Muchas Gracias

Years–literal YEARS–ago, we came upon the Mexican pop-up Amparo Fondita, fell in love, and promptly never went back. The pop-up closed and I wept tears of sorrow. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that Amparo Fondita has been reincarnated as Muchas Gracias and you are in for a treat.

Okay, let’s start with their digs. They have the same owner as Comet Ping Pong, which is also doing business in the parking lot behind Politics and Prose. But it doesn’t feel like you’re eating in a parking lot; it feels like a sidewalk cafe, complete with music, drink service, and a steady trickle of hungry people picking up to-go meals.

We started with drinks, obviously. True to my nature, I ordered the spicy margarita, and I then convinced my husband to get the mezcal negroni. They don’t skimp on the booze here. My margarita was not as spicy as I would generally like it to be, but it was limey and refreshing, and I always give props for chapulin salt. The negroni packed plenty of smoke from the mezcal, along with the bitter herbalness of the campari. It was a struggle trying to keep these drinks alive while we enjoyed a delightfully leisurely meal.

Not knowing what we were in for (ah, how naive we were back then!), we decided to order two small dishes and a main course, so we started with the black bean sopes topped with chicken tinga. So crunchy! So savory! I wished at the time that it had had more chicken on top, but I very quickly forgot about that, and you’ll see why very shortly.

The meal took a dramatic turn when our queso fundido arrived. We ordered the extra chorizo and cactus in it, but it already comes packed with chilis and mushrooms. Oh, and also cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. This would have been too much cheese for four people, let alone too. The tortillas that came with it were so fresh and warm and chewy. The ramekin on the left contains their signature fermented carrot and habañero hot sauce, which was a perfect blend of heat and pickled funk. Did I mention this is, like, a lot of cheese?

We packed up more than half of the queso, knowing that the main course was soon to arrive. That was a good move. Here’s the entree, the ribs:

I don’t think this photo is really effectively conveying the tower of ribs we were served. Just to be clear, this is an entire rack of ribs. And not little baby ones, either. They are dressed with a savory-sweet sticky glaze that was not too tamarindy, and reminded me of the rich nuttiness of molé. I think the meat could stand to be a little more fall-off-the-bone. There were a few tough parts but honestly? The sauce is enough to make you forget. Between the two of us, we ate…four ribs. And took the other eight home. “I think they probably realized that they weren’t going to sell any more of these tonight, so they just gave them all to us,” said my husband. This can’t be normal.

Okay, so at this point I was at an acceptable level of fullness. “We’ll take another box for the rest of this,” I told our absolutely wonderful server. “And do you have any desserts?” I didn’t want to get my hopes up for the big daddy of all desserts: tres leches.

“We have a tres le–“

“YES PLEASE I WOULD LIKE THAT.”

Tres leches can be a gamble. Gringo chefs try to make it more complicated than it should be. Take cake. Drench it in condensed milk. Throw some whipped cream on top. This is not hard, people! It doesn’t even need to be beautiful, it just needs to have liquid oozing onto the plate. And yet, somehow, Muchas Gracias managed to do both. Have a look:

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen a more beautiful iteration of tres leches. The milk was pooled around it, the cake was light and moist, the blueberries were plump and sweet, the whipped cream was plentiful. It wasn’t sickeningly sweet, just creamy, delicious, and, like most things at Muchas Gracias, excessively large. We did finish it, though.

Price: $60 per person for an enormous amount of food.

Bottom line: I was practically happy crying at the end of this meal. Worth every minute of your drive, every dollar of your money, and every calorie in your belly.

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