The Gossiping Gourmet: Straight from Momma to your mouth

HB Independent

Amorelia is something special. Distinguishing itself from the plethora of Mexican restaurants in Costa Mesa, this new storefront eatery brings fresh new energy to classical Mexican food.

Tucked into the southwest corner of the Kmart mall on Harbor Boulevard, it's an attractive little place with faux stone walls, chunky Mexican wooden furniture, warm lighting and a very pleasant ambience.

This is a family business based on Momma's recipes from Morelia and Michoacan, but the menu is continually evolving. Momma is Gloria Seretti and her son, manager Daniel Paniagua, said, "My mom's kitchen is a lab."

We all benefit from her creativity because you can return again and again to try something new and delicious every time. We tasted as many dishes as we could, and almost all were superior.

We started with a taco duo. The amazing papa taco was the best taco either of us had ever eaten. The fried shell was thin, crisp and absolutely greaseless. The savory mashed potato filling was simple but vibrantly seasoned. The marriage of the two was a match made in heaven. Less exciting but still very tasty was the pollo asado taco, generously stuffed with marinated shredded chicken. The tacos came with a little salad of shredded lettuce, corn and black olives.

The same well-seasoned chicken comes in a large quesadilla, adding lots of flavor to the delicious cheese medley inside. Once again, it may have been the best of its kind.

The chile relleno is filled with queso ranchero, a lighter, less fatty cheese with a somewhat salty taste.

The batter is thin and light, not the thick, greasy blanket that is often wrapped around a chile. It came cloaked in two sauces: Half of the chile had a fresh, chunky, mild tomato and onion sauce and the other a piquant tomatillo sauce with a nice acid bite.

We know that fajitas are meant to be wrapped in a tortilla, but the fajitas de camarones were just too good to eat any way except au natural.

Rather than the usual overcooked meat and vegetables in a greasy cast-iron pan, these large, plump and juicy shrimp were served on a plate with crunchy sweet peppers and onions. All were lightly brushed with oil, delicately seasoned and lightly spicy, making for the freshest tasting version of this dish around.

The generously stuffed chicken enchiladas come with red or green sauce, but if you want to try both, they will be happy to oblige. We found the red chile sauce to be bland, our only disappointment of the evening. The green sauce was the same vibrant tomatillo sauce that we liked so much on the chile relleno. All entrées come with fluffy, chile-flavored rice and tasty, smooth, pureed pinto beans.

Amorelia's pozole is made with chicken breast instead of the more common pork. Pozole is a thick soup made with hominy (large dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the hull and germ have been removed). The rich chile broth was chock full of chicken and hominy kernels. The plate of accompaniments included shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, chopped onions and cilantro. If you like your soup spicier, there is a little bowl of fresh red chile sauce to add until the steam comes out of your ears if you so desire. This hearty and zesty soup can be a meal in itself.

The de rigeur dessert in a Mexican restaurant is flan, and once again, Amorelia's rendition is a winner. It was dense, smooth and creamy with a caramel sauce that was perfect and generous enough to coat every bite.

We will be back to try some of the promised new dishes like rack of lamb or fish Mojarra-style and the cheese-stuffed chayote. They are also planning to make real buñuelos from their homemade batter.

Their beer and wine license should be in place by the time you read this article, and soon there will be live music on the weekends.

Don't miss this real find with its fresh, clean-tasting authentic Mexican cuisine.

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