweet, juicy pineapple. The flavors melded, cooked together to just the right moment. Warm, soft homemade corn tortillas. The pork topped with minced fresh raw onions and cilantro. 

The exterior didn’t prepare us for food made with such care. I mean, I love discovering a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall. When I noticed a handmade sign for Los Poblanos hanging outside what was still at that point Hubba Luncheonette, in a dingy little strip mall in Norwalk (cattycorner to Penzy’s), I took a quick left turn. The transformation from American breakfast place and luncheonette to Mexican, in terms of décor, at that point was shiny tourist posters of the Puebla region of Mexico. Since then it’s brightened up. The walls are painted cheerful contrasting colors, orange, green and red. The place is small and simple, with four booths, and a couple tables for two. 

The chefs working behind the counter, noticed our reactions to the food, and smiled. They smiled again when my husband and I returned the next day.  The complimentary chips were thin, crisp, freshly fried. The thick, bright green salsa was so good I could eat it with a spoon. The habanero sauce had a smokey heat.

I looked at the menu more in depth. Mushroom soup?  Don’t often see that on Mexican restaurant menus.  It arrived bubbling in a hot clay bowl. Beneath the chili-infused homemade chicken broth, the bowl was full of thick slices of sautéed mushrooms, strips of meaty, green poblano peppers, and cubes of potatoes, skin on. Grilled bread rested on the edge of the bowl. The soup was hearty and filling, and had layers of flavor.  

Mole poblano is the most famous dish of the Puebla region of Mexico. It’s usually served with turkey. One of the specials on the colorful chalk menu was mole poblano enchiladas with chicken. The dark brown sauce had a raisiny depth, with a mellow, slow-cooked blend of spices, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and a hint of dark chocolate. The chicken was poached-tender.  The black beans on the side were homemade, soft, not mushy, and probably cooked with a bone that had given them that extra gelatinous and meaty boost of flavor.

We were in heaven.  Chef Ramon knew he had happy customers. “Good to see you my friend,” he said to my husband, on our second visit. “I’m glad you like my food.”

We started talking to the owner, Juan Bautista and his wife Myra.  “Nobody has these recipes,” he said “This is the real Mexican cooking. We take the time to make it very good.”  Bautista and Ramon have cheffed in some the best-known restaurants of Fairfield County. They know technique, and they can cook a range of cuisines.  Now, they want to show the food of Puebla, its “gastronomy culture and tradition with recipes and ingredients typical of the state.”

Bautista told us next time we should try his tamarind ribs. We did, and they were amazing, tender pork on the bone, draped in a glossy sauce uniting sweet, sour, spicy, fruity flavors into lick-your-plate-clean deliciousness. Chiles rellenos was a special one day, two wide packets of poblano peppers and cheese, dipped in a light batter, fried, and then covered with a well-simmered tomato sauce that held just a whisper of heat. The cheese was queso fresco, a soft rather than melty cheese. In other words, this isn’t Mex-Tex and forget about Monterey Jack. With rice and beans, the chiles rellenos were filling, and I ate one and I took the other home, and enjoyed it for dinner.  No doubt, in late August-early September chiles en nogada will appear on the menu. The peppers stuffed with meat and fruit is a traditional dish of Puebla, and uses seasonal walnuts and pomegranates.

On another visit, Ramon was sitting at booth with his family.  Bautista brought him a sizzling platter, smelling of wine sauce. We couldn’t see what it was, but both men had big smiles on their faces, one proud to have cooked it, the other pleased to eat it.

I tried the pozole. This rich red-chili-infused soup comes with chicken or pork. I chose pork, and it was thick with meat and hominy, those pale, plump, soft, skinless resuscitated kernels of corn. (By the way, I read recently that this ancient method of storing and reviving corn, drying it, then soaking it in lime water, adds calcium to the corn.)

Of course, Los Poblanos’s menu has flautas, fajitas, quesadillas, tostadas, enchiladas, burritos, huraches, and nachos. I’m intrigued by the house specials. La Carne del Patron -- steak with poblano peppers and shrimp in pumpkin flower sauce.  Pollo borracho, chicken sautéed with onions, green pepper, jalapeño, pico de gallo and tequila sauce.  Carnitas Estilo Michoacan – “from grandfather’s table” –pork carnitas with guacamole, pico de gaillo.  Francisco Villa el Centauro -- Pan sautéed red snapper filet with shrimp in garlic sauce.

Hubba Luncheonette’s long-time customers can still get an early morning bacon-egg-and-cheese (and burgers and dogs) at Los Poblanos. But the breakfast offerings on the new menu are more interesting. Chilaquiles – fried tortillas with beans, red or green sauce, cheese (and sunny side up eggs or chorizo).  And nine egg dishes. The “Tarascos” serves two eggs up on a bed of ham, cheese, pasilla chili sauce, avocado and beans. Huevos Tirados are scrambled eggs with jalepenos and cheese.  These are hearty breakfasts for those who need to fuel up.

If atmosphere and cool scenes are your thing, Los Poblanos won’t be your place. But if eating really good Mexican food prepared by friendly people who love what they’re doing, is, Los Poblanos will be your new favorite Mexican joint.

 

Los Poblanos

Owner: Juan Bautista 

212 Westport Ave., Norwalk, CT 06851, 203-286-8482.  They also do catering and delivery.

Warning. They didn’t have AC the last time I was there on a hot summer day.

Parking is limited in the front, but there’s extra parking behind the building.

Hours: Monday – Saturday 7 a.m to 9 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

BYO

Restaurante Los Poblanos on Urbanspoon

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Reader Comments (13)

I've worked across the street for more than 8 years and seen a number of establishments come and go in this space. I took a chance last week and detoured with a colleague while on my way for Chinese soup next store and was astounded by the authenticity and quality of the Mexican food.

The basket of fresh chips were piping hot and accompanied by a mild green sauce and spicier red. Our dishes were delicious and I returned the next day with another colleague for the best guacamole and some other menu items. A chicken taco for $3 was deliciously filling; the shrimp taco was understandably lesser portioned but equally good.

The chef is gracious and seems genuinely pleased when people enjoy his food. He even took our picture. While I am happy to see this little restaurant get the recognition it deserves, I wish the secret didn't get out so quickly and my colleagues and I could enjoy this for ourselves just a little while longer.

Buena Suerte to the chef and owners!

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobyn

Great job reviewing this great new restaurant.

They have AC (now) but don't use it all the time.

I love the chicken taco referenced by the above poster. They're overstuffed and really nice and filling. They represent an outstanding food value, as one or two will definitely satiate.

This is pretty much the best around in this category, although I still have romantic memories about the old Poncho Villas:) That was where I learned to love dining out. There's something about first loves, isn't there?

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrealguy

I wanted to sample Los Tacos and ordered four of them. Once delivered the first item I noticed was the amount of filling, Los Poblanos significantly fills the soft tacos. Green (cilantro) and orange (I would guess habanero) sauce accompany the tacos. The cilantro sauce was great and complemented the flavors and the orange was a little too spicy for my palate but had great flavor.

I decided to work my way from least to most spicy and started with The Carnitas (pork) taco. The cubed pork was simply sautéed and topped with diced raw onion and cilantro. The flavors were mild, and mine included a few cubes of pork fat. The addition of some on the green cilantro sauce created a great balance of flavor and very mild in heat.

The Pollo tonga (shredded chicken) taco was smothered in a red sauce that upon first bite I thought was too mild as well. But the heat of the pepper slowly arrived about 30 seconds later, not a burn, but a mild reminder that this was Latin food. The addition of cilantro again balanced the flavors.

Looking to increase the heat level I moved to the Chorizo (Mexican sausage) taco. I was a little surprised about two items, the presentation and the heat level. Normally chorizo is sliced to create circles, but Los Poblanos served their sliced in a julienne. Likewise the heat level was much less than expected, I would characterize these as a very mild chorizo but the flavor was outstanding. The taco was topped with sliced and diced onion

The last taco was the Al pastor (spicy pork). At last I found some spiciness. The same pork that I enjoyed in the Carnita was sautéed and then tossed with a spicy red sauce. This created a great depth of flavors with a good level of spiciness. This was my favorite taco of the four.

Overall I was impressed with Los Poblanos and look forward to returning and enjoy additional options.

August 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff "jfood" Schlesinger

Jeff,

My lament: How totally impossible to get hot and spicy anything anymore, and that includes at so-called Chinese and so-called Mexican places. I like Poblanos... just not as much as I used to $^%&*() LOVE Pancho Villas when it was on main st back in the good old days.

Too much Mexican, not enough SOUTHWEST, yes I will say it, it's not PC to like it now but I LOVE that bastardized take on Mexican food one used to find before Mexican food got so goshdarned "authentic".

Cheers!

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrealguy

Sorry to be contrarian, but we were massively disappointed at our dinner last night at Los Poblanos. The atmosphere was as described above, very casual, Wal-Mart lighting and the a/c was maybe on maybe off. That was not the issue. I don't really want to go into minute detail about what we did not enjoy about the chicken mole (tasted canned) or the pork carnitas(pre-cooked and reheated till dry). The biggest problem was that the next day we both felt as if we had feasted at Burger King, kind of like a junk food "mal de foie". Sorry, I wish these people well, but we will not return.

September 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEduardo

I love to go to Los Poblanos for their Huevos Divorciado (Divorced Eggs) on Saturday mornings. There's two different types of sauces on my eggs, green and red, but neither are too spicy. The combination of black beans, tortilla, ham, eggs, and sauces is delectable. I clean the platter every time. I have come several times with my Mom and her favorite is the Barbecued ribs with the Tamarind sauce. They are finger licking and delicious. The atmosphere is cheerful and colorful with pictures of Puebla, Mexico and brightly painted walls. With all the different Mexican peppers in baskets, artistic bowls and music you feel you have stepped into another country. They are always very attentive to our needs. The chef is very friendly and enjoys serving his guests. He gets to know each of his customers personally and caters to their needs. Definitely I will return again and again.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

To Eduardo -- I can attest the mole is not "from a can"!

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Keyser

I was inspired by this article and went for lunch. I was disappointed, maybe things have changed or this is a photo shoot.The food looked nothing like these photos. I was not impressed by the very saucy tacos. I'm pretty sure I will keep going to Taco Mexico on Fort Point. I will say the customer service was excellent. Very nice people.

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda R.

Every time I go, I try a new dish -- and it's fantastic! Had a sesame shrimp with mole dish today. Oh...my...goodness....

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Just finished up breakfast at Los Poblanos. Muy delicioso! Looking forward to returning for lunch.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermla19

Holy Mole! My husband and I stopped in for brunch yesterday and are still " oh- ing and ah-ing " 36 hours later! Our biggest issue was WHAT to order...we kept asking our server what was this and that...and each dish sounded better than the last. We settled on Egg dish, " Los Poblanos ", with egg, ham, cheese layered over corm tortilla...delicious, and Shredded Chicken Enchiladas with rice. beans . avocado and mole sauce.
Fresh, flavorful, and without my biggest lament of Mexican food.... NOT swimming in sauce! I could actually taste and identify the play on flavors...the corn tortilla, egg, and chicken.
I will be back...and bring some more people so i can TRY more dishes!

November 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterellen bowen

We stopped by for the first time tonight, and I’m sure we’ll be back. This is a family run place at its finest, and Tacos Mexico had better keep their game up – there’s competition in town. They serve up the best mole sauce I’ve had in many a year, and the staff is super friendly. It’s a tiny little place, but I wish the owners continued success and growth. BTW, they take Cards now, and serve wine and beer, but don’t expect a fancy selection. We came in with our own bottle and there was no corking fee. Highly recommended.

December 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterG.Kling

So good, homemade chips, salsa, homemade jalapenos. Try the Cemitas... amazing

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermbzzzzzz

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