David Perez left Moroleón, Mexico, in his early 20s, but it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten the food. Last December, he opened Huaraches Moroleón at the corner of Washington Street and Philo Road in Urbana. His experience working in American restaurants for about ten years gave him the technical skill he needed to cook in his own restaurant, but he learned traditional Moroleón flavors and spicing from his mother. Perez says most of the dishes on the menu reflect authentic Moroleón-style food.
The name of the restaurant comes from one of the signature dishes, huaraches, which Perez makes from scratch, like all the other dishes on the menu. He starts with a basic preparation of corn flour, water, and salt to make the slightly thick tortillas, and then grills them. After they’re grilled, he tops them with cheese, the meat of your choice (I chose the very tender al pastor), and a side of onions, cilantro, and grilled pineapple to finish.
I tried the huaraches, flautas, tacos, and a couple of other dishes that I enjoyed on different visits. When I ordered flautas, they came out hot, crispy, and with a surprisingly airy, light fried tortilla rolled around their respective fillings — you can select multiple fillings, so I mixed and matched al pastor, pollo, and bean. I was especially happy to note that I could order flavorful, tender tripe or tongue in tacos, so I had (and enjoyed) both in the way Perez prepared them. One of Perez’s other menu highlights that I haven’t tried yet is the Fajitas Moroleón.
Although I didn’t eat my way through the whole menu, one of my favorite parts of the restaurant wasn’t even on the menu, but came to the table with the fresh-fried chips. They are served with a bowl of salsa came and three bright, tiny pitchers of house-made sauces: one green, one orange, and one red. The green sauce contains a blend of jalapeño and tomatillo; the orange sauce contains chile de arbol and tomatillo; and the final sauce, the red, contains chile de arbol, pasilla pepper, and guajillo pepper. They’re supposed to be progressively hotter levels of spice, green being the least spicy and red, the most spicy, although I found that it varied from visit to visit (likely based on the particular batch of peppers), so check the spice intensity before you pour it all over your food or chips. Even though the red sauce was billed as the hottest, I found it to be a nice smoky heat that complemented the pork.
Even if Perez’s commitment wasn’t obvious from the fact that he makes all the sauces and marinades from scratch, or that he’s there when the restaurant is open, seven days a week, it’s clear from all the roles he fills in the restaurant. When he first introduced himself, he said, “I am the waiter, the busboy, the dishwasher, the cook … and, oh yeah, I guess I am the owner.”
He lives close to the restaurant and had often talked with his wife about one day opening a small place like this. And it is small — right now, besides himself, he employs about four part-time people, all who work other jobs. That is the downside. The place is small and only seats about 30 people, so when things get busy … well, there may be a wait.
On Monday, Perez makes and serves tamales from scratch, and on Wednesdays, currently their busiest day, tacos are only 99 cents each. He says people also enjoy the flan, which they make fresh in house up to four times a week.
They’re also open for breakfast seven days a week, and the breakfast menu, it is clear, departs from tradition a little with some popular Americanized breakfast items, like bacon pecan pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, a fruit crepe, and the Mexican burrito. Perhaps not traditional, but tasty. While they have an array of crowd-pleasing breakfast items, they also have a Mexican frittata, one of Perez’s favorites.
Huaraches Moroleón is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m.–10 p.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m.–8 p.m.