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REVIEW: Guacamole House

Authenticity is at the heart of this newly re-opened Mexican joint in Henrico.

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Seeking out ethnic foods in one's own environs can be a path to world experience. But such forays usually take us only halfway to their kitchens of origin as flavors are adapted to American tastes and limited by product availability. Fusion cuisines take us even farther from authentic foreign foods. So whenever I find a restaurant that delivers on its promise of authentic [fill in the blank] fare, I see it as a rare opportunity for an undiluted experience. Guacamole House offers just such an education.

Don't let the name create false expectations. You won't find five varieties of guacamole or even one familiar chunky kind. What you will find is a thin avocado sauce with plenty of flavor if not texture.

Manager Bella Gomez, a native of Michoacan, south of Mexico City, says she's seen the avocado sauce receive thumbs down on Yelp. One reviewer even referred to it as "soupy." But it's just misunderstood. This thinner version is particular to the region of Oaxaca. "This is how it is supposed to be," she says.

Perhaps changing the restaurant's name would redirect expectations.

Gomez and her staff of three ladies from Oaxaca spent six of every seven days for the first year dispensing traditional Oaxacan street fare from one end of a BP gas station. They're working from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday. The family just moved the business into a larger space that allows for a higher dine-in volume — it's a good thing, too, because with only two tables, a couple folding chairs and a chipboard-topped barstool, the original location may well have been the most exclusive spot in town.

The menu has its own brand of charm. The menu board touts tacos for $2 each or the special, three for $6. Your choice of meat comes cupped in a small corn tortilla, and the choices are many (steak, tongue, tripe, carnitas, barbacoa, chicken, chorizo and el pastor), garnished with crisp, thin slices of radish and onion, cilantro and a wedge of lime. Steak, tongue and tripe tacos are $3 each. A gluten-free friend on one visit was delighted to learn she could eat the tacos with impunity because they're made with corn-based masa.

Moles are the pride of Oaxaca, and Gomez serves up the real deal.

"We use peanuts and chocolate," she says. Pork and potato tamales ($2 each or $18 for a dozen) benefit by any of the three salsas — sweet red, verde or red hot — or, if you're lucky enough to come in when the moles are on the stove, try adding a ladle of red or black mole. Molotes — small, empanadalike pastry pockets topped with pureed black beans and mildly tart queso fresco — are the regional standout. A sampler platter for two ($22) includes molotes, flautas (crunchy, meat-filled roll-ups), chips, queso fresco and paper-thin slices of your choice of two grilled meats: chicken, pork, steak or chorizo. The sampler is a good ticket for much that Oaxaca has to offer. Use the salsas as liberally as you like because without them the flavors are all rather similar. The menu also includes burritos, tostadas and tortas, Mexican sandwiches with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream.

We tried the tres leches on two visits with very different results. The first was a hybrid that was four layers of alternating yellow cake and creamy filling ($2); tasty, but not the real thing. Our second attempt was perfection: a single airy layer of sponge cake topped with a light cream topping, drenched in sweetened milk. Don't try to take it home because it doesn't take long to decompose into a delicious but milky mess.

The big question? Real traditional Mexican cooking favors lard over vegetable oil, but American palates and the American Heart Association lean toward bypassing the lard. So what do they use at Guacamole House? "Both," admits Gomez with a grin, which we took to mean "try to guess which is which."

Classic sodas are available to drink, but those just distract from the kitchen's own freshly infused waters ($2). Different days see different flavors, including guava, pineapple, hibiscus flower, watermelon, even horchata (rice) — authentic and exotic.

Guacamole House was already the place to go for takeout, and now with its new digs it deserves a spot on your list of places for a sit-down meal, too. S

Guacamole House
1412 Starling Dr., Unit C
663-8757
Monday - Saturdays 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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