Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Tucked into a Lindbergh Boulevard strip mall just north of I-270, Pueblo Nuevo has been trucking along for more than a generation. The Morales family still watches over things, with the matriarch herself, Bertha, welcoming customers, keeping an eye on the kitchen, and busing tables when necessary. The late Señor Morales, by the way, was a pioneer. Before he opened in Hazelwood, he sold Bertha’s homemade tamales out of the trunk of his car to assembly-line workers at the Chevrolet plant at Union Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue. (Could it be that the food car, which predated the food truck, also originated right here in River City?)
Since opening more than two decades ago, the original restaurant has taken over the adjacent two spaces, tripling its size. And the food? It’s still so good that it pleases both the intrepid eater and the one whose anxiety level rises when venturing beyond Del Taco. That may be a reason for the many multigenerational groups of patrons.
The guacamole here is slightly chunky, well-seasoned but not spicy, allowing for a dribble of the regular hot sauce from a ketchup-type squeeze bottle, or the extra-hot sauce from a red one. Black-bean soup is inspired, but the spicy albondigas, or meatball, soup was oversalted. Ceviche turns out to be a happy, well-seasoned surprise, the fish shredded with a little garlic, plenty of lime juice, some cilantro, and a good hit of pepper. The newest appetizer is a group of bacon-wrapped jalapeños. They’re not for the faint of heart, to be sure, but they’re yummy, and one can always eat the pepper’s tangy outer flesh while carefully detaching the seeds and white interior, which contribute to the fire.
Somewhere between soup and stew is posole, a pork-and-hominy dish in a chili broth. Chicken in a mole sauce is boneless and cooked just right, making it the ideal vehicle for sopping up the splendidly savory and dark sauce, whose flavor perfectly blends peppers, nuts, and unsweetened chocolate. Birria, a ruddy-colored stew of goat, is served with potatoes, and the tender meat tastes rather like lamb in the chili-laced sauce.
When it comes to tacos, the crisp, ground-beef kind are available here, but we prefer the soft corn tortillas filled with juicy chunks of pork, tilapia, or even tongue, like the more authentic selections found in taquerías. Enchiladas are stuffed with chicken or cheese, then topped with red or green sauce—the former being milder, the latter carrying quite a kick. The enchiladas are comfort-food satisfying, as are the old-style items like burritos, with the option of beef, pork, or chicken. Refried beans have more oomph than most we’ve found and were delicious.
While the dessert list appears pretty standard, the flan de queso was exceptional. Too many flans arrive tough and full of bubbles from being baked too long or too hot. Not this smooth, creamy babe, almost cheesecakelike. The capirotada, or bread pudding, arrives dense, chewy almost to the point of toughness, and barely sweet. Guava paste is the filling in the dessert empanadas, its slight tartness a counterpoint to the flaky pastry and slightly melting ice cream, making for a remarkable mouthful.
This is, of course, margarita country. There’s no pressure to upgrade to something fancy—just a question of how large of a container will be needed.
The Bottom Line: Can authenticity ever get old?
By Joe and Ann Pollack