The heat from this Mexican cuisine is the perfect remedy for the winter chills.
Given our holiday trajectory and winter's chill becoming too much to bear, it's perfect sense to let El Tri send you off to warmer climes. Certainly, there's a time and a place to argue for season appropriate fare, but then again, one may choose to forgo harangues as much as one's encumbering winter coat.
Especially so, since the food at Cholula Tacos and Deli is warming in so many ways, with simple charms that spring from centuries of home cooking. Though the small seating area-they thankfully added several tables recently-may be bare, the earnest, honest approach taken by the kitchen removes any concerns. But then again, for those bent on striking gold, such things hardly matter.
Of course the spoils shouldn't be left for the adventure prone. Anyone can avail themselves to the porcine versatility on display in their taco selection. The marinated pork of the al pastor sings with flavor; the buche or pork belly possesses both succulent pork meat as well as a mild stomach lining, these curled little bands perfectly caramelized; the beef tripe-unlike the flat sheaths seen in Vietnamese or Chinese cuisine-comes intact, leaving you with a rich, liver-like encased pate; think plumped up, unctuous chow fun for the pork skins, their texture and subtle flavor creating something surprisingly wonderful when wed with the crunch of onion coupled with cilantro in the soft tortilla. You're left feeling there's nothing a pig can't do. A side of chile infused guacamole brings more joyful notes. My only wish-as I pine for blood sausage (moronga) tacos-is for fresher cilantro and the use of crispy, flavorful stalks along with the leaves to further textural contrast.
Thus, I reaped the benefits of a culture bent on doing everything with pork long before it became part of a culinary trend. Had I felt guilty, the horchata would have been the perfect salve. A refreshing blend of sweet condensed and evaporated milk, vanilla, and rice powder perfectly spiced with cinnamon, it bears a soothing sweetness that inundates me with each tilt of my near 40-oz. size styrofoam cup. Cold be damned, I couldn't help myself.
The quesadilla mocks every bar room imposter I've come across. While the one I try-along with the corn mushroom-seems unique, the pumpkin flower meant to take center stage fails to come through. The queso-they employ a dry Italian mozzarella that's shredded prior to cooking to further approximate queso Oaxaca (not a problem since that cheese is meant to approximate Italian mozzarella)-is creamy and rich, yet possessing the requisite body that Mexican cuisine, and quesadillas in particular, demand. The few notes of pumpkin oil that get through are nice, but cheese alone-the focus anyway-would have sufficed, particularly since homemade corn tortillas are made on the grill for each quesadilla (for tacos there's an extra fee for the home made stuff, though we're not talking white bread versus brioche here).
The camerones a la Mexicanas feature succulent, robust shrimp in a light tomato broth that could easily double for that found in bouillabaisse. The broth infuses the accompanying onions, peppers and chunks of plumb tomatoes; the sweetness of the first two complement the shrimp, while the thankfully sparing green peppers nicely accentuate the dish. To complete the dish: refried beans with smokey highlights to cap a rich flavor; lightly oiled stout, yet yielding yellow rice.
Speaking of soup, there's the sopa de mariscos, an off-menu item that the amicable staff will prepare with alacrity. A rich fish stock informed with in-shell lobster and crab is rounded out with diced onions and a chipotle marinade (vinegar, brown sugar to sweeten and temper the acidity, thyme, oregano and garlic), the tempered infusion of spice and oil letting you know why the soup, much like pho, regularly plays the role of hangover assassin. Mussels, baby shrimp and calamari join in, the soup so well executed that even the few chunks of imitation crab meat- broth pull their weight.
The flan napolitano possesses both an ethereal lightness, as well as a smooth creaminess that just begins to approximate cheesecake. Also homemade are the complimentary candied Hawthorne apples. These miniatures are brought down after boiling to soak in a molasses syrup, the saccharine injection, like the flan's burnished top, being perfectly rendered.
Simplicity. Comfort. Tradition. Soothing warmth. It's all one needs this time of year.
Cholula Tacos and Deli is located at 223 York Rd., Suite D in Warminster. For more information, call 215-441-8574.