Drive way down south to Brownsville, Texas, and then another thousand miles south through Mexico, and you’ll reach a fabled land of green valleys, rugged mountains, sea and desert. That’s Oaxaca. In the tiny villages of Oaxaca was developed arguably the most sophisticated (and delicious) cuisine of the Americas. Rich, complex sauces shimmering with flavor that takes days of hard work to make. Now you can find these sauces (called molés), other Oaxacan delights and treats from all over Mexico, such as birria tacos from Jalisco, in a bright and pleasant restaurant a half mile from downtown Tulsa: Holé Molé.
Young and enthusiastic, Manny Mendez runs the ship. He designed the menu. Ask and he’ll tell you all the thought and care behind each dish.
“Everything is from scratch,” he says. They get fresh Oaxacan herbs, such as hoja santa, grown fresh in Texas. The pork belly for one delicious appetizer is smoked in house, then glazed with guajillo peppers. The corn used to make the tortillas is fresh from Oklahoma. They nixtamalize it in house. (That’s a process invented 3000 years ago near Oaxaca that dramatically improves the taste.) It takes 20 hours of hard labor. A woman from Oaxaca named Meche spends her days carefully making the molés.
They’ve also put a lot of work into plating and presentation. Still, says Mendez, “we do it fancy, but it still has the same taste as when my grandma makes it at home.”
Mendez has the slightly dazed look of a man who can’t believe that his work and dreams have become a beautiful reality.
“This is his passion project,” says Johnna Hayes, the restaurateur behind it all. “This is his baby.”