Denise Neil

If you liked Frida’s, you’ll love Molino’s Mexican Cuisine

Frida’s used to be my favorite Mexican restaurant in Wichita. Specifically, I loved the piratas — big grilled tacos in flour shells with carnitas and a sticky, melty queso holding the wonderful concoction together.

But in 2010, Frida’s owner Mario Quiroz closed his restaurant, unable to draw in enough business while road construction closed down most routes to his front door.

Now, I have a new favorite Mexican restaurant, which is technically also my old favorite. In April, Quiroz opened Molino’s Mexican Cuisine at 1064 N. Waco, in the little spot right next to Juarez Bakery that briefly held another good Mexican restaurant, Las Tias de Beto.

Quiroz now is serving all his delicious Frida’s recipes, including those piratas, and his dishes are more complex, contemporary and upscale than the typical Tex Mex found in Wichita.

•  ON THE MENU: The made-from-scratch menu includes typical items such as burritos, gorditas, tortas, nachos, carnitas and chile verde. But it also has several more unusual specialties, such as a pineapple and mint salad topped with grilled tilapia, several authentic soups, including a meatball soup called albondigas, and a wonderful baked potato filled with choice of meat plus sour cream, butter, green onions and melted queso.

Frida’s had a self-serve salsa bar that featured seven unique salsas, made green, red and every color in between. Molino’s still has all the salsas, but there’s no self-serve bar. The wait staff will bring out samples and let diners decide which salsa they want.

•  DON’T-MISS DISHES: It’s hard for me to stray away from my favorite Molino’s dish — the pirata. It’s made with an 8-inch flour tortilla folded over and stuffed with choice of meat (I always pick the succulent carnitas) plus lettuce, a spicy pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cheese, melted cheese and sour cream. It’s all the best parts of a soft taco and crunchy taco combined — it’s crispy without being deep-fried and greasy. A single, which is plenty for an average appetite, is $5.99, and they also can be stuffed with steak, chicken, discada or an exotic shredded pork called cochinita pibil.

The cochinita pibil is citrusy and is slow roasted with achiote paste — a flavorful seasoning made from seeds cultivated in the tropics. The pork is slightly sweet with a strong coriander flavor and also comes as a meal on its own. For $12.49, diners can order the cochinita pibil with a choice of two sides and corn tortillas to load the meat into. Though I love the carnitas best, the cochinita pibil was a nice change of pace and definitely worth trying.

I also can’t recommend strongly enough the tacos de la calle — “street tacos.” A serving of four is $9.99 and comes in double-layered 4.5-inch corn tortillas filled with choice of meat, lettuce and pico de gallo. I always get them with steak and ask for a small side of shredded cheese to sprinkle on top along with the mild salsa.

On a recent visit, we also sampled the enchiladas verdes, which is a large portion for $12.25. An order featured three large corn tortillas stuffed with a generous serving of shredded, white-meat chicken and topped with a rich, dark green tomatillo sauce that tasted of cilantro and garlic. The large dinner also came with a choice of two sides.

And the sides are another treat at Molino’s. It’s the type of place that puts a dollop of crumbly queso fresco on top of the refried beans (which were fine but needed seasoning). And you have to try the elote, a creamy corn dish made with sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice and shredded cheese. It’s a calorie bomb, but it’s the closest I’ve ever come to eating a vegetable that tastes like dessert.

Customers also can order soup as a side, and Molino’s has different soups all the time. By far my favorite is the albondigas meatball soup, which features large, tender meatballs floating in a rich beef broth along with rice, diced potatoes, carrots, zucchini and cilantro. A pirata and a cup of albondigas is about the most perfect meal I could imagine.

•  AMBIANCE: Molino’s interior is largely unchanged from when it was Las Tias de Beto, which is fine, because that space had just been constructed a few months earlier. The dining room isn’t huge but it’s nicely decorated in hues of red, green and gold with granite tabletops and lots of natural light coming in through the windows.

•  PRICE RANGE: Appetizers range from $5.49 to $9.99. Entrees range from $5.99 for a single pirate to $12.49 for a full dinner with sides.

•  SERVICE: Good. Quiroz and his wife are often serving and talking to customers, and the small wait staff is friendly and eager to please.