I’m really hard on the Mexican food around the Albany area, and I think that’s rightfully so. With a couple of rare exceptions, we have a whole lot of barely passable Mexican food in the area. The most recent time I ordered mole around here, it was bad.
The example of really great Mexican I give when I talk with people who want to listen is El Bandido in Middletown, NY. That’s the place where my Mexican co-workers (from Puebla) took me over 20 years ago to hang out and eat all of the authentic goodies of the various regions of Mexico.
As you can imagine, the cuisine of Mexico is a lot more than tacos, burritos, and other things you can make by shuffling permutations of corn or flour tortillas with beef, chicken, pork, or chorizo. I’m not going to do it justice by trying to quickly describe it here, but if you have a chance to dine at a restaurant that truly specializes, give it a few visits to get a wide sampling.
As I hinted at above, the item that is my Litmus test for a good Mexican restaurant is Mole Poblano. It’s a rich, complex sauce that’s used in a number of dishes. It usually takes hours to make and has a combination of over 25 ingredients including spices, different chiles, cinnamon, and chocolate. Chocolate is one of the instruments in the symphony, which is why on Chopped, you’ll hear Aaron Sanchez reprimand people when they say they made a mole sauce because they put chocolate in it.
A fairly recent development at El Bandido is their tequila bar. They’re cashing in on the trendiness of that particular spirit, which is good for them. I usually order a margarita, but on this visit, I started the meal with a mojito.
A cool touch at El Bandido is that, in addition to the obligatory chips and salsa on the table, they bring a small quesadilla to each diner to whet appetites.
You can get meat or enchiladas smothered in Mole Poblano. My level of hunger usually dictates which I order (either chicken or enchiladas filled with chicken). When I’m less hungry, I do the enchiladas.
For $11, it’s a perfect portion. They give a decent portion of Mexican rice and refried beans as bookends to the corn tortilla enchiladas filled with pulled chicken that’s moist with chile and tomato flavors, but the real star on the plate is the mole.
At first glance, it seems like there’s not enough sauce, but, remember, it’s very rich. It’s almost indescribable. It’s texture is creamy, and there’s a good amount of sweet that bounces between the cinnamon and chocolate. It’s not very spicy, but the taste of chiles, mainly ancho and chipotle, is evident. They add some sparse bites of raw onion to cut through the richness, some sesame seeds to amplify the flavors in the mole, and about a quarter of an avocado to garnish.
Every time I order this dish, the plate goes back to the kitchen empty. It’s that great.
If tacos and burritos are more your style, they have those, too, and they’re better than most of the variants you’ve had around this area. My mom orders that stuff, and I would never judge.
Also included in the meal is a couple of small bites for dessert.
It’s a banana chimichanga (deep fried flour tortilla filled with banana) with a scoop of ice cream, some whipped cream, syrup, and a dusting of cinnamon. While not perfect, it’s a really nice touch to bundle it into the meal as it drives home the value of the meal.