Sometimes it feels as if this town neglects its more modest establishments, a pity since we have so many worth writing about. Most of us only eat $50 steaks on the Strip if we can expense them. And that makes Las Cazuelas, a tiny Mexican joint in a corner of Silverado Ranch Plaza, all the more compelling.
“Poblano” refers to the cuisine of Mexico’s colonial city of Puebla. Perhaps you’ve heard of mole Poblano, one of Mexico’s most famous dishes? At Las Cazuelas, chef/owner Manuel Avendaño does a mean one, plus lots of other dishes popular in his hometown.
This isn’t what you’d call a date restaurant. It’s a narrow, four-table café decorated with cazuelas—round clay or copper serving dishes—mounted on pastel-color walls. Food is served in mini cazuelas, stainless steel serving vessels with twin handles. Order at the counter, and food is ferried to your table by Avendaño himself. Do note that Las Cazuelas has no beer or wine, but BYOB is allowed.
This is Mexican fare you won’t find anywhere else in the Valley:chanclas, pelonas, molletes and other Pueblan favorites, not to mention various tortas (sandwiches), tacos and sides. Avendaño cooked at Ventano for more than a decade, doing Italian specialties. Now he has the chance to cook dishes he grew up with, and he’s hitting them out of the park.
Avendaño slow cooks roast pork adobo style, in an oven with anchochile, spices and salt, before pulling it apart and stuffing it into a crusty roll with sliced ripe avocado. It is called torta de pierna on the menu, and it’s a dream sandwich, especially when eaten with a bowl of the terrific frijoles charros (cowboy beans) as a side dish.
The frijoles (in this case, pinto beans) are served in a mini cazuela, bubbling hot in a stew flavored with bacon, onions, chile, cilantro, peppers and chunks of sausage. It’s the best bean dish I’ve had in many a moon, and it makes a good accompaniment for many of the items on this menu.
How about chanclas? These are two large shredded chicken sliders served “wet”—again with avocado and onion—smothered in a ragu of chopped Spanish chorizo. Make it shredded beef, fry the bread and you’ve got pelonas, this time also using a spread of refried beans and spicy sauce, turning them into a somewhat more filling proposition.
Did I mention molletes? Picture a long submarine roll, split, then topped with beans, mozzarella cheese and lots of pico de gallo (chopped tomato, onion and chilies) added after the sandwich is grilled in the oven so the cheese can melt. What Avendaño doesn’t do is cemitas, which border on religion in their native habitat of Puebla. Cemitas are sesame egg buns stuffed with milanesa, a pan-fried beef cutlet, or pork skins, plus Oaxaca cheese, avocado and salsa. But take heart—he’s looking for the bread.
Now about that mole. You’ll eat it here on shredded chicken enchiladas, and it’s just about the most chocolate-rich mole I’ve ever tasted. (Avendaño’s wife makes it.) If that doesn’t float your boat, then surely you’ll want elotes, Mexican street corn, dusted with powdery cheese and served with a shaker of powdered chili that you add to taste. For dessert, a dish called gelatina de frutas—multicolored cubes of Jell-O in various flavors drowned in cream and sugar to obscure their different colors—is surprisingly refreshing.
9711 S. Eastern Ave., 837-0204. Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun-Thu, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $17-$28.