Writing about Mi Lindo Oaxaca feels like breaking a vow of silence or unmasking a secret society. It’s a practically unknown restaurant in a practically unknown Oak Cliff strip mall. The front door and sign out front say “Tacos King.” Payments are cash-only and service is rarely in English; only once have I seen a customer who couldn’t speak Spanish. Rarely are more than three or four tables occupied at a time.
But hiding behind the Tacos King sign is a restaurant of unusual sophistication. Mi Lindo Oaxaca makes their own tortillas and they bake their own bread. They barbecue meat and serve up a taco full of grasshoppers. And their mole — probably the best mole in Dallas — is made the old-fashioned way. At Mi Lindo Oaxaca, that means peeling the cacao beans by hand.
In other words, this place is special.
Bring a group of friends, about $15 cash per person and very empty stomachs. Order as much as possible. Start with a tlayuda ($10), which is often called a “Oaxacan pizza” but here is served closed-faced. Inside the tortilla are beans, cheese, a handful of tomato and avocado slices, lettuce and a choice of meat, like tasajo (dried, almost jerkied beef), cecina (chile-marinated pork), chorizo or chapulines (grasshoppers). The tortilla, meanwhile, gets grilled until it's nearly crunchy, with scorching black grill marks.
Tlayudas are, according to Taco Trail writer and Observer contributor José Ralat, a “festival of textures.” He’s right: the tortilla itself, unusually assertive; the lettuce, still crisp in all that filling; the meatily intense tasajo; velvety beans and cheese.
But save room. The veggie quesadillas ($5.99) beckon, those homemade tortillas filled to the brim with a mix of huitlacoche, sautéed squash blossoms and onion. Grasshoppers are waiting to be tried, perhaps on a memelita, a tostada-like snack with a fried masa base, topped with beans and Oaxacan cheese ($3). The beans are so flavorful and so smooth that they can mask the bugs’ nutty flavor. Be daring; pick a few grasshoppers off the top and try them alone.
Enfrijoladas ($10) are a sort of enchilada in which tortillas are folded, stacked and smothered in a rich, heartening black bean sauce. The meat arrives on the side; I recommend cecina, a thin cut of pork spiced with chiles 'til orange. Maybe more of an acquired taste is the tasajo platter ($10), with the meat grilled and served with all the fixings needed for tacos. Since this beef is (intentionally) rather tough, I’d advise trying it in the tlayuda or one of the more heavily sauced platters.
And then there’s the menu’s centerpiece: mole negro, the legendarily complex and delicious Oaxacan sauce. Mi Lindo Oaxaca buys cacao beans and makes its own chocolate, from scratch, for the sauce. (The Taco Trail has a YouTube video of the process.)
This mole is unusually dark-chocolatey, with a very slight bitter edge, a deep richness and gentle, lingering spice on the finish. Mole can be served on a plate of chicken legs ($10), perfectly cooked, the meat without even a hint of dryness. Or it can arrive on enmoladas ($10), the sauce dousing a stack of fresh tortillas, complemented by big chunks of Oaxacan cheese. The enmoladas platter comes with a choice of meat on the side, but the meat will just be used to sop up more of the delicious sauce.
Tacos may seem unnecessary amid these riches, but Mi Lindo Oaxaca does make tacos, and they are pretty good ones. The $3 tacos are big enough for a meal, loaded generously with high-quality ingredients like chorizo or chicken, although my favorite filling is the chile-marinated cecina. Those handmade tortillas come off the grill crisp and delicate, and a squirt or two of the restaurant’s red salsa sends me to my taco happy place.
Of the three tamale varieties available, our top pick is the Oaxacan ($3), wrapped in a banana leaf with shredded chicken and herbs folded into the mix. The tamal de chepil ($1.50) is a milder, drier alternative in the more familiar corn husk, based around its namesake legume.
The drinks list is basic and alcohol-free; Mexican Coke is available, and the lemonade is ordinary grocery-store stuff. But breakfast-time means some of the best hot chocolate in the city. It may be the milky-light color of the Swiss Miss powder mixes, but they’re using their own chocolate, with hints of spices and a smell that’s intoxicating.
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Mi Lindo Oaxaca is a small, quiet place. The television’s antenna dangles from a nail on the wall. Its dining room is the kind where Oak Cliff residents quietly knock back a torta or, on weekends, a bowl of chicken soup, while telenovelas play and a lone server nonchalantly takes care of business. Take note of that last part. We’ve had to ask for silverware, and water refills don’t really happen. Each plate arrives at the table when it’s ready.
This year-old establishment was started by Honorio García with a small-business loan from Accion Texas. It’s as unpretentious as restaurants get; the dining room’s most elegant touch is the hand-painted wooden napkin holders. But that casual façade hides a serious kitchen making top-quality comfort foods, and the mole is a whole lot more than that. Mi Lindo Oaxaca is a restaurant Dallas badly needed. Now the secret is out.
Mi Lindo Oaxaca, 2519 Fort Worth Ave., 469-941-4560, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.