|Photo by Brad Ronevich
I can’t remeaacity crowd. I mention this only to give my best wishes to Williams and his staff and to beg of you, kind reader, patience should your own visit require it. The food here is, I promise, well worth any wait one may encounter.
On the subject of waiting, I must mention that during my sojourns to Momocho, the one rough spot my band of diners and I encountered was in the area of service. Much as was the case with Fulton, I have occasionally found the wait staff overly leisurely or underattentive, something of a feat in such a small place. While this is not uniformly the case, it bears mentioning. So I’ll leave it at that and assume any problems, real or perceived, will be ironed out as the joint and those who work within continue to find their groove.
Anyway, blah, blah, blah, let’s get to the fun part: food (and booze!).
Damn, I love Mexican food. When I was a kid, I remember discovering Chi-Chi’s with my folks, then subsequently asking to go back every time we went out to eat. Boy, I must have been irritating. Now, while the current, more enlightened and authentic trends in Mexican cuisine have moved far beyond the gustatory cravings of my misinformed youth, the flavors that once captivated my adolescent taste buds continue to wow me today. Williams clearly knows what he’s doing en la cocina. But first, a word on drinks.
Momocho offers an exotic array of tasty margaritas available separately for $7.50 or in a flight of three for $12. The blood orange and mango were table favorites, though the ice-to-liquid ratio didn’t give the impression of any great value. Rather than overindulge on delicious, fruity drinks, I turned to Momocho’s respectable selection of Mexican beers, which one can order on ice with salt and lime or with a dash of Worcestershire and Tabasco. I opted for the former, but feel free to follow your own road on this one.
The bar also offers some pleasant wine selections from various Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in case you’re feeling (or perhaps are) more cultured.
To begin your meal, make sure to order some guacamole. Not only are all of the cool kids doing it, but Momocho is offering some seriously creative twists to your traditional smashed avocado dish. While a tasty traditional version is available, Williams and company offer six enhanced selections, ranging from goat cheese, tomato and chile poblano to jumbo lump crab, corn and chile chipotle. You can try three for $16.
We found the jicama, pineapple, habanero and mint most enjoyable, while the bleu cheese, garlic confit and green chile version was, on one visit, wicked salty, a problem not particularly alleviated by our salty margaritas or salty beers. Also in the starting lineup, we recommend the queso fundito with house-made chorizo and sautéed chiles and onions, a sort of Mexican fondue ($6.50), or the jicama salad with watercress, pineapple and a refreshing citrus-epazote vinaigrette ($5.50). Obviously, don’t order this one if you’re getting the nearly identical guacamole, unless you enjoy redundancy in your dining experience, in which case, by all means.
For your main entrée (or a big app, perhaps), Momocho offers eight build-your-own taquitos, all of which arrive fresh and hot with house-made corn tortillas, sautéed poblano chiles and onions, and an excellent, piquant salsa verde. While we tried each variety during our visits, we couldn’t help reordering the near-perfect carnitas: adobo-braised, shredded pork with honey-chipotle mojo ($14). The flatiron steak ($14.50) and grilled tilapia ($13) also made for flavorful fillings, while vegetarians will rejoice to find both portobello mushroom ($12) and potato-corn options ($10.50).
Unable to move (literally) much further than the taquitos, we sampled only one of Willams’ eight entrées, the enchiladas divorciadas ($14.50), which featured expertly seasoned chicken and more of the fantastic salsa verde, coupled with one of the better moles we’ve ever encountered. Sides of sofrito green beans ($3.50) and borracho black beans ($1.50) were also a hit at the table.
There was an intriguing variety of fish preparations available, from an appetizer of blackened tuna tostadas ($10) to entrées of halibut veracruzana ($18) or trout pepita ($17), but we’ll have to catch those next time. Likewise the dessert offerings, including Kahlua flan with berry ceviche ($5) and Oaxacan mocha cake ($5.50).
Overall, we’re glad to see an old favorite like the Fulton find new life and energy as Momocho. In a town where too many good restaurants disappear, it gives us hope that the value of reinvention can keep a great spot going, heading forward into another decade.
Momocho, 1835 Fulton Road, Cleveland, (216) 694-2122. Hours: Dinner: Tue-Sun 5 - 11 p.m.; bar 5 p.m. - 1 a.m.