In the world of searing condiments, few are as caustic as a properly made mojo de ajo—olive oil spiked with garlic, the soy sauce of Cuba. Too often, though, its non-coño presentation renders mojo to something approximating watery Ranch dressing—tasty, but hardly worthy of consideration, let alone worship.
Then there's the mojo offered at Moros, the much-beloved Cuban dive: not only unmitigated for Yanqui tastes, but also pushed to its atomic limits, so its stench isn't just overpowering but worthy of a TSA advisory. And the flavor—blindingly sharp, yet almost saccharine in its sweetness—could buckle a thoroughbred. It's an extraordinary liquid, one deserving of bottling; you'll find yourself hungrily splashing it on everything from seafood to pork, bread to chips, all for that glorious stink.
The mojo is complimentary, and that almost makes it the most expensive item at Moros—its dishes are impossibly affordable, especially given the rarity of Cuban food in Orange County, its to-order preparation, the heavy use of organic products, the epic, stately serving sizes, and flavor profiles that make the much-heralded Versailles chain in Los Angeles seem as insulting to the Cuban cause as Batista. Consider a quarter-chicken order: skin as crispy-golden as a wonton, meat tender and moist, with a bitter orange-based mojo reduced almost to a marmalade, sticky and bittersweet. With it come rice and plantains. Total price? Six pinche bucks. All the Cuban classics here—ropa vieja, rabo encendido, lechón, flaky empanadas, jolting cortaditos—are similarly great, similarly cheap. The most expensive thing here, a magnificent paella as large as a basketball hoop, costs only $16, making Moros not only a great restaurant, but also a miracle as worthy of a pilgrimage as Lourdes.
Moros Cuban Restaurant, www.moroscubanrestaurant.com.
One trick: go during lunch, when the prices are cheaper. Outside of that dinner oversight, everything is magnificent. The tropical music is blasted a bit loud, but given the soundtrack veers from Hector Lavoe to Oscar D'Leon and Beny Moré, you won't mind; you may even have to hold yourself back from asking the nena next to you for a quick mambo. Service can be slow, but it is always delivered with a smile. The walls' evokation of Arabic calligraphy with a New York skyline is out of place, but nevertheless gorgeous. Orange County has never treated its Cuban restaurants well, but like the black monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moros escapes our earthly realm and lives in a plane so far above us that we're reduced to slobbering Neanderthals basking in its presence. Enjoy!
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This column appeared in print as "Mondo Mojo."