Being from San Diego and no stranger to Mexican food, I am always looking for a new spot. With a few notable exceptions, the variety of flavors & regional variance that exist are not celebrated by most Mexican restaurants. Still it forever remains one of my favorite types of fare.
As in any type of cuisine, food made with love is best. When you can find a place where it’s prepared by people who care, you have something special. While we do live in a world of Sysco, where pre-packed “meal in a bag” for many restaurants is the norm, it is nice to know that “made from scratch” does still exist outside of menu cliques.
Such a place is Chile Caliente. Located on Whitney Ranch Dr. in Henderson, it was opened by two brothers, Ramón & Isidro Rueda from Michoacán, Mexico. While many of the recipes are directly from their abuela’s rancho, the bulk of the menu is not limited to one region. Chef Isidro, with help from Ramón, have taken multiple Mexican classic specialties and have made them their own.
One example is the Mariscoco, which is a type of ceviche meets shrimp-cocktail. The dish is served inside a young coconut with a mixture of raw and cooked ingredients including julienned green coconut, coconut juice, citrus, shrimp stock and chiles. These, along with the protein elements of octopus, tilapia & shrimp meeting the freshness of cucumber and the creamy texture of avocado, are addictive. What makes it even more enticing, it’s served with a multitude of hand selected hot sauces and with a new invention: a type of salsa reduction that carries a deep & rich sweet-heat that changes with every bite. It was a combination of several types of dried chiles, soy sauce, garlic, spice and a touch of sugar, all cooked down for great Sabor!
Isidro and Ramón are not only trying to celebrate their heritage but also create a flavor experience that is transformed with each bite. Thus far, they have been able to balance pushing the limit on the palate without being overly spicy. It is also why they serve so many accompaniment options including the 15 different house-made salsas and sauces.
Included in the experience is a dish called the “Molcajete.” Named after the volcanic rock mortar & pestle in which it is served, it hits all of the senses. It is started by putting the volcanic stone vessel on the flame, while each component of the dish is individually prepared. There are shrimp 2 ways, tilapia a la plancha, house-made chorizo, marinated carne asada and queso fresco; these are all gently placed half-in while adorning the sides of the molcajete. They continue to cook on the hot stone as a creamy Poblano sauce and a Guajillo chile “Diablo” sauce are poured together for a marriage “al la minute.” And right before the sizzling dish is taken out of the kitchen, one of the stars of the dish is added to the molten combination, the octopus. The eight legged wonder is slow simmered and then finished “a la plancha” before being introduced into the bubbling sauce for a tender and tasty effect.
There are many other noteworthy dishes to speak of, from the various salads, Botana Chile Caliente, ceviche, meats & tacos, and dishes like the Pescado Veracruzano. One of the best examples of fusion cuisine before it had a name that become tradition. Wherever there are good cooks that are forced to use what they have in a new place, they can come up with greatness. Also do not miss the Torta Tres Leches cheesecake with its multiple soft and moist layers of goodness.
There are several beverage options ranging from the homemade & fire quenching horchata, California wine and several Mexican beers. If a “Michelada’ is your thing, Chile Caliente makes their own dangerously delicious version. The Chile Caliente Michelada is made with a house blend of spices, shrimp stock and the chile lime rim. It is a godsend for anyone with a hangover.
With a price point that is lower than many Mexican restaurants, and a food quality that is higher than most, Chile Caliente is bound for success. For those looking for their new favorite and for real food that is made with love, this is the place for you. Just go soon, before it gets too crowded!