what: Molcajete Oaxaca
where: Casa Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant, 2410 Augusta Rd., Suite H, West Columbia
Casa Oaxaca is tucked into the corner of a strip mall next to the unmissable bright yellow Dragon City restaurant. From the outside, Casa Oaxaca has a classic feel of “there-can’t-be-anything-good-here,” but the second you step in, the smell of the grill is instantly inviting and the fears are quickly washed away.
This week’s bite — the Molcajete Oaxaca — is quite a bit more than a nibble, featuring a variety of grilled items. A molcajete is a stone tool that dates back to Mesoamerican culture. Most people will recognize it from Mexican restaurants that grind and serve guacamole in it. It’s used for just about anything, from crushing spices to mixing salsa. Molcajetes are also used to serve hot dishes due to their ability to retain heat for a long time, as they do for Casa Oaxaca’s specialty.
This dish takes all the terrible closet food ideas we’ve had in the middle of the night and neatly piles them all into the crackling hot molcajete. Starting with a mound of chorizo, seared pieces of tender pork are layered on top followed by melty white cheese, gently grilled nopales (cactus), more chorizo, more pork, definitely lots more cheese, grilled onions, slices of avocado, and a garnish of more soft, sweet nopales. Rice, beans, and warm tortillas on the side bring it all together.
Is it too much? Possibly, but there’s no denying that it’s an awful lot of fun digging into the molcajete and finding different combinations of bites until you reach the fiery hot bottom.