Calaveras Mexican Grill opened just a couple weeks ago as an authentic Mexican grill and welcome addition to Tulsa, quickly gaining popularity by word of mouth alone. The same couple that gave Tulsa the cult favorite, El Rio Verde, has delivered the new concept at the corner of Admiral and Lewis (just north of the Circle Cinema).
The restaurant is owned and operated by husband and wife team David and Angelica Molina, and to fully appreciate their contributions to Tulsa’s culinary scene, it’s important to know a little about their backstory: both from Jalisco, Mexico, the couple met in 1988, moved to Tulsa in 1997 and opened El Rio Verde that same year. Both El Rio and their second restaurant, Costa Azul (which opened in 2000) are legendary in Tulsa and known for their authentic flavors and offerings. Having sold El Rio Verde to a family member in 2000, David admitted (with what can only be described as a humble and thankful grin) that most of the authentic Mexican food in town is now connected to he and Angelica in some way, whether it be through a relative or former employee. When asked whether he was nervous about opening their third restaurant, David responded with quiet assurance. “We felt very confident in opening Calaveras because people here have been trying authentic places… when we first started there was nothing truly authentic, not even a tortilla. But nowadays, people like to try–no, they want to try new things.”
The idea that fueled David and Angelica’s opening of Calaveras was that it be a community restaurant for the Kendall Whittier area with a large, diverse menu comprised of dishes you couldn’t find anywhere else in town. The couple are no strangers to hard work; three years of planning went into Calaveras and they begin their day at 6 A.M. each morning to prepare for the crowds. They use all local produce and meat for their dishes and source their fresh seafood from Dallas. And to top it all off we found out that David grows 50 different varieties of peppers, personally, just for Calaveras. Think about that for just a second…
The restaurant has a colorful, festive feel that correlates well with David and Angelica’s warm demeanor and the vibrant, fresh flavors found in the food. In addition to the items you would expect to find on the menu (wet burritos, enchiladas, street tacos) the Molinas prepare and serve dishes simmering with the distinct Jaliscan flavors not available anywhere else in Tulsa. Their specialties include mole, soups, gorditas, enmoladas (“mole enchiladas”), carnitas (fried pork), el bracero ranchero (assorted meats) and el bracero marinero (assorted seafood). And we definitely intend to return for the special Calaveras weekend dishes, pozole verde and menudo. Angela describes the the pozole verde as a delicious and soul warming version of Mexican stew, unique to Tulsa, using pork as the protein.
Of course, we began the meal with the chips and salsa. Calaveras has a fully stocked salsa bar that you can help yourself to. I’m a salsa fiend and the ability to help myself to as much as I wanted was dangerously excellent. They offer a house standard salsa, a taco salsa for topping entrees, and a zesty tomatillo salsa verde, which ended up being my personal favorite.
Their menu features quite a few seafood dishes. The Tostada de Ceviche de Mixta, a crispy flat tortilla topped with fresh raw seafood cured in citrus juices, chopped onion, salt, and cilantro arrived at our table to much delight. It is tangy and fresh with abundant citrus, and finishes with a satisfying crunch from the tortilla. The seafood is of noticeably high quality and the combination of shrimp, bass, and octopus was definitely unique, and made for the best ceviche we’ve ever tasted.
Next we had their Fish Tacos. Want a TulsaFoodie insider tip? Whenever you find a genuine Mexican restaurant that sources fresh seafood, order the damn fish tacos if they are on the menu. Each soft tortilla holds a mound of tilapia, and is topped with pico de gallo, pickled cabbage, and a tangy, creamy chipotle aioli. Again, the fish was fresh and delicious, and the house-made chipotle sauce give these tacos a balanced kick.
Finally, our main course was the El Bracero Ranchero, which translates to “ranch hand.” Truly a working man’s meal, it includes ribs, carne asada, chorizo links, potatoes, grilled green onion, pickled cactus & roasted tomato salsa, all served in a mini portable charcoal grill to keep it hot at the table. This shareable entree (given our starting courses) is served with warm tortillas and all the usual fajitas-style toppings on the side. The ribs were delicious and prepared with a homemade barbecue sauce made with brown sugar, mulato peppers, & spices. The pickled cactus was simply prepared with salt, and had a uniquely pleasant bitter, savoriness that we had never tasted before. A unique play on your typical fajitas entree found at most every Mexican eatery, we see this dish becoming the restaurant’s claim to fame. Tired of chain ‘Mexican’ restaurants? You should be. Calaveras is ready for you.