By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
If you happen to be travelling on Interstate Five in the Centralia or Chehalis area, about half-an-hour from Olympia, Washington, I sincerely recommend two family-owned restaurants that pride themselves in authentic, and remarkable Mexican Cuisine: Taqueria Juquilita in Chehalis and Tagueria Juquilita 2 in Centralia.
I had again the small pleasure of dining there tonight and I felt compelled to at least give a shout-out. Both restaurants are family owned and the Centralia location was handed down to the daughter of the family matriarch who owns Chehalis. Both restaurants are easy to miss as they have an appreciable humbleness to their store front. Centralia has only twenty-six seats among seven tables. The food stems in the style of that offered in Mexico City and Oaxaca, where the family heralds. I can say without reservation that among other delights, the mole sauce is the best I have eaten and the flavors of each meal are complex and deserving of praise. Both restaurants are worth the drive.
I place much emphasis in evaluating both the authenticity and the quality of a Mexican restaurant by its mole sauce. Americanized ones frequently use processed, pre-mixed sauce for two reasons: cost and labor savings. Making traditional mole involves many steps carried out over about two days. It cannot be fudged or faked. Here it is about as authentic as you will find and if you are a person who appreciates such things surely you will not be disappointed. The mother of the family makes this for both restaurants and she adeptly brings out each of the composing flavors, including the slight sesame seed notes at the first impression, following through until the underlying chocolate and onions. The pollo (chicken) is slow cooked and both soft and infused with the mole, presenting a pleasant amount of heat without the heat overpowering the underlying experience. Accompanying this are white corn tortillas that are soft and present a homemade taste–setting itself apart from the outsourced ones appearing most everywhere else.
Next we were presented with Gorditas. I saw earlier another patron having a gordita and I asked the proprietor what he was having. His was a large offering, which of course seemed fitting since the word means “chubby” in the Spanish Language. She instead recommended a dish having three varieties of smaller gorditas, each affording about five choices for meat or fillings. For me the middle gordita was the best–carnitas. The others were pork and shredded chicken. Two sauces accompanied, one was a verde type sauce having a garlic and lime type flavor (and pleasantly not sour like so many others to me unfortunately are). The other was of a flavor I haven’t yet experienced.
At the finish, our proprietor brought us a complimentary dessert, a deep-fried serving having toppings of chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles and a sweet cinnamon dusting. It made for an delicious delicacy and served well in removing any residual pepper heat one might have over-indulged themselves within.
I have had other dishes at both locations and have always been pleased. I have not explored what if anything differs at each restaurant, though at the Chehalis location I have to almost insist that if a customer has a liking to hot chocolate then they surely must order this at their next visit. Truly delicious, homemade, and of a blend of chocolate unlike what one will find most elsewhere.
The Chehalis store operates from what appears to be an old neighborhood grocery store from decades ago, as it appears to have 1940’s style refrigerator casing at the back. I find it rather interesting actually since so often we find mediocrity in modern restaurants trying to set themselves apart by engaging in the latest fashion of conformity. Here the food and family-like service is the emphasis and that is actually what matters.
Centralia is smaller–shown above–yet bright and airy, as it has two skylights in the ceiling and simply decorated. The owner told me of her desire to bring various seafood choices to her menu but space constraints made this impractical. Since seafood is my dietary preference, I certainly wait with much anticipation for this eventuality. Yes, and eventuality given the propensity she has for success in her chosen profession. Some of the seafood dishes of the East Coast of Mexico have a loyal following among pescatarians I know.
As aforementioned, the cuisine heralds in the style and manner of Mexico City and Oaxaca. The various states comprising Mexico have their own fashion of cooking, and it is difficult to find true regional differences in what we find of Mexican cuisine in the U.S. Yet for the same price, most people here will settle for corporate Mexican style food from an American owned chain. If you happen to be in either of these towns, you owe it to yourself to try something enjoyable.
By Darren Smith
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