By | April 24, 2007

2109 Murray Ave
Squirrel Hill, 15217
M-F: 5pm-2am; Sat-Sun: Noon-2am
Cuzamil is a new Mexican restaurant that took over the space previously occupied by the incredibly authentic Mi Mexico in Squirrel Hill. Like Mi Mexico, it’s main draws are that it isn’t awful, and it is the only Mexican restaurant within walking distance to Squirrel Hill residents. Mi Mexico died perhaps because it was too authentic for traditional Tex Mex eating populations. Cuzamil is more of the chimichanga and enchilada type of Mexican, without a single tongue on the menu, so it may fare better simply due to the milder menu. But, the real reason Cuzamil might succeed is because they have a liquor license. We all know that a margarita goes a long way on a hot Pittsburgh summer day, and a boring taco will probably find its way into your belly along the way.

This is not to say the food is actually bad tasting at Cuzamil. Is it just uninteresting. They actually have an expansive menu with such authentic offerings as Chilaquiles and Mole Verde, but both can be had better at other restaurants within the city limits. The Chilaquiles here was, for instance, more like nachos with a topping of chilequiles ingredients, and the tortilla chips that touched this topping became wet, floppy triangles. At La Fiesta, the chips seem like they are tossed with the topping and cooked in, as a genuine ingredient to the dish (as they should be). The chips may get a little soggy there too, but it is more like they absorb the sauce than like they lose their physical structure. Pitted against each other, La Fiesta surely wins the Chilaquiles fight (even with all the other problems that restaurant has).

Mole Verde is the green sister to the Mole made with cocoa you’ve most often heard of. Traditional Mole has been causing upsets with the chocoholics for decades, teasing them with their promise of chocolate for dinner. Truth is, Mole isn’t sweet or milky, but spicy! The cocoa flavor is certainly there, but order this dish with visions of candy bars and you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Mole Verde bypasses this whole issue by being made with pumpkin seeds instead of cocoa. Moreover, Mole Verde when freshly prepared contains all kinds of green things, from hot chiles to swiss chard, giving it an incredibly fresh flavor. The problem with ordering Mole Verde at a restaurant is two-fold. One, it is relatively unpopular in America and so it is often made from a pre-prepared jar of paste. Two, even when it is homemade, there are as many different recipes for Mole Verde as there are households in Mexico. In other words, every cook has their own secret recipe.

With all this variation, how do you know where to go for Mole Verde? You start by eliminating restaurants that don’t have it on the menu at all, which in Pittsburgh limits your options to Cuzamil in Squirrel Hill and Mexico City on Smithfield Street, Downtown. You further narrow down your search by only eating homemade Mole Verde, which in this case doesn’t narrow the results at all. Lastly, all you can do is try it. You may make your own determination, but I much prefer the Mole Verde at Mexico City. I have no idea what their special ingredients are, but it is freakin’ amazing, and way more complex in flavor than Cuzamil. Cuzamil’s Mole Verde tastes just like Mole Verde, but without any of the depth in flavor that gets served up at Mexico City.

So what does Cuzamil do well, besides have beer? I’m sure there is something, but I need to continue tinkering with their tacos and biting their burritos before I will feel confident to say. I’ll definitely be going back though, to try and try again, as it sure would be heavenly to walk to a choice chimichanga and a cold Corona. Unfortunately, I don’t get the feeling that my dream will come true.

Mexican Rice was pretty tasty
Not sure yet…

OMG, I can’t believe I don’t have one!

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