Let’s talk about the chile relleno. Cheesy, spicy, and fried in a delicate batter, it is one of the great staples of Tex-Mex cooking. A good chile relleno sticks in my memory in a way that, say, a good plate of enchiladas does not. The same goes for a bad one, like the time many years ago when a certain Guy Fieri-approved old-timer on the Dallas scene served me one that still had ice crystals in the cheese filling.
But that is not the only kind of chile relleno. The phrase, which just means stuffed pepper, does not specify that the stuffing is cheese, or that the pepper is a poblano, or that the whole thing should be fried or served with rice and beans.
This is where the new Revolver Gastro Cantina steps in. It’s here to both educate Dallas about Mexican cooking and to give us a good time. Owner Regino Rojas says that if his fine-dining tasting menu La Resistencia is where you take your family for a nice night out, Gastro Cantina is where you take friends afterwards to drink.
It’s also where you go to learn about the diversity of the chile relleno. Here, the chile pepper is a yellow caribe pepper, stuffed with cochinita pibil, the spicy, citrusy marinated and roasted pork.
“It’s kind of a modern view of a classic dish from Yucatán,” says Alejandro Escalante, a Mexican food writer and critic who is spending his summer at the Gastro Cantina, helping to educate customers about the food, tequilas, and mezcales. He says that the caribe pepper here is a stand-in for the Yucatán’s xcatic pepper, which is not widely available in the United States.
(By the way, Escalante has his own very good restaurant in Mexico City, La Casa de los Tacos—I recommend it—and his own food column. He quoted me in an article documenting his impressions of the Dallas food scene.)
Because the chile pepper is a foundational ingredient in Mexican food, the varieties of chile relleno are limited only by the imaginations of the cooks. In The Mexican Chile Pepper Cookbook, a new book by Dave DeWitt and José C. Marmolejo, the authors build an entire chapter around the dish, featuring 11 different chile relleno recipes. There are chipotles stuffed with sweet plantains and goat cheese, bean-and-cheese ancho peppers, and three varieties filled with seafoods.
“One of the most creative forms of Mexican cooking is stuffing chiles,” DeWitt and Marmolejo write. If you don’t believe them, they point to a whole Spanish-language book stuffed with rellenos: Los Chiles Rellenos en México, by Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. Escalante has a copy, too. He tells me it contains multitudes of recipes, including chiles stuffed with fruit.
At Revolver Gastro Cantina, $19 gets you three peppers, a generous serving worth sharing with friends. The peppers themselves still have their vegetal crunch intact. To help tame the spices in the stewed cochinita pork, Rojas serves his chiles on a bed of pureed black beans, with a drizzle of crema.
On the shelves of the Gastro Cantina, Escalante keeps a five-volume set of the 1873 Diccionario de la Cocina Clasica Mexicana, an enormous encyclopedic project that was reprinted in the 1980s. Among the delicious-sounding ideas under the entry for chiles rellenos: peppers filled with a mixture of onions, tomatoes, and scrambled eggs; cod stuffing; and stuffed, pickled peppers served in the style of American pimentos.
“There are many techniques and many styles. It’s a matter of fashion, of creativity, of interpretation, of season as well,” Escalante says.
We’ll have a formal review of Revolver Gastro Cantina this fall. But you don’t need to wait for that.