That is the word my friend Penny de los Santos used to describe the dishes emanating from El Naranjo, a new(ish) food trailer that has garnered some serious buzz since arriving on the scene about a month ago. Indeed, just a few minutes of visiting with owner/chef Iliana de la Vega helped me understand the element of her food that so spoke to me, but that was so hard to put my finger on:
"I cook as if I'm cooking for my family," she said. "I've just expanded my definition of 'family' a little."
Yes, the meal we shared here - under the trees, in the rain, tended to by a welcoming Chef de la Vega, who insisted on pulling dry(er) chairs out for us from under the awning of the house where her trailer is parked and wiping them down herself - spoke of community, of tradition, of family. For me, the mole in particular - a rich, complex concoction tasting deeply of chocolate, paired with tender pork - evoked a feeling of comfort that seemed somehow larger than the dish itself.
No ordinary mole ($11)
We also sampled the molotes, little cigars of corn masa that were stuffed with either chorizo and potatoes; or plantains, black beans and cheese, then fried ($4.25 for three)...
...and an order of tacos, one al pastor and one cochinita pibil. At $4.50 for two generously-filled tacos, these are the bargain on the menu.
We crowned our meal with an order of fried plantains with cream ($2.95):
Despite the modest surroundings, Chef de la Vega - who previously owned an acclaimed restaurant in Oaxaca also called El Naranjo and who is currently an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America - takes as few shortcuts as possible, making most everything from scratch. The one exception to this, at least at the moment, is that they purchase their tortillas - but that may change in the future when they have more space (they are hoping to eventually open a restaurant in the house where the trailer is currently parked).
El Naranjo is showing Austin, once again, that remarkable food can be found in the most unexpected places. I loved everything we tried here and am thrilled that Chef de la Vega and her family have decided to expand their definition of "family" to include Austin.
85 Rainey Street
Austin, TX 78701