I confess: I was cynical when I walked into the Flow of Mexico. Having seen this Bijou Street spot spurn both Esmeralda's Mexican Restaurant and 3 Hermanos recently, I wondered how another Mexican outfit could possibly have a chance.
Fresh coats of bright paint, new décor, enormous menu — who cares? People support mediocre Tex-Mex all over the city, but for some reason, not here.
And then I spoke to Horacio "Flo" Flores, who explained that his father, Jose "Chelis" Luis Flores, had been cooking for 35 years between Mexico, Los Angeles and Colorado Springs. Flo's easygoing manner and outward confidence in his father's abilities began to convince me that this month-old Jalisco-style outfit might just be something different.
But it wasn't until I actually crunched into Chelis' food that I began to believe it. Honestly, if this eatery doesn't take here, no Mexican will.
Flow's difference lies not in the menu offerings, most of which are widely recognizable, but in superior execution and flavor. Where others are greasy and heavy, Flow is crisp, fresh and somehow lighter. Case in point, the chimichanga vegetariana ($8.99) merges nicely sautéed yellow, red and green bell peppers with zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and onions in a lightly fried shell under bright pico de gallo and guacamole. Fried, but still like a vegetable salad.
On the even lighter side of the menu, authentic items like the ceviche de pescado y camarón ($10.99) and campechana ($12.99) refresh with citrus broths, ample cilantro, juicy tomatoes and a touch of jalapeño heat. Served in a giant goblets, the former pairs hunks of white fish, shrimp and imitation crab; the latter marries bits of octopus, shrimp and imitation abalone. For the less adventurous, the simple but excellent enchilada de camarón ($12.99) delivers the shrimp in a corn tortilla and dressed in garlic butter under a mild but likeable house-made green salsa, with better-than-average refried beans.
Passing over soups, salads, egg-based entrées, burritos and combo plates with curiosity, we finally settled on Chelis' daily made mole de pollo ($11.99). Flo says it's comprised of 10 or so ingredients, including sweet, raw chocolate tablets, roasted almonds and Serrano chiles. Though not better than a benchmark plate I once ate in Mexico, it delivered dark, earthy, pasty richness with a backbite of spice that oh-so-enlivens moist chicken.
Provided the multitude of offerings, I can't say I even found Flow's best — but I certainly can say I didn't find a chink in the armor beyond a couple of plates that could've arrived a touch hotter.
An order of chicken flautas ($7.49) did us right as an opener: fried, rolled corn tortillas enveloped juicy shredded meat under thin potatoes, cheddar cheese and bacon, next to sour cream and guacamole garnish.
Two orders of insanely good churros ($3.50 each) stunned as a closer. Like spongier cousins to cannoli, the thin, long, ribbed strips of fried dough are packed with either strawberry sauce or vanilla cream and served with a chocolate and caramel garnish next to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Down to the friendly servers clad (but not campy) in jeans, boots, collared short-sleeve shirts and cowboy hats, I really liked this place. In some kind of Zen way, I feel like I get the Flow of Mexico. Let's hope enough people do to lift the curse on this location.