Often times the best laid plans lead to alcohol. In advance of FDCDC’s meal at Espita Mezcaleria, a new upscale Mexican restaurant near the convention center, I had planned to earn my calories for the evening by going for a long walk around downtown. Unfortunately, it started to rain as soon as I left work, so changed course towards the restaurant early to try out some of Espita’s signature cocktails. I arrived at the restaurant completely drenched, so I had a drink to warm me up. I read part of my book about women living in Afghanistan, and that made me drink some more.
My first cocktail was La Estocada, which was mezcal, graperfruit, and orange bitters. It had that classic smoky I-can’t-decide-if-this-is-good-or-not flavor that makes mezcal so special. Some sips were too bitter, some were tasty. As Nico later put it, “the scotch of tequila”. You know you should like it for max fancy points, but it’s easier said than done. But I was cold and wet so it hit the spot. The next was the tequila sangria, which I was super into. Espita makes their own fruit syrups in house, and that day’s sangria had homemade lemon and pineapple with all-spice dram stirred in. All the citrus and spice was phenomenal; it was like drinking the cranberries my mom makes at Thanksgiving. Imma be making that at home.
Since I arrived at the bar over an hour before my companions, I also had a lot of time to inspect the menu and the decor. The whole restaurant had that dimly lit hipster-y vibe that makes you feel both too cool and not cool enough at the same time. Espita’s murals are also very impressive and somewhat ominous; in particular the big mural of a girl blowing butterflies at a skeleton? What’s that about? It was dope, but I also questioned that girl’s choices, hanging out with skeletons and such.
The menu provided a similar head-scratcher. I quickly scanned the “hedgehog mushroom” queso as just “hedgehog” and got really excited to eat it before I realized I would in fact not being hedgehog that night. Now I’m not sure I’ll ever get to eat hedgehog dipped in molten cheese. :'(
Nico arrived shortly after my hedgehog-related crisis and decided to start with some salsas while we waited for the rest of our crew. We ended up with the Pistachio and Borracha salsas. The former was combined with tomatillos, mint, and serrano pepper. It was honestly the most mild salsa I have ever eaten. Not to say that it was bland, it just had zero discernible heat. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first because the flavor combination was just so off the wall. But then I ate infinity of it and decided I was pretty into it. Borracha was simpler – a mixture of mezcal, orange, and chipotles. All three of the main ingredients came out strong. It was smoky. It was citrusy. It was spicy. It was delish. Also, quick note on the chips: the most apt description applied to them was “Frito-like crunch, but in a good way”. Feel free to slap that description on the menu, Espita.
We then opted for a queso fundido as our next excuse to eat chips. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but a solidly done chorizo n’ cheese dip. I will say that it was one of the least photogenic dishes I’ve seen – just imagine some green ground sausage sitting in a pool of cheese in a dimly lit room. We still demolished it, but no one was trying to get a picture of it. At the same time we continued our fun alcohol experiences with a lil carafe of mezcal. I really dug the custom made shot ceramic glasses with the name of the restaurant in the bottom of the bowl. I tried (and failed) to snag a good photo of that. The most memorable part of the mezcal was not the drink itself (although it was undeniably tasty), but the experience with it. The carafe came with an off-brand version of the classic salt-tequila-lime, which was groundupagavewormandsalt-mezcal-orange slice. It was something else. That worm powder was salty as all hell, and an orange slice is NOT strong enough to offset the saltiness still in your mouth at the end. Stick to kids’ soccer games, orange slices.
At this point Espita Mezcaleria was doing real well, and we hadn’t even hit the main course yet. The first round of entrees were two sets of tacos, one steak and one tilapia. The steak tacos were so simple but so good. The steak was well seasoned and super tender, and the salsa and cilantro were fresh and at just the right amount. As for the tilapia tacos, they were also solid. I usually think tilapia has kind of an unpleasant taste to it, but somehow whatever combination of pickled veggies and chipotle mayo they slapped on there managed to cover up the trash fishiness taste that I usually associate with tilapia. I also noticed at the time that the restaurant’s playlist was really well done. I cannot complain about a healthy dose of Kanye West and Michael Jackson.
Finally we hit the main course, which I had been looking forward to since I was first in out of the rain. Both my bartender and our server mentioned the negro mole with zero hesitation when asked what they recommended for dinner. The hype was real. The hype delivered. The sauce itself, despite looking like Hexxus from Ferngully, was great. It was floral and spicy and rich and went so well with the fatty lamb belly on the plate. Becky put it best, saying that that was how you always hope mole will taste (and it so rarely does). The lamb itself was a little intense; for me in a good way, for Becky…not so much. Also, not to be missed are the sweet plantains. Similar to the steak tacos, nothing new here, but just done so well. They had that right combination of crispiness and gooeyness that make me want plantains with every meal.
By the end of the meal we were all struggling pretty severely. I was desperately trying to make sure the remainder of the mole didn’t get taken away by the wait staff while the remainder of our crew had long ago thrown in the towel. It was a hearty meal. That made me even more impressed with the two guys sitting next to us having a bro date while they waited for their girlfriends to arrive. They easily ordered more food than we did as a foursome, and crushed every bit of it. They were my heroes (and I told them as such as we left). And really those two champions were a perfect representation of my inner thoughts during our time at Espita Mezcaleria. There are so many delicious looking things on the menu, and you can’t help yourself from trying to eat a few more dishes than you should. That combined with some tasty and fun alcohol experiences (and who doesn’t love a good alcohol experience or two?) nets Espita Mezcaleria a 3.75 out of 4 om nom rating.