Feeling blasé about the latest trendy French “bistro” serving $25 steak frites? Then get your jaded palette to Angela’s Café, an unprepossessing Eastie outpost of Cocina Poblana, a regional cuisine revered by Mexicans but little-known by Anglos. Angela, a grandmother who cheffed in Puebla for 40 years, is an undiscovered superstar, a local treasure who deserves the same adulation our local fine-dining celeb chefs inspire.
Can you imagine Ken Oringer, Barbara Lynch, or Lydia Shire tending an 80-ingredient from-scratch sauce for days? That’s what Angela does with her mole poblano, a glossy, dark-brown sauce embodying a dozen chili varieties, dazzling spice complexity, and a quiet bitter-chocolate undercurrent. The result is revelatory, boggling — myriad sweet, hot, spicy, and bitter flavors striking a different taste bud with every bite, galvanizing an entrée of perfectly moist chicken breast ($13.95) and another of chicken enchiladas ($9.95). Both are accompanied by excellent black beans and rice.
A similarly complex tinga, smoky with chipotles, fires a tinga tostada ($3.50) piled with refried beans, beef brisket, lettuce, sour cream, and cotija on a flat, crisp-fried corn tortilla. Tacos al pastor and tacos arabes ($2 each) feature rotisserie-grilled pork shoulder bathed in rich, distinctive marinades, the former wrapped in corn tortillas with pineapple, the latter in flour tortillas with onions and cilantro, both iterations piquant, greasy, and addictive.
Simpler dishes include superb guacamole ($7.95) hand-mortared in a molcajete. Pozole ($9.95) is like a Mexican extra-large pho, a clear soup of pork loin and hominy to which the diner adds lettuce, powdery dried oregano and chili, salt, lime, onion, and radishes to taste: a healthy yet satisfying one-dish meal. Cream-cheese vanilla custard ($4.95), dotted with mango and raspberry sauces, offers a charming, texturally interesting hybrid of flan and cheesecake.
Angela’s son Luis manages the sweetly hospitable service, abetted by his siblings and their kids. Neighbors pile in for American-style breakfasts, sandwiches, and pedestrian Mexican dishes from the printed menu, but Angela’s gifts shine brightest on her chalkboard specials. Her soulful, high-craft cooking, plainly served in these humble digs, just might make you remember why you loved dining out in the first place.
Angela’s Café, located at 131 Lexington Street, in East Boston, is open Monday through Saturday, from 7 am to 9 pm, and on Sunday, from 7 am to 3 pm. Call 617.567.4972.