If I could donate a nickname to Nick Zukin's Mexican restaurant Mi Mero Mole, it would be 'Low and Slow.' The Portland restaurant's signature dishes are guisados, Mexico City-inspired stews that take each season's best produce (a recent special featured apple, butternut squash, and chocolate mole), or prime cuts like lamb and pork shoulder, and then add a hefty dose of time.
And while the guisados, tucked into fragrant homemade tortillas, are reason enough to visit, my go-to order is always the Frijoles Charros ($4.75). This bean soup, Spanish for "cowboy beans," is one of the menu's few stationary items—ideal for the frantic decision-maker overwhelmed by the menu's wide range of options.
Zukin tells me the dish—a cross between a soup and a stew—finds its roots, "In the northern states of Mexico, cowboy country, but is popular throughout Mexico."
Like most good things, the recipe's excellence relies on simplicity. First, they start with the best variety of beans around. Mi Mero Mole alternates between Rancho Gordo's Ojo De Cabra bean, which is an intense, superhero version of a pinto, and the Sangre De Toro, which "has a meaty flavor and a great potlikker." The beans are then sautéed with a sofrito of onions, garlic, tomatoes, serrano peppers, and bacon, and the mixture, with the addition of broth, is left to simmer.
The soup, like the majority of Mi Mero Mole's menu, captures the intimate warmth of home cooking. And, as Portland's seven-month winter commences, we sure could use it. The body of the soup is smoky and mingles well with the sharp, spicy heat from the serrano pepper. Among the tender beans, you'll find pockets of jammy, cooked-down tomatoes and salty chunks of bacon.
Don't rush your way through the dish and its accompanying platter of fresh cilantro, raw onions, pork rinds, and thick tortilla chips; if Mi Mero Mole's food has taught me anything, it's that taking your time produces the best results.
N.B. MI Mero Mole's second location in Portland's Old Town neighborhood, is due to open in January, 2014.