Candela Modern Mexican5/4/2016
Cities are dynamic organisms. Empires have been built upon the ruins of previous empires in scores of places. In super young Des Moines, one can observe similar dynamics in the character of the food scene. Ace photographer Andy Lyons recently posted a shot on social media of a vinyl banner covering an iconic neon sign atop a Sixth Avenue building that was once The Chickadee, and more recently, Gino’s.
According to the banner, El Sol Azteca will soon be occupying those hallowed supper clubs. His post provoked an outpouring of rue for the wind-grieved past of relish trays and ice cream cocktails.
Mexican restaurants are an indomitable force in current civic economics. Try to find a spot on the city map that is not within a mile of a tortilla and salsa fix. No street has seen a Mexican food coup like Ingersoll. For decades, El Patio offered the only interpretation of Mexican or New Mexican food there. Then Taco John’s moved in with a fast food, Wyoming interpretation. Abelardo’s revived a former Howard Johnson’s venue that had previously been labeled “doomed.” Panchero’s and Qdoba brought the style best known as Chipotle. Most recently, the last remnants of Chinese dining vacated Ingersoll when Kwong Tung and Red were replaced by a new concept from the founder of Tacopocalypse and an interpretation of “modern” Mexican cuisine called Candela.
On my visits to the latter place, things were were buzzing. Nearly 50 seats were packed, with most people imbibing in the “megaritas” and mojitos that seemed to be the house specialties. The former were double-shot Margaritas selling for $5. Chips and salsas were inconsistent. One time I was served two identical red sauces and a smooth bean dip. Another time, one of the reds was replaced by a much hotter green. Chips were always hot.
The food menu seemed designed to complement tequila sipping, with fried tortillas dominating. In fact, only one item (carne azada) was described as coming with soft tortillas. Picadillo boats ($8) stuffed three fried shells with hamburger, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and cheese. Flautas ($8) filled four, crisped and rolled tortillas with chicken breast, sour cream and lettuce and were served with a hefty helping of beans and rice. The only salad ($10) on the menu packed a crispy tortilla shell with ground beef, lettuce, cheese and beans. Mexican mushroom soup ($5) was my favorite appetizer with a thick creamy broth.
My favorite entrée was the incorrectly named chiles rellenos ($8-9) — incorrect because the serving was singular, not plural. A stem-on Poblano pepper was split, battered and fried while stuffed with mozzarella (or ground beef,) plus potatoes and onions covered with a red salsa distinctly different from the one most Mexican dining spots in the suburbs use, with a slight drizzle of guacamole and sour cream. Enchiladas verdes ($10) could have used such restraint. The chicken-stuffed version was covered in a minimal green sauce that was overwhelmed by a huge dose of white sauce that tasted off — way off. Cotija-style cheese, avocado slices, beans, rice and salad completed the plate.
A chimichanga ($9-10) was stuffed with steak or chicken and covered with a little salsa and huge lots of cheddar cheese served with beans and rice. Not sure that much cheese worked here. A “strip steak” burrito ($10) showed restraint with sauces and offered ubiquitous beans, rice and salad.
Bottom line — People are responding well to the latest Mexican option here. The food menu is redundant though, with appetizers looking like entrees and most entrees looking like each other. Modern Mexican should be more diverse.
Side Dishes: Two anticipated cafes are up and running: Marlene’s at Sevastapol Station and +39. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
|Candela Modern Mexican
2925 Ingersoll Ave., 279-4775
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.