Los Tacos Plans a South Florida Invasion of Authentic Mexican Cuisine | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Los Tacos Plans a South Florida Invasion of Authentic Mexican Cuisine

Los Tacos by Chef Omar serves a mean mole. One of the great sauces of Mexico, this one is velvety-black, complex, and richly spiced.

In Mexico, there are many types of mole. Depending on the region, mole can be red (a fiery poblano with mulato, ancho, and pasilla chilies kissed with raisins and almonds); green (the verde gets its color from pumpkin seeds, cilantro, tomatillos, and jalapeños); or yellow (Coloradito, a basic base of chocolate, chilies, fruits, and nuts thickened with mashed sweet plantains).

"The love for what I do truly makes a difference."

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The mole most familiar to Americans, however, is Oaxacan, a deep-brown sauce cooked for hours until it appears black. The recipe relies heavily on chocolate and up to 40 ingredients, including nuts and spices like clove, cinnamon, and cumin. Chilies give it a hint of heat, dried fruit is often added for sweetness, and bread can be used as a thickener. The key ingredient: an aromatic, licorice-tinged herb known as hoja santa.

Not many people know about the mole chef-owner Omar Covarrubias prepares at his Weston and Pembroke Pines restaurants. Known as xiqueño, it's made in the style of Xico, a town in the state of Veracruz. It's the main attraction in the mole xico enchilada platter, a thick, paste-like sauce resembling a cooling river of molten lava, smothering everything in its wake. The ultimate combination of sweet and spicy, it has notes of apple, banana, and the flavorful ancho chili.

Hailing from Mexico City, Covarrubias says such a mole can be made gallons at a time and stored, but he endures the eight-hour process a few times each week, preparing each batch from scratch for each of his three restaurant locations. The recipe calls for more than 20 ingredients: ten Mexican-sourced spices, a variety of nuts, several fruits, and four types of chili pepper.

In many ways, the creation of the mole is all you need to know about Los Tacos, the casual, colorful Mexican restaurant with two locations in Broward County and a satellite location known as Guacamole in Lantana. The idea is to expand the brand of authentic Mexican cuisine as a franchise across South Florida. A third Los Tacos — the largest yet — is coming soon to Coral Springs. Farther south, cities like Doral are up next.

Although Covarrubias' career has spanned decades, it's garnered little attention here in South Florida, where he opened his first Los Tacos in 2010 after relocating from Southern California in the mid-1990s. Before that, he was once hailed as an "ambassador of the Mexican cuisine" by the New York Times and served as executive chef for the Mexican president.

In 2011, the Mexican-born chef was given the National Award as Latino Chef of the Year at the third Flavors of Passion, an event created to celebrate Latin chefs who are distinguished by reputation, authenticity, creativity, and excellence. On TV sets across the nation, you can catch him several days a week on the Spanish American network Univisión, where he hosts a regular cooking show.

Cooking comes naturally for Covarrubias, who grew up in his family's hotel kitchen in Cuautla, a city in the south-central state of Morelos. Here, he began experimenting with traditional Mexican cuisine, learning the secretos of the country's fare.

"I was always in the kitchen, watching the cooks clean the beans, peel the potatoes, make the sauces," says Covarrubias. "I paid attention to what they were doing, creating everything with love. Today, that's what makes my food taste better. The love for what I do truly makes a difference."

By "love," Covarrubias means "attention to detail." At his Los Tacos restaurants, many ingredients arrive straight from Mexico, sauces are made from scratch, and recipes are strictly adhered to.

Covarrubias will be the first to admit that most Mexican food outside of Mexico is a sham, much of it watered-down versions of the country's northernmost cuisine, served stateside as chicken-topped nachos, flavorless fajitas, and over-fried chimichangas. It's Tex-Mex: American food with Mexican origins.

The dishes at Los Tacos may look and sound just as familiar, but they're Covarrubias' way of delivering the real flavors of Mexico to the South Florida populace. More than just your average Mexican chef, he pulls from the country's various regions to offer some of its more colorful cuisine. There are enchiladas prepared the same way you'll find them in Mexico City; cochinita pibil tacos, a slow-roasted pork prepared the same way it is in the Yucatán Peninsula; or tinga, a red-chili-stained shredded chicken slow-simmered in clay pots from Puebla; a caesar salad said to be invented in Tijuana. And then there's that mole, an indigenous Afro-Mexican dish from Veracruz.

The tacos, served three at a time, are among the best you'll have north of the border, several chef's specialties including the chorizo con papas, corn tortillas packed to the brim with a crumbly, flavorful chorizo made fresh by a local Mexican market and paired with cubes of soft roasted potatoes. The pork pibil tacos — named for the Mayan word pib, or oven — pop with a combination of citrusy marinade and earthy achiote paste.

If it's your first visit, however, your server will undoubtably recommend the Tacos Locos, a brilliant combination of ancho-marinated pork, carne asada, and chicharrón topped with ripe slivers of avocado and bright pico de gallo. The duck and carnitas three-chili tacos you won't find anywhere else, adds Covarrubias, the latter made from the lean meat of the pork shoulder and flavored with caramelized onions, shallot, garlic, and ancho chili. The secret to this dish is a touch of agave, which lends a honeyed note to the toasted chili sauce.

An American beauty, the wet burrito will put your late-night, Taco Bell-induced comas to shame — a massive tube of rice, beans, Mexican cheeses, and ground beef wrapped in a stretchy flour tortilla and drowned in a puddle of mild white queso cream sauce. If you can manage to clean your plate, a different type of designated driver will be in order.

For dishes that truly feel as though someone's abuela had a hand in making them, go during the weekend and ask for a steaming bowl of pozole, a hearty, traditional Mexican stew made from long-simmered, dry white maize kernels.

You can pair any dish with one of the bar's margaritas crafted by mixologist Alejandro Lopez Monroy, especially the house tamarind-, mango-, or lychee-flavored options blended with fresh fruit purées. For a real sweet ending, order the fried ice cream. It isn't Mexican but has its roots in the Mexican-themed fast-food chain, Chi-Chi's, the first to adopt the dish and give it an ethnic twist. Like the pop-cult dessert from the late 1980s, the kitchen fries up shredded, cinnamon-infused tortilla chips, creating a churroesque shell around a giant scoop of ice cream.

The next time you're craving real Mexican food — be it some bona fide mole, a tasty street-style taco, or quesadillas made with Oaxaca queso and fresh-ground chorizo — it's safe to say you know where to go. And luckily, you don't need a passport.

Los Tacos by Chef Omar
12393 Pembroke Road, Weston. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-430-5180, or visit lostacosbychefomar.com.

Queso fundido con chorizo $10.90
Mole xico enchiladas $13.90
Chorizo con papas tacos $10.90
Tacos Locos $13.90
Wet burrito $12.50
Fried ice cream $6.99
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna

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