Almost 10 years ago in Mexico City, sometime in September, I came across a dish I loved so much I vowed to eat it every day for the rest of my life. Unfortunately this proved harder to fulfill than I thought, as when I returned to New York City I could not find it anywhere, during any season, nada.
After a few months of searching online and through menus wherever I landed, I gave up and decided I had done myself a disservice to live in a city without the dish (and many other regional Mexican dishes, unfortunately). Last year I had the chance to visit Los Angeles for the first time since having the dish in Mexico, and was able to eat at the wonderful Casita Mexicana. Their version of chiles en nogada (below), was almost as divine as I remembered.
The chile here is a Poblano pepper, stuffed with a ground beef picadillo and topped with a walnut (nogal) sauce that gives the dish its name. It has a debated history, but is traditionally eaten around Independence Day in August or early September because the colors of dish, red, white, and green, represent the colors of the Mexican flag.
When I returned from this trip, my inspiration was returned but again I found the dish to be unrepresented on Mexican menus in the five boroughs. I have a small restaurant around the corner from me in Sunset Park that I often order Seamless from and also stop in for a quick bite from time to time. I would not call them excellent, but they are my safe place, and figured out the wonders of online ordering. I have a good relationship with the guy that runs the place and teased him a few times to cook the dish. To my amazement, one night as I went to pick up laundry, there it was on the specials board out front.
The dish that came is pictured below and only cost $8 including rice and beans, an absolute steal for this meal. It did not have the flavors and intensities the plates in Mexico or Los Angeles did, but it got me smiling nonetheless. Unfortunately they quickly stopped preparing it, but promise to add it back in the future, depending on the freshness of pomegranate.
Walking in Sunnyside a couple weeks ago I noticed a new restaurant opened in the space of a former Irish bar called Bliss Street Pub. They called themselves Chihuahua Mexican Restaurant and my hopes were high for some regional food from this northern Mexican state. I brought a group of five back a week later to test it out.
Unfortunately despite some dishes including Chihuahua in the name, this turned out to be more of a reference to the restaurant rather than the state. We tried a few dishes and had a decent meal, but the range of food was neither unique nor spectacular. What they did have though was another version of chiles en nogada (below), this time priced at $17.
It was the worst version of the dish I have had, but that is not saying much, I still loved it. I think the other members of the group did as well, and I hope readers of this page get the chance to try versions here in New York and further away. We at least have two versions made nearby, and I invite anyone to send me leads if they find it at other locations.
[For the record, there are a few "upscale" places in uptown and downtown neighborhoods of Manhattan that prepare this dish, sometimes only around August/September. They would be worth trying, but are not part of the beat of this website.]
Isabela Mexican Cuisine
Chihuahua Mexican Restaurant & Cantina