Charro Beans at Las Delicias

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I'm a great lover of the bean, so my favorite dishes tend to be some variation on pottage. A well-made plate of red beans and rice can be as grand as any cassoulet, and when the weather turns icy and cruel, hoppin' John rules my world. About the only legume-based dish I've never been able to fully embrace is the refried bean, and I've often wondered, given all the fantastic bean dishes I've enjoyed out west, why local Mexican restaurants don't distinguish themselves by offering something different. Enter Las Delicias and one of the best bowls of charro beans I've ever eaten.

Las Delicias takes a unique approach to Tex-Mex standards. The restaurant's incredibly moist tamales are unlike any in town. The pastor-based pork dishes are all excellent, and the mole-smothered enchiladas poblonas have become one of my favorite meals in Memphis. But it's Las Delicias' charro beans that keep me coming back for more.

Charro beans, a spicy soup named for Mexican cowboys, is perhaps the most basic chili dish you can make. It's made by tossing pinto beans with bacon, chorizo, chopped chili peppers, and garlic, and then simmering it all in water, stock, or beer. Done well this humble bowl of beans can rival any main course.

What's incredible about Las Delicias' charro beans is that it looks even more humble than most variations on the dish. In fact, it looks like a big bowl of pintos and chorizo in broth. But don't let the simplicity fool you, the rich bacon and bean flavor is irresistible, and each bite finishes with a wave of smoky, jalapeño-induced heat. It's a very nearly perfect dish, especially when things turn cold, wet, and windy.

Las Delicias, 3727 S. Mendendhall (542-0170); 4002 Park (458-9264)

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