Timewarp Tuesday: Cocina caliente

In case you missed it, I’m reposting reviews from my time at the Monterey Herald every Tuesday. Here’s my review of Pacific Grove’s Mando’s Restaurant that appeared in the Go! section of the Monterey Herald on November 14, 2012.

Have you ever noticed how much the weather sets the mood for your culinary cravings? When the mercury’s rising, I cool off with some sushi.

And when the temperatures drop, I crave French food — a piping hot bowl of French onion soup or a savory steak frites.

It’s fall, and a brisk breeze bathes Pacific Grove by night, so I’ve been craving soups and other hearty dishes to stave off the chill.

When the mercury drops, there's nothing like a hearty plate of mole or steaming bowl of pozole to warm up!

When the mercury drops, there’s nothing like a hearty plate of mole or steaming bowl of pozole to warm up!

When the weather outside is frightful, a steaming bowl of pozole is delightful. The menu at Mando’s Restaurant includes pozole and many other hearty options, perfect for fending off the cold outside.

On my first visit a couple weeks ago, I ordered chile verde — pork in a spicy green tomatillo sauce ($12.95).

The chile verde was spicy, the perfect remedy for the cold weather outside.

The chile verde was spicy, the perfect remedy for the cold weather outside.

The plate was packed with tender chunks of pork, stewed in a spicy tomatillo sauce. With each bite, I felt the heat tickling my tongue.

Without any shame, I got a second order of fresh housemade tortillas to soak up the last bits of sauce on my plate.

Freshly steamed tamales are the quintessential wintertime food for many Mexican families. This is the time of year when my tias start making large batches of tamales for the familia’s year-end holidays. I got a head start on the festivities trying a couple tamales at Mando’s Restaurant.

The tamales at Mando’s Restaurant are available with beef, pork, chicken or jalapeño and cheese. Each can be ordered a la carte ($2.75 apiece, just $1.50 on Mondays) or in a combination plate with rice and beans (one tamal for $6.95, two for $8.95).

The chicken tamal was a bit of a disappointment — both the chicken and the masa were a little dry. But the cheese and jalapeño tamal was perfect, with gooey cheese studded with tender chunks of jalapeño and wrapped in soft masa.

When the weather got really wintery earlier this week and temperatures plummeted, I returned to Mando’s Restaurant for a bowl of pozole (small for $7.15, large for $8.95).

Pozole is one of my all-time favorite soups, but one I'm very particular about.

Pozole is one of my all-time favorite soups, but one I’m very particular about.

I love this traditional Mexican stew — a mix of meat and hominy (nixtamalized whole-corn kernels) — but I rarely order pozole when I’m dining out because I’ve been spoiled by a good friend’s home-cooked vegetarian pozole. The risk paid off at Mando’s Restaurant — theirs was filling and flavorful.

When the server set the bowl down, I was captivated by the aroma — the savory smell of oregano and other dried herbs was heavenly, melting away the chill from outside.

Don’t be fooled by the “small” moniker — it really was a generous portion with large pieces of pork and lots of hominy kernels in a rich, savory broth.

Traditional condiments — chopped cabbage, diced onions, cilantro and a wedge of lemon — were served on the side.

After such a delicious lunch, I couldn’t resist returning the next day for the chicken mole ($13.95).

The mole at Mando's was marvelous!

The mole at Mando’s was marvelous!

Mole is one of my favorite dishes and it’s a good litmus test for Mexican restaurants. Mando’s Restaurant passed with flying colors. The tender chicken was cooked in a rich blend of chile peppers, cinnamon, spices and a touch of chocolate. The complexity of the sauce built with each bite. It was sublime.

The little things — like housemade tortillas or light, fluffy rice — really made all the difference, too. Sure, the atmosphere inside was a little rough around the edges, but that didn’t diminish the caliber of the food.

Heat wave or cold snap, Mando’s Restaurant serves up delicious, authentic Mexican food from caldos to carnitas.

Mando’s Restaurant is at 162 Fountain Ave. in Pacific Grove. 656-9235. www.yelp.com/biz/mandos-restaurant-pacific-grove.

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