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Designated Diner: Fresh Mex at Del Fuego

Designated Diner Hilary Gold (Photo: Renee Peck)

Designated Diner Hilary Gold (Photo: Renee Peck)

Designated Diner: Hilary Gold, winner of NolaVie’s Go NOLA Day donor drawing

Day job: Retired lawyer turned house renovator

Restaurant chosen: Del Fuego Taqueria, 4518 Magazine St.

Its culinary MO: A from-scratch kitchen specializing in authentic Mexican made with fresh local ingredients, including peppers and mint grown in the back patio. Owner-chef Dave Wright hails from northern California; his local culinary pedigree includes stints at Commander’s Palace, Jacques Imo’s, New Orleans Country Club and Midway Pizza.

What Hilary is looking for: Something new and interesting. I have a list two pages long, which is constantly changing and growing, of places I want to try.

What excites her: A place that, on the first visit, I know I want to go back to. I’m usually not looking to spend $100 on dinner for the two of us. And if the menu mentions greens from Hollygrove Market, it’s a turn-on.

Worth shouting about: The loaded guacamole, with nine different toppings, from exotic (pomegranate seeds) to Americano (bacon). And who knew there was a Mexican version of pork cracklings (chicharonnes)?

And: A trio of salsas, served with homemade tortilla chips, a financial windfall at $6. The Fresca is basic, the Verde a great take on a classic, and the Habanero unexpectedly different, with its complex sweet and tangy blend of charred tomatoes, oranges and peppers.

And: A trio of tacos, another deal at $12 (including rice and beans). Top choice is the Chorizo Rojo, featuring housemade pork sausage.

Over the top: El Molcajete is conspicuous consumption at its most, well, conspicuous. It combines everything hot on the serving line except the fish (steak, chicken, sausage and more) into a heated lava bowl, the whole laced with a five-chili sauce and served atop a bed of rice. With a side of refried beans. The menu’s most expensive offering at $26, it will feed a crowd.

Sweet tooth: Save room for the Churros. Save. Room. For. The. Churros.

Bar talk: House margaritas, made with Sauza Blue Silver, housemade triple sec and flavorings like cucumber or grapefruit-ginger, are oversized, potent and flavorful.

Decor: Light and airy, casual and contemporary. Front porch and sunlit patio offer good al fresco options. It exemplifies the kind of intimate neighborhood hangout that sets New Orleans apart.

A reason to return: Dinner specials like the elote, Hollygrove Market corn (see above) grilled in the husk, dusted with chili powder and rolled in chipotle mayo.

Bottom line: The dishes are simple and subtle. I’ll be back (see above). Only next time, I’m bringing at least four people to share.

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