Friday, August 07, 2009
CaCao Mexicatessen in Eagle Rock
Hope springs eternal. Even in these dark economic times, we suddenly find ourselves with a new contender for best place to eat in the neighborhood. Rejoice, fellow citizens of Eagle Rock: CaCao Mexicatessen (Colorado & Townsend) has finally opened, and exceeds all expectations.
I drove down to CaCao for lunch yesterday, driving past the shuttered and graffitied SW Hill Country Western wear shop and the abandoned condo project near the entrance to the 134; I parked near the Colorado Donuts mini-mall and its gapingly empty storefronts, including the abandoned former 808 Video space. CaCao, which has been in the works for two years, is making an audacious entry during a brutal economic climate.
CaCao is a wonderful space, inside an adobe-style building it shares with Eufloria Florists (the owners of the Eufloria apparently also own CaCao). There is a nice fenced-in patio outside the restaurant. There's more seating inside, where the walls are a warm orange, with paintings and photos on the walls. Spices and Mexican imports line the counter. There's a deli case featuring homemade salsas of various heat levels, guacamole, cheeses (Queso Oaxaca, Spanish manchego, etc.), grasshoppers, chiles in vinegar, etc. They had set up a little tasting table near the counter with chips and two types of salsa to try (habanero [heat level 9] and salsa roja [heat level 5]).
The people at CaCao were very friendly. During my two visits yesterday (I took Mrs. Octopus back for dinner), I spoke with Nino up front. He explained that CaCao's pretty extensive (and creative) menu (I like that it looks like it was written in a comic-book font) tries to represent various types of Mexican cuisine, and that they've tried to import ingredients and items from all over Mexico.
During both trips yesterday, I had tacos ($2.75-$2.55 each): I tried camarones enchipotlados (shrimp in chipotle citrus), calabacitas (zucchini, corn, cotija), hongo de portobello (spinach, onion, queso fresco), flor de cabeza (squash blossoms, poblano strips, queso fresco), and chicken. The shrimp tacos were wonderful -- the chipotle citrus sauce was rich and hearty. The calabacitas taco was the stand-out veggie taco for me, though I did like the very interesting flor de cabeza quite a bit as well. All of the tacos were presented very thoughtfully and tastefully. The fresh hand-made corn tortillas on which the tacos were served were very good. I washed it all down with a mandarin Jarritos (they have a number of Jarritos flavors, Coke and Sprite imported from Mexico (they taste better than our sodas for some reason), and a couple other Mexican drinks). CaCao is waiting on its liquor license -- they'll have beer in the future.
Mrs. Octopus opted for a light dinner of the sopa de tortilla. The bowl serving ($5.95) was a generous portion. The soup was thick and pretty tasty, though I thought it could have benefited from slightly more heat. (But I tend to think that about most dishes.)
Perhaps the highlight was the Azteca mocha latte (sugar, cinammon, almonds, chile de arbol, chipotle; $3.75 for a double). Nino recommended I have it hot, the better to bring out the heat of the chile de arbol and chipotle. I was very glad to have taken Nino's advice. It was one of the best coffees I've had in recent memory: rich, nutty, and foamy, with the glowing warmth of the chile and chipotle on the tongue and lips.
CaCao is a family-run place, and you can tell. There is a real warmth here. You get the sense that CaCao's owners have put a lot of thought into the presentation, the menu, the ingredients, and the atmosphere. The attention to detail is very impressive -- from the excellent "Hecho en Eagle Rock" logo throughout the store, to the decorations on the refrigerator, to the private labels they have on their hot sauces and condiments. The prices are not cheap, but for the Eagle Rock residents who have complained that $2.75 or $2.55 is too much for a taco, I have to call bullshit. CaCao is clearly not trying to be Tacos Estrella or Elvira's. It is a little more expensive, but I think you are getting what you are paying for, with the whole experience. Plus, let's face it: this is the Mexicatessen for people coming out of Trader Joe's, or on their way to Blue Dot, or coming out of Cardio Barre: it's a place targeted at the types of people who comment on Yelp.
(This might be the appropriate time to note that CaCao got a "B" from the Health Department -- a result that must have shocked the detail-conscious management. I attribute the relatively meaningless "B" rating to kinks in the start-up. I'm sure they'll get an "A" in the next inspection. But the "B" rating does raise interesting questions about authenticity (especially in relation to places like, say, the immaculate Taco Spot).)
CaCao clearly intends to be sticking around for a while, and this is good news. You can taste it in the chile in the Azteca coffee at CaCao: better days are ahead.