When you’re trying to get that right blend of authentic Mexican food, having the right, fresh ingredients is a big part. But who’s leading the kitchen has a major role. When Adam Malmgren and his partners came back to Aspen to open Mi Chola in 2016, they knew that carrying on the traditions set by the Cantina (which was in the space on Main and Mill streets for decades) would mean having a solid menu and a great atmosphere. After a brief stint with a classically trained chef, they knew something was a bit off. Enter their former co-worker and friend Rigo Vasquez. Raised in a small village outside of Guadalajara in western Mexico, chef Vasquez learned his way around the kitchen as a small boy.
“My biggest mentors are my grandmother and my mother. They were my inspiration to make all my things,” he said. “A lot my sauces come from my mother and grandmother.”
After stops cooking a few other styles, Vasquez is using all that history to create fresh dishes at the casual Mexican dining hot spot, which is a favorite of locals and those rolling through town.
“His passion for food creativity is so great,” said Malmgren, who worked at the Cantina for nine years and then returned three years ago to open Mi Chola. “Rigo is so creative and it’s so fun to have him in the kitchen.”
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Everything is made fresh each day – “we order ingredients, not items” Malmgren says – and Vasquez enjoys the time over the flame and heat working to perfect his offerings.
Seafood molcajete is back this summer after being well-received in its winter debut. The sauce, which Vasquez said took a month to perfect and takes 3 hours each day to make, is a blend that brings together a variety of seafood and a bit of cheese. Scallops, mahi, two kinds of shrimp and crab meat are presented in the bowl carved from lava rock.
An intriguing addition to this summer’s menu is octopus tacos. And even Vasquez’s octopus prep is methodical.
After a good cleaning, he gently gives the octopus a massage and a few taps with a meat tenderizer. Then he dips it three times in warm water that’s flavored with limes, white wine, whole black pepper and bay leaves. He’ll submerge it in the water and cook on a hard boil for about 30 minutes, then lets it simmer at a very low boil for another 2 hours. Afterwards, it’s off to the grill with a special sauce made from three traditional peppers (Ancho, New Mexico pepper, chipotle pepper) and spicy honey he makes in-house. It’s served with cabbage, pineapple salsa and mango habanero sauce, and the topped with an avocado mousse.
“For us Latinos … the most important thing on the tacos is the salsa. If the salsas are good, you’ll have the best tacos in the world,” the chef says. “My mom says, when you make the tacos, you’ve got to make the salsas right, otherwise it won’t taste so good.”
Prices: Brunch/lunch, $5 to $19; dinner appetizers, $5 to $14, dinner entrees, $13 to $27
Ambience: Casual and family with edgy decor and large patio for outdoor dining.
Signature Dishes: New on the menu for this summer, be sure to try the Ahi Volcano Bowl (like Mexican poke with fresh ahi, chipotle aioli, avocado and jalapeño rice), Pulpo Tacos (a refreshing octopus taco) and Bare Bones Guac where all the ingredients are brought to the table so you can make your own.
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