Rocio Camacho, a native of Oaxaca, long ago established herself as La Diosa de Los Moles (Goddess of Mole) — a title earned while working in kitchens in a vast number of restaurants from La Casita Mexicana to Don Chente. Even after she moved on, she left a trail of dishes too popular for those restaurants to remove from their menus.
Camacho was able to open her own place in Bell Gardens two years ago, called Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, where her delightful moles shine in soulful dishes. There was also Rocio's Mole de los Dioses in Sun Valley before it became the victim of arson. Last week, however, Camacho turned the page on a new chapter in Bell, at a restaurant where she serves not mole but mezcal and tacos.
Tacos y Mezcal inhabits the former space of Corazon y Miel, and the bones of the late restaurant are mostly intact, with the addition of street murals painted on the long back wall adjacent to the bar.
Then there’s the food. The menu is perfectly sized, just enough to satisfy cravings for tacos de cazuela. The appetizers are a great introduction to Camacho's cooking, from creamy, diced octopus to bacon-wrapped, mozzarella-stuffed jalapeños. Even the chipotle crema–topped street corn is better than most, presented on the cob for full visual effect.
The mezcal list is worth perusing — sip a flight poured into traditional jícaras, or cups made from hollowed-out gourds. The restaurant also offers pulque. The cloudy, milky, tart drink indigenous to central Mexico dates back more than 1,000 years, has only a 24-hour shelf life and is made from the fermentation of fresh maguey (agave) sap — it’s worth having, as you will find it hardly anywhere else this side of the border. The cocktail list is on the simpler side, with few ingredients and, naturally, tequila as the base in more than a couple of them. But at Tacos y Mezcal, mezcal is the star.
The menu features Oaxacan tacos de cazuela, either served family-style, as Camacho does in a cast-iron pan with separate warm corn tortillas, or rolled into individual tacos. While Oaxacan corn tortillas are normally huge, Camacho uses a smaller version.
Of note: The casserole of nopales and chapulines employs a wonderfully complex broth over tender slices of cactus, with ground crickets in the stew and the whole, seasoned variety sprinkled on top. Crickets are seen by many Angelenos as a novelty, but this broth may lead you to appreciate all dimensions of their earthy complexity. For a taste of Camacho’s hometown, order the chileajo, a stewed pork shoulder dish with a touch of sweetness. It’s made with chile guajillo and potatoes and is indigenous to Huajuapan de León, a city in Oaxaca. The Alambre, a trio of pan-seared skirt steak, chorizo and bacon sauteed with bell peppers and mozzarella, will be a crowd favorite.
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The rajas, sliced peppers, are given the taco treatment, too. Those tacos are made with chilaca peppers — rather than poblanos — sauteed and bundled with black bean paste and cabbage. Pork confit is preserved with house spices and tequila before being topped off with a xni-pec, an extremely hot salsa from Yucatán. And the traditional beef barbacoa is a standout, served with expertly handmade tortillas.
Tacos y Mezcal is open daily from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. — perfect for the late-night set, too.
6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell; (323) 537-2789, facebook.com/tacosymezcalbell.