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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

Moles, Tapas and More

Riviera Maya Charts a New Course for Mexican Restaurants

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Riviera Maya opened its doors almost a decade ago when the intersection of Howell, Lincoln and Kinnickinnic was just beginning to bloom. This Mexican restaurant fits right in with a stylish décor that includes artistic concrete floors, a sleek bar and Mayan murals that help set the theme. In recent years, a second dining room was added for private parties and use on busier evenings.

The menu is quite unlike other Mexican restaurants. This is not a refried beans and rice type of place. The main dinner menu (also available at lunch) is focused on moles. There are five of them: encacahuatado, with a peanut base; almendrada, which uses almonds; pipián verde, which incorporates pumpkin seeds; pipián rojo, made with roasted tomato and sesame seeds; and mole de Oaxaca, a classic dark mole of chocolate and chili peppers. All the moles use chili peppers of different types, with the peanut and almond ranking as the mildest and the pumpkin seed and Oaxaca as the spiciest.

There also is a second menu of bar drinks and tapas. First timers should order the totopos y moles ($6.95), a sampler of the five different moles served with tortilla chips. The chips are perfectly crisp. There is a large salad, ensalada de aguacate ($5.95), topped with peanuts, queso fresco, red peppers, tomato and red onion. Dressing is on the side and resembles French dressing amplified with chili peppers. Camarón de cacahuate ($8) is jumbo shrimp with sliced onion served with a mild peanut mole. The shrimp are lightly cooked and soft in texture, not rubbery.

The dinner entrees and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) all include tortilla soup. The soup, one of the primary reasons for a visit, consists of red broth with chili peppers and tomatoes. Tortilla strips add crispness countered with the creaminess of white cheese. The regular version uses chicken broth, but a flavorful vegetarian option is also available.

Vegetarians are treated with respect here compared to most Mexican menus, which can be frustrating for anyone avoiding meat. The five moles are offered with shrimp ($15.50), chicken breast, steak or pork ($14.50), and two vegetarian moles are also available, one with zucchini, corn, oregano and bell peppers and the other with potatoes, corn, sauteed onions and poblano peppers ($12.50). Other vegetarian plates include enchiladas de chile verde ($12.50), which are tortillas filled with cheese, calabacitas or papitas, and rollitos de col ($10.95), stuffed cabbage rolls. The enchiladas have a lively sauce of tomatillos laced with Serrano peppers while the cabbage rolls have a milder tomato salsa.

Margaritas are taken seriously here with names like Tequila Flower and Mexican Cosmopolitan. The tequila list vastly outnumbers the beer and wine options.

This is a fine time of the year to visit, as the Christmas decorations make the colorful dining room even more vibrant. If you want steak tacos with ordinary rice and refried beans, there are plenty of places to go, but if you are craving an excellent tortilla soup and five different moles, then Riviera Maya is the place to dine.

 

Riviera Maya

2258 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

(414) 294-4848

$$

Handicap Accessible

riviera-maya-milwaukee.com

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