Long Beach Lunch: Holé Molé
There is one Mexican restaurant that is a rite of passage for Long Beach's newbie 20-somethings, and it's not because it's the most authentic taqueria or it actually has an assortment of mole, as its name would imply. Holé Molé (accents aside, it's pronounced "holy moley") is locally world famous among all the young boozers for being the only post-midnight grub along the infamous 4th Street dive bar crawl.
At least that's how I first discovered it--shoveling cheese enchiladas and 50-cent potato tacos into my sloppy drunk face after a round of Jameson at Ferns across the street.
Only after nursing half-a-decade's worth of hangovers and venturing out into the sunlight for food as a sober adult did I discover that Long Beach is actually home to five locations of this homegrown Baja-style chain, and that all of them are unsurprisingly more equipped for quality lunch than the late-night hovel on 4th Street.
Though there are other Holé Molés in the suburbs (Bellflower Blvd.), near the college (PCH and Clark Ave.) and in the quaint neighborhood of California Heights (Wardlow St. and Orange Ave.), when the sky is blue and the summer heat is blaring down, the charming side-street location on Obispo Ave. near Belmont Heights (where the salsa is fresher and the al pastor juicier) seems most appropriate.
Sarah Bennett Ensenada-style fish tacos
The closest of all Holé Molés to an actual beachside Baja taco stand, the Obispo location has a tiny dining room, a small walk-up counter and a five-table back patio furnished with big wooden tables covered by straw-umbrella canopies (the only thing missing is a machete-wielding coconut vendor). Inside, the menu is the same as it is at all the Holé Molés: burritos that can come wet, dry, toasted or filled with fries; tortas stuffed with carne asada, al pastor, carnitas or chicken; and five different kinds of tacos, three of which are native to Baja California itself.
With a slogan like, "One bite and you're hooked," the fish tacos are an obvious must. Crunchy, not chewy, bits of battered white fish make up the Ensenada-style tacos, along with a helping of cabbage, cilantro and a house crema that's got a kick of spice. For Cabo-style tacos, the wahoo gets a grilling and a pinch of carmelized onions for an unexpected sweetness that begs for some of Holé Molé's not-so-spicy salsa roja.
Sarah Bennett Nacho Mamas Nachos with chicken
The Nacho Mamas Nachos are another house specialty--a mound of chips and burrito fillings best eaten with a fork and shared with friends (sub chips for fries to create the Nacho Papas Nachos)--as are the budget-and-vegetarian-friendly potato tacos, only 50-cents each for a crispy shell of mashed potatoes.
Affordable, thick-as-forearm burritos and a $2.99 combo upgrades, that gives you a drink plus plates your items with refried beans and orange rice, are also options to satiate bigger appetites. But with three cheese enchiladas costing a paltry $2.50 and a mix and match assortment of tacos rarely taking you over $10 (10 potato tacos only sets you back $5!), it's hard to go hungry.
A local institution in its own right, Holé Molé seems to be ever-present in the lives of most who dwell in this city, families and drunk 20-somethings alike. I admit, I'll still flock to the 4th Street Holé Molé for that crucial post-drinking fifth meal, however when it comes to breezy afternoon lunches and that fresh Baja comida, the mini-chain's shack on Obispo has the undeniable capacity to whisk you away from Long Beach and plop you on another sunny beach south of the border.
Hole Mole, various locations, Long Beach, holemole.com