The Mother of All Mex

Tapping the Interior Source

They say that no Mexican meal is complete without some chile. Perhaps this explains why the specialty of the house at Curra's Grill, owned and operated by the Curra family of Nueva Rosita, Coahuila (not far from the border southwest of Piedras Negras), is jalapeños en escabeche. This relish of herbed jalapeños and vegetables cooked in vinegar is a south-of-the-border staple, used to add flavor and piquancy to tacos, eggs, stews, enchiladas - just about any dish. But you are not likely to find this recipe at the other "Mexican" restaurants in Austin, save possibly from a can, because jalapeñosen escabeche are not a TexMex condiment. Curra's Grill specializes in interior Mexican cuisine - i.e., what Mexicans eat - and this differs tremendously from what gringos commonly call Mexican food. There are no bean burritos or Enchiladas Velveeta Mountain on the restaurant's menu, and the names of many of the dishes will sound unfamiliar: molletes, cazón, sincronizadas, chilorio, etc. Most of the items that do have recognizable names do not resemble their trusty counterparts at Chuy's or Trudy's. But it would be a mistake to let the exotic dinner list dissuade you from visiting; Curra's distinctive assortment of regional specialties and unpretentious atmosphere provide an authentic taste of Mexico, a nice change for folks tired of the same old tacos.

Perhaps the best time to visit the grill is in the morning, when it serves up an exceptional selection of hearty breakfasts a la Mexicana. For the ravenous, I suggest the restaurant's twist on steak and eggs, huevos a la Curra ($4.25). Next to a helping of refried pinto beans sprinkled with fresh queso ranchero (farmer's cheese) comes an order of carne guisada, or chunks of lean beef in a tasty sauce, top-ped by a couple of fried eggs - perfect with some of the escabeche. Or you might try the huevos a la albañil ($2.75). This common Mexican dish, the name of which literally means "bricklayer's eggs," seems to have as many variations as cooks who prepare it. At Curra's, two eggs are smothered in a rich red chile sauce, which is described as being composed of pasilla but looks and tastes more like an ancho or guajillo concoction.

Feeling adventurous? How do two tortillas topped by eggs, chipotle sauce, and bananas, served on a bed of black beans, sound? This scrumptious Mexican-Caribbean creation is Curra's unique rendition of huevos motuleños ($3.50), a particular favorite in the Yucatán peninsula. On the other hand, if you feel more comfortable eating something you're familiar with, then fill up on a plate of migas ($3.40), huevos rancheros ($2.75), or a few breakfast tacos ($0.95 each), which are made with the restaurant's heavenly homemade corn tortillas (you won't find the flour type in restaurants south of Monterrey).

Curra's also offers a number of light lunch possibilities. Be sure to start off your midday meal with an agua fresca, Mexico's natural Kool-aid. Made with fresh fruit, water, and sugar, Curra's aguas (95 cents each) come in a number of tempting flavors (depending on the day), including cantaloupe (agua de melón), pineapple (agua de piña), and watermelon (agua de sandía). For eats, don't miss the fish ceviche (small $2.95, large $4.95), prepared in traditional Mexican style: blanched chunks of fish are mixed with cilantro, lime juice, and tomato juice, then topped with a wedge of avocado to complete the delicious and healthy treat. Other plates reasonably low in fat include pescado or pollo Yucatán (fish or chicken seasoned with achiote and cooked in a banana leaf), as well as the most famous dish of Veracruz, pescado a la Veracruzana - a large filet smothered in a tomato sauce with olives and vegetables.

For dinner, I recommend the puerco adobado (pork in adobo sauce - $9.98). Adobo, a thick sauce that usually includes cinnamon, clove, and oregano, is popular throughout Mexico, eaten with eggs, vegetables, and meats. At Curra's, it's used as a barbecue sauce, coated over a large grilled tenderloin to impart a delicate but unforgettable flavor. Other interesting carnes include Curra's puntas de filete (beef tips in chipotle sauce topped with Monterey Jack cheese), and steak ranchero. All entrées come with corn tortillas, rice, and a serving of steamed vegetables covered with fresh dill, an unorthodox but savory side dish.

Many people who visit Curra's Grill will recognize the building as the former location of Güero's Taco Bar. In light of the increasing popularity of Mexican food, this seems like a natural progression. Güero's won a place in the hearts of Austin diners by serving TexMex with a hint of interior Mexican flavor. Now, in the same kitchen, Curra's attempts to take us one step closer to the heart of Mexican cuisine. Though not without room for improvement (the shrimp a la margarita is a bit heavy on the Cointreau, and currently they are not offering a mole dish - a huge Mexican favorite), the family-run grill offers a fairly faithful sampling of the half million or so inimitable recipes of Mexico. So if you're interested in exploring some of the cuisine that spawned TexMex, CalMex, and any other Mex you've tasted, take a trip to the Curra's grill - and don't forget the jalapeños en escabeche. n

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