When the Oaxacan Kitchen opened in Palo Alto nearly three years ago, it offered a refreshing change from the over-cheesed Mexican-American variety of Mexican food that dominates Silicon Valley. Oaxacan food is a distinctive regional cuisine from southern Mexico that is worlds apart from a chimichanga topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream.
So I was distressed to hear that the restaurant had closed several weeks ago. The good news is that the Oaxacan Kitchen is riding again. And by riding, I mean riding all over the peninsula in a big green truck.
The restaurant has been reborn as the Oaxacan Kitchen Mobile and it pulls up at a different location each day. The restaurant tweets its location to followers to let them know where lunch will be served and what it will be.
The truck menu is largely the same as the former restaurant menu, but to me it tastes even better. Maybe that’s because you don’t expect handmade tortillas, fresh-steamed tamales and savory mole negro served on a street corner. It’s good food in an unlikely place. And there’s a lot of good food. Owners Ron and Zaida Kent are throwing a life raft of high-quality, good Oaxacan food to an area drowning in a sea of gringo-fied taco salads and nachos.
The tamales ($3.25 each) are a great place to start. On one of my visits in the pouring rain in Mountain View, the tamales were still steaming, and I had to wait a few minutes before they were ready. I was happy to do so. The cornhusk-wrapped verde (goat cheese, zucchini, mushroom, garlic and caramelized onions) was better than I remembered at the brick-and-mortar store. Good, too, were the chicken mole Amarillo and the banana leaf-wrapped chicken mole negro.
Although I don’t recommend eating it in your car, I do recommend the enchiladas de mole coloradito ($8). Available with griddled beef, chicken, butternut squash or chard, the freshly pressed tortillas are swaddled in a rich, mildly spicy mole sauce that stained the corners of my lips a ruddy rich brown. I wore the stain with pride.
The torta ($6) is a meal in itself. The bread is well toasted and soft in all the right places. I tried the grilled chicken. It tastes more like chicken salad, but the spring greens mixed with edible flowers made it a surprisingly upscale sandwich.
Memelas are something you won’t find at your typical norteno-style taqueria. The thick patty of corn masa is griddled and topped with pureed black beans, a staple of Oaxacan cuisine, and topped with lettuce, onions, cheese and meat, if you like. I liked it with chicken ($6).
My favorite dish might have been the lentil and potato soup ($3 for a cup, $5 for a bowl). Mixed with carrots and potatoes and a bit of chipotle, it was the perfect dish for a cold and wet day. Oh, and the supremely delicious Oaxacan hot chocolate ($3) worked pretty well on a dreary day, too.
On the downside, unless you can eat your food right away it’s going to get cold by the time you get back to the office. Eating in the car is an option, but as the stains on my car seat will attest, that’s a messy option. It’s hard to balance a little paper box of enchiladas and drippy tacos on your lap and avoid a trip to the cleaners. But stains on your shirt are a small price to pay for excellent Mexican food. Keep on truckin’.