My mom wanted to go out somewhere low-key and easy for her birthday, so I decided to take her to picaditas were like large sopes; fried masa pancakes toped with black beans, cheese and a pork sauce. They were good, but had hardly any pork flavor and were bland in comparison to everything else we ate.

The lamb birria was tender and flavorful, with hunks of slowly stewed lamb that you could cut with your fork. The birria came with fluffy, soft rice and homemade flour tortillas, which proved the best way to get the lamb into my mouth.

The Mole Negro Oaxaqueno was out of this world. As good as everything else was, it paled in comparison to the mole. Even my mom thought it was outstanding (and has since told me she can’t wait to go back and eat more mole). It’s such a rich and complex sauce that it defies description, but it has the perfect balance of ingredients. The chicken thigh that it came with was falling apart tender. Writing this is making me very hungry.

After dinner, we decided it was too hot to hang out at the counter (plus it seemed rude since so many people were waiting), so I took my mom to Sambar for some cocktails and dessert in the garden.

I was enthralled by Sambar the first time I went, but on each subsequent visit, I’ve been less and less impressed. Or maybe that’s the wrong word. I just see less and less value in going there as it really is outrageously expensive. Our two drinks and two mediocre desserts cost about twice as much as dinner!

Mom had the French Vanilla Creme Brulee ($10), which the waitress called a “traditional” preparation, but it seemed more like a vanilla scented cream topped with a sugar crust. There was no body to it and was so runny that it literally was like drinking a thick cream from a pretty dish.

I had the Coupe Liz ($9) which was described as a hazelnut ice cream sundae. My first disappointment was that the chocolate topping was frozen and as hard as a rock; I was anticipating hot, molten chocolate sauce poured over the top and slowly melting into the ice cream. The second disappointment was the ice cream. I thought it would be a vanilla based ice cream with hunks of toasted hazelnuts, but it was chock full of so many nuts that it tasted like salty peanut butter.

Maybe it was the juxtaposition of the two meals together that made the value seem skewed; the meal at La Carta de Oaxaca was about 10 times better, yet 1/2 the price of Sambar. But even still, Mom and I had a nice time sitting out in the garden and celebrating her birthday.

Happy Birthday Mom!
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