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Q: I’m new to Denver and am on a quest for the town’s best mole. So far I’ve sampled one mole that tasted like it came from a bottle; another restaurant offered mole that had an almost Oriental flavor. ¡Ay, caramba! Can you help?

A: The word mole (pronounced mo-lay) comes from the Nahuatl word molli, which means "concoction" — although there are as many variations for this concoction as there are for marinara and chicken noodle soup. Rich, dark, reddish, brownish or both, mole can be sublime or, as you’ve discovered, so lame. The mixture usually involves a purée of onions, garlic, a variety of chiles, sesame or pumpkin seeds and sometimes chocolate, which gives it a unique depth of flavor — especially if Mexican chocolate, rather than bitter American cocoa, is used. (If you can’t tell there’s chocolate in the mole, that usually means it contains the Mexican type.)

One of my favorite dishes in the Mexican-chocolate category is the pollo con mole poblano at Don Quixote (35 Federal Boulevard, 303-934-9753). Semi-smooth and packed with garlic, poblanos and pumpkin seeds, this mole tastes dark and mysterious, just the way it should, and it smothers a super-tender chicken breast.

I also like the mole at El Portal (2717 West Belleview Avenue, Littleton, 720-283-3866), which has a strong onion flavor and uses hotter peppers. The version at La Cascada (5151 Leetsdale Drive, 303-388-8132) is pretty special, too, with a deep, rich taste that comes from using the right chocolate and the restaurant’s own blend of chiles.


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