"Molé. The most famous Mexican sauce, takes its name from moli, a Nahuatl word meaning mixture or concoction; and it is indeed a mixture of many ingredients. The constant factor among the numerous different versions is the starring role played by chili peppers and the fact that the mixture is always cooked. Mole poblano de guajolote...or Pabo in mole poblano...is a dish of some antiquity and has achieved some fame for the inclusion of bitter chocolate in the sauce, although the quantity is small and the effect not separably discernable."
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press: Oxford] 1999 (p. 511)
Although I have great admiration for the art of French sauces, which are generally the world's best, the very best sauce on the planet is molé. There are hundreds of different recipes for molé, but in my opinion, the best molé sauces involve many different kinds of red peppers, chocolate, cinnamon and often a little peanut butter. Outside of Oaxaca, I speculate that we Houstonians have access to more different molé sauces than any other city. I have not tried them all. Here are some of my favorites:
My favorite molé in Houston -- Pico's. The molé at Pico's nails it. It is complex, spicy, slightly, sweet, unctuous -- incredible. It is far more than the sum of its parts. It sings to me, causing me to hallucinate with visions much like Mexican Calendar Art (See my Dec. 26, 2005 post). Even more incredibly, Pico's has two great molé sauces on the menu - a traditional and a special Oaxacan black molé - molé negro. Both are equally good. I have to confess, once for a party, I bought a quart of Pico's molé, sauteed some duck breasts, and did not tell any of the guests that I had not made the sauce. Everyone raved about it. The praise, however, really belonged to Pico's. (Warning! Outside the Loop).
My second favorite molé in Houston - Spanish Flowers. Spanish Flowers is a decent 24-hour Mexican restaurant in the Heights that I usually only visit when I have to eat Mexican food after 2:00 a.m. Surprisingly, they have a fantastic pollo molé - very similar to Pico's.
Wierdest molé in Houston -- Teala's. Teala's molé is a cross between traditional molé and a Thai peanut sauce. It is more a molé-inspired peanut sauce than a molé sauce. But I love peanut sauce. So even if this one is not traditional, it is worth trying.
Most expensive molé in Houston -- Cafe Annie and Hugo's. These are upscale takes on molé. Cafe Annie frequently uses mole in different items, such as lamb chops in Oaxacan molé. Similarly, Hugo's -- run by one of Houston's best chefs, Hugo Ortega -- regularly has several different kinds of molé on the menu. The molé dishes at both restaurants are pricey, come in many different varieties, and are usually quite good. But I have not had any molé at either restaurant that was quite the explosion of flavor I get from the molé at Pico's. For instance, at around $18, Hugo's duck in molé is good, but it just does not compare to the chicken en molé for half the price at Pico's.
Other molé. Merida -- a fantastic, little known Yucatanean restaurant, makes a decent mole. It is a bit thin, but strikes a nice balance between spice, pepper, and sweetness. Their pibil sauce -- a Yucatanean sauce -- is even better. La Mexicana (see my December 21, 2005 post) makes an even better molé sauce, although it is perhaps too sweet. 100% Taquito has really cheap chicken molé tacos that are tasty, but a bit greasy. I also have had decent molé at local chains Doneraki's and Guadalajara.