Taste Bud: Ordering the right Mexican meat

Sometimes you just order the wrong thing. I finally made it to Wild Rita’s a few weeks back and ordered a couple of tacos. They were good — particularly the carne asada — but my buddy Greg ordered a dish called pozole.

When our food arrived, I got one whiff and immediately had entrée envy. He let me try a bit, and I knew right away I’d need to go back.

Last week, I did. And this time, I ordered the right meat.

Pozole is a dish with which I had been vaguely familiar but had never tried. A traditional Mexican dish, it is often served on Christmas Eve and is great for large gatherings, because it is slow-cooked, meaning you make lots of it and then invite the fam over for a feast.

Pozole eats a bit like a soup but is hearty like a stew; it is made with pork shoulder or shank, hominy corn and chiles, and fresh vegetables are added when serving. The pozole at Wild Rita’s (455 E. Market St.) is garnished with fresh, shredded cabbage, chopped onions, fresh cilantro and a lime wedge, but you can use anything from green onions to radishes to avocado in it. Or even all of the above, I would guess.

Anyway, I dug in, and it was even better than I remembered. First of all, the chile broth is a striking bright red and is just spicy enough to let you know it has come to the party. It is truly broth thin, but the flavor comes in somewhere between Texas chili and goulash. I swear I could drink it through a straw. Or dip bread in it. Heck, I’d dip pretty much anything in that stuff and eat it.

But I digress. The broth is only part of the equation; the hominy cooks to a slightly firm tenderness, which adds to the hearty nature of the stew. And once the vegetables immerse themselves in the broth, they add another flavor level and some snap before slowly absorbing the broth and becoming part of the stew’s essence.

Hey, I’m not normally a big cabbage guy, but it worked for me here. Add a few squirts of lime and you’re off and running.

But it wasn’t until I uncovered my first bite of the tender, succulent pork that I realized just what I’d stumbled into. I don’t know how long this slow-simmered pork was cooked, but the tenderness and flavor were wonderful things to experience. I know the phrase “melts in your mouth” is a cliché, but, dammit, I’m using it anyway.

And what I didn’t expect was that instead of a lot of small chunks or even thin shreds, the bulk of my pork was in the form of two big, thick chunks of shoulder the size of small fists. As in, it was damn near a pork steak. So, I got the enjoyment of alternating bites of tender hominy and plenty of broth with cabbage dripping in chile broth with big mouthfuls of tender meat.

My girlfriend Cynthia, who ordered a Mexican pizza, got one bite of my meat of choice. Her eyes grew wide, and she said, “Good lord, I love pork.”

Succinct, but point taken.

And now the part you won’t believe: It’s only $5 for a bowl of pozole at Wild Rita’s. Appetizer? That was a meal for me, thank you very much. (And there are also some surprisingly good happy hour deals from 4-7 p.m. on weekdays; Cynthia’s pizza was half-price.)

Anyway, the moral of the story is, if you order the wrong meat the first time, don’t be afraid to go back and claim your meat of choice. You only live once.