M’Olé

Mole, the Mexican sauce often associated with ground chilies, spices, and even sometimes chocolate, can be a complex dish. Secret recipes, tacit knowledge, and a certain amount of improvisation can create the nuance that makes each mole unique. It’s a welcome surprise then that mole is the namesake dish at a simple order-at-the-counter lunch spot on the ground floor of a downtown office tower. The restaurant’s name, M’Olé, is both a nod to the signature sauce and a play on the Spanish interjection used to express approval or celebrate victory.

chicken and beef tacos with corn and rice

Although M’Olé the restaurant seems like a simple operation, the history behind this spot in the U.S. Bank tower is as multifaceted as the mole the sauce.. After a few failed attempts at full-service restaurants, the latest effort has been to create a sort of food hall that mixes fast casual places with a sit-down bar operation. Then came the pandemic. Between the resulting dispersal of many employees to work at home and the construction associated with an ongoing renovation of the building, ambitions have been temporarily reduced to a streamlined operation.

veggie and chicken tacos with guacamole and plantains

The result has been that while other service points in the building’s lobby are closed for now, M’Olé continues more-or-less as it was before by offering tacos and other informal Mexican foods alongside a secondary menu of burgers under the heading of “Bunz.” Between M’Olé and Bunz, this restaurant provides breakfast and lunch options to the reduced but still significant population of downtown office and construction workers nearby. The dining room with its brick walls and mural of a bull  is open at reduced capacity, and the food adapts well to takeout.

veggie and chicken tacos with beans and salad

Customers order from one of three printed menus at the counter: There’s a breakfast burrito menu in the morning, a M’Olé lunch menu starting at 11 AM, and a separate “Bunz” hamburger menu. The breakfast and burger menus are simple with just a few choices on each one. The M’Olé lunch menu offers small items such as individual tacos and sides with the option to combine them into three or four-items combinations for a set price. That works well for combining a few tacos with a side dish or two and maybe even one of the dessert choices.

quesadilla

M’Olé’s mole makes its appearance in tacos, where the sauce is combined with white meat chicken, sliced radishes, a bit of cilantro, and crumbles of cheese. It’s more common to find mole with enchiladas or on a platter with tortillas and meat, but it works as a taco filling here. Carne asada is the other meat choice, a simple preparation involving  finely minced bits of beef cooked over a griddle. The vegetarian choice is a chile relleno taco. It’s not the usual heavily breaded and fried dish, but instead a poblano stuffed with minced vegetables on top of a tortilla.

burrito

The sides of rice and beans are good renditions of Mexican restaurant classics. The street corn is served in a cup, where it is topped with lime and cotija cheese. A salad is unexpectedly bountiful with slices of avocado joining cubes of queso fresco and chopped walnuts over a base of greens. The last side dish choice is chips and guacamole with the creamy dip full of cilantro and red onion. Dessert items such as churros or fried plantains, both served with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, are also eligible to be included among the items in the combo platters.

carne asada fries

Besides tacos, any of the meat or vegetable fillings can be incorporated with rice and beans inside a tortilla to form a burrito. They can also become part of a quesadilla or put over fries to create a sort of Mexican poutine. Entirely outside the fast-casual Mexican niche of M’Olé, a separate menu offers four burgers with assorted toppings and a side of fries. The Islander tops a beef patty with pineapple and teriyaki while the Southwest burger involves green chilies and a choice of salsa: a mild green, a medium red, and a secret ultra-hot red available by request.

Island Burger with fries

Drinks are currently limited to fountain sodas and a few bottled energy drinks. Although the  furnishings for a bar face First Avenue, any expansion of beverage options will most likely wait until the renovations are complete and evening crowds begin to return to downtown. The overall plan for this space has never been entirely clear, and the events of 2020 have surely disrupted whatever might have been intended. Still, M’Olé’s simple format combined with a complex dish enriches the lunch options for those who have never left downtown or recently returned there.

101 N. 1st Ave. #115, Phoenix AZ 85003
Washington / Central (westbound) and Jefferson / First Avenue (eastbound) stations

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