Have you heard about the molcajete?
In some circles, it seems as if all anybody talks about is the molcajete, which is the improbable specialty of Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria, an ultra casual dining restaurant unjustly implanted into the outskirts of Federal Way’s growing food scene.
Because from the moment you spot the molcajete — which at some point will be decorating the table of nearly everyone in the eight-table dining room — you know it is unlike anything else in this town.
The accompanying tortillas, for one thing, are heavy and thick, like they should be and are pressed to order. There is ranchera salsa made with herbs and minced lardo, homemade guacamole, queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese), cebollines (chives) and nopal asado (grilled cactus), and these are just the sides!
Mounds of carne asada (grilled flank steak), grilled chicken, shrimp and Mexican-style chorizo nearly overflow the terracotta platter with an aroma that must be smelled in person to truly appreciate.
And when you pick up your filled tortilla — your own personally handmade taco, trying to bend it into a classic U-shape without destroying it — the tortilla will crack anyway. What pours out is the pure unbridled essence of Mexican tradition, a razor-sharp chile heat and just a trickle of citrus. All melded together and yet all separate.
If nobody told you that a good amount of flavor came from lardo, you would never figure it out on your own.
The first several times I tried this Michoacán regional dish, I could have sworn that the toasty porkiness that permeates it came from the molten fat that is a side product of making carnitas — the Mexican kitchen’s equivalent of the duck fat left over from confit. Nope. I thought the naming of the plate was a rhetorical flourish rather than a nod to technique. Wrong again.
What I learned is that the traditional molcajete is the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle. The molcajete was used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztec and Mayas, its roots stretching back thousands of years.
So this mashing of flavors, with beef, chicken and seafood on a single platter is so aptly named and profoundly spiced that it deserves to be enjoyed by one and all.
If you have spent much time around the fringes of the Federal Way scene in the last several years, in that odd underworld where it sometimes seems as if food exists more to be talked about than to be eaten, you have probably run across Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria, which is poised to be the next big thing out of Federal Way.
While contemporaries of busy avant-garde taco trucks or others explore the nuances of the pop-up economy, Los Bigotes de Villa kept their cooking quiet.
While other local restaurants flirted with foraged greens, wild fermentations and exotic animal fats, Los Bigotes de Villa stuck to perfecting the classics, such as arroz con pollo (chicken and rice that is in this foodies opinion, the best in town) camarones mojo de ajo (shrimp, mushrooms and garlic all together in a unique recipe) and marinated pork al pastor.
All of these classics have ultra-fresh toppings that hew so closely with the rhythms of the Federal Way Farmers Market, that I once joked about the possibility of a hidden Saturday pipeline connecting the restaurant with the vegetable stalls of the Sears parking lot just down Pacific Highway. The closest thing to transgressive eats here may be the wet burrito, a dish that kind of encapsulates everything about food in 2007, but I digress.
Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria has come into its own, proposing a bold style that is less Mexican American than it is Mexican.
A hideaway that is channeling the food experiences of a distant homeland and the local Mexican food scene, earning a hard-won, well deserved and somewhat underground reputation.
Other locales may work through dishes like chilpachole, mole and chiles en nogada, while Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria celebrates the bold, unruly flavors of the streets of coastal Mexico — Camarones a la Diabla (intensely spicy shrimp and mushrooms cooked in a tasty red sauce) or mojarra fritas (deep fried and crispy whole tilapia).
So there are your molcajete tacos, made on those bulletproof tortillas, the salsa bar with nearly a dozen selections ranging from very mild to muy caliente and a cooler full of Jarritos, Mexican fruit sodas. There are your traditional Mexican drinks like sidral and sangria to the classic cinnamon horchata.
But please, even if you tend to skip dessert in Mexican restaurants, at Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria you should reconsider. I am slightly in awe of the flan — condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon and cream — cooked to an almost unearthly perfection and covered in a dreamy caramel sauce. And the feather-light churros are so worth your time tasting, dissolving like wafers on the tongue, leaving only a faint but vivid dream of cinnamon sugar and hot oil.
At Los Bigotes de Villa Taqueria, you will find the truest versions of traditional dishes of western Mexico, right here in Federal Way and I for one am certainly lucky to have found it!
Los Bigotes De Villa Taqueria is located at 30420 Pacific Highway, Suite No. 3. For information, call 253-941-2071.
Federal Way resident Robert Colbert is a food and wine enthusiast.