Any well-made chile relleno is just as good modest as it is dressed up. Stuff it fat with cheese? Perfect. Fill it with bright vegetables and a choice selection of meat? We're good with that, too. But those who don't consider Taco Bell Mexican food know the breading is just as important as the chili peppers.
Even with the plethora of Mexican eateries in the Valley, it takes some time to filter through the good and the bad of chiles rellenos. Lucky for you we fixed our taste buds at Mejico and Fuego Bistro, where both serve loaded seafood chile rellenos, a little more exotic than we're used to finding.
In This Corner: Mejico
The Setting: Mejico is intimate, with a small bar area in the front, and a decent size dining area. There are no gaudy decorations to remind patrons they're in a Mexican restaurant, in case they would forget. It's subtle, even down to the look of the menus that have a little wear and tear on them. But once you've placed your order and your food arrives, this place is anything but subtle.
The Good: A plump poblano chile comes stuffed with grilled shrimp and Monterey Jack cheese, topped with a dark green poblano jalapano cream sauce and then a little more Monterey on top. The perfect portion of rice and choice of black or pinto beans come on the side, not taking away from the main dish. Going through the different layers of experiencing a chile relleno, the first takeaway is the breading. It was spot on. Sometimes it can be soggy or too oily. Mejico's was neither.
The poblano chile's flavor did not get lost in the midst of the other ingredients. It was fresh and still had a bite to it. We weren't expecting the shrimp to be as large as they were, and Mejico definitely didn't skimp out. The jalapeno sauce was not too spicy and held the dish together, so for those who don't like too much heat, the relleno is still doable.
The Bad: With the tender shrimp and all that cheese inside, something with a little more texture would've been nice to find inside the chile.
In The Other Corner: Fuego Bistro
The Setting: When first walking into Fuego Bistro, especially at night, it's hard to decipher if you're in fact walking to the restaurant entrance or a dance studio. Thankfully, the patio area is filled with tables and string lights that set the mood and a hostess to greet you to avoid any confusion. Sit inside or out, but it's hard to pass up outside dining when the Arizona weather treats us right. The menu at Fuego carries a variety of Latin American choices like empanadas, pernil asado and enchiladas. Branching a little more off, they even offer a pasta dish with a Mexican influence.
The Good: The seafood chile relleno is a feast for the eyes. The pasilla pepper comes stuffed with shrimp, scallops and mahi mahi, covered in a panko crust with a lobster chile cream sauce to top it off. Freshly chopped tomato and onion come on to of that, making the dish stand out in the dim eating area.
A crunchy exterior is different than we're used to, but we welcomed it as the texture was a nice touch. Even with the various seafood selections inside, the flavor was overwhelmingly beachy.
We also appreciated the fact that guests can choose from a variety of sides, and we chose sautéed green beans and jalapeno creamed corn.
The Bad: The chile relleno came packed with flavors to tantilize the tastebuds, but we were not impressed. All the flavor elements seemed to be on the same level, and the chile got lost in the storm of flavors.
The seafood that was supposed to come inside also got lost, with hints of scallops and mahi mahi scattered here and there. The shrimp were the mini shrimp you find in cheap cocktails and did nothing to excite us.
The Winner: Both chiles rellenos were dressed beautifully and it would've been hard to choose a winner from looks alone, but flavor is what counts. Mejico was the obvious winner in the bout of seafood chile rellenos, with a dish simple enough that the flavors and seafood did not get compromised and played well with one another.