There are all sorts of valiant Mexican-food efforts out there, from upscale Strip venues to the occasional taco truck. In between are popular hangouts such as Fausto’s, a Henderson chain; Los Antojos, a storefront that features the cuisine of Mexico City; and the eccentric Los Molcajetes in North Las Vegas. But, overall, the scene here doesn’t have much range.
Slowly, that’s starting to change. My favorite new evidence is Sabor, a restaurant near the DMV in Henderson that features specialties from Oaxaca, a state in the extreme south of Mexico. Pronounced “wa-HA-ka,” this region is as famous for its mole—a dark, complex sauce that contains chocolate and about 30 other ingredients—as it is for its artisanal rugs and crafts.
The man in charge of the kitchen at Sabor (the Spanish word for “flavor”) is American Scott Souza, who had a restaurant in Oaxaca for five years. It’s clear from the jump that the affable chef is attempting to be different. I can only hope he’ll stay on message for the long haul.
Sabor is housed in a pleasant space, formerly the restaurant El Jefe’s. There is a tile floor, Diva lights suspended from the high ceilings, and a long, semicircular bar area. The waiters, who are mostly bilingual, seem anxious to explain the concept to you. The menu proclaims this is “relaxed California cuisine with Oaxacan flavors.” That’s a start.
Sip a fiery cocktail called Zicatela’s Revenge, made from habanero-infused vodka. Then dip into one of five condiments (toasted cumin and toasted coriander seeds among them), which are brought to your table along with the flat corncakes (sopes) and tortilla chips. At this point you’ll realize you’re not in Kansas anymore.
You might begin with the tamal de mole negro, a masa tamale that is unveiled from a banana leaf wrapper. The mole is imported from Oaxaca in paste form, but it is as exotic and intense a sauce as the law allows. One more compelling starter is sopa Azteca, like a tortilla soup, but with a darker, smokier broth.
Fried calamari, a fairly workmanlike interpretation, comes with pink chipotle-pepper-infused aioli, but the pieces taste much better with a dab of the sweet arbol chile sauce that is in the condiment quintet. If you want guacamole, they make it tableside, which is a nice touch but it’s getting to be a generic one at upscale Mexican restaurants.
You can have your mole and eat it, too, by ordering an entrée called Mole Negro Oaxaqueno, which is that same sauce on braised chicken. But I opted for the chile poblano chicken instead, which is delicious. If you fancy red meat, the blackened arrachera (brined flank steak that will remind you of London broil) is fine as well, if not very Mexican.
The restaurant ran out of the grilled whole red snapper the night I dined there, so one of my dinner companions opted for dorado de Puerto, a grilled chunk of mahi-mahi paired with pleasant minted rice and fruit salsa. I also tried a forgettable marinated grilled veggie plate. Zucchini … blah!
Our server recommended the flambéed rum pineapple ice cream for dessert, but we decided to try a Oaxacan chocolate sundae and told him to hold the shaving-cream-like dessert topping.
Like the restaurant, it was impressive, except for one thing: It could have used just a little more Oaxaca.
594 N. Stephanie St., Henderson, 473-5377. Dinner for two, $38-$59. Dinner 4-11 p.m. daily. Bar and lounge 4 p.m.-2 a.m.