Not to be confused with the subterranean mammal skilled at digging, mole (pronounced MOE-lay, and there's no accent mark) can refer to a variety of Mexican sauces with a chile pepper base.
Though mole is most popular within the southern part of central Mexico, Tucson's fortunate enough to have a selection of restaurants with mandatory mole.
The most popular version of mole in Tucson is mole poblano, which often contains chocolate and complex flavors from dozens of other ingredients. Though it is traditional to serve mole poblano with turkey, you'll only find that on special occasions in Tucson.
In alphabetical order, here's our list of favorite moles currently available.
Perhaps the most iconic mole in Tucson, Cafe Poca Cosa's mole is what dreams are made of. Though their signature dish is the Plato Poca Cosa, which has a variety of dishes at the chef's whim, you absolutely cannot miss out on their mole if you've never had it.
Past favorites include the Mole de Chilhuacle, made with the rare chilhuacle pepper from Oaxaca, along with guajillo and pasilla peppers, which are mild but intensely flavorful.
For more information, visit cafepocacosatucson.com.
Though Elvira’s in Tubac has eight moles, their Tucson location is tweaking recipes for local tastes. They currently offer five: negro, xiqueño, poblano, pipian rojo, and dos moles — a combination of poblano and pipian rojo.
Elvira's considers the mole negro "King of the Moles." It has 34 ingredients — chile pasilla, banana, and almond to name a few — with "hints of sweetness, spice, and many other amazing flavors to enhance the palate."
The xiqueño is unique with avocado leaf and a star anise-forward flavor. The poblano has a mix of peanuts, cacao, and dried chiles, while the pipian rojo sauce features only two ingredients — guajillo chiles and pumpkin seeds. Don't be fooled by the short ingredient list — the sauce highlights the fruity and floral complexity of guajillo chiles.
Keep up with Elvira's Restaurant on Facebook.
Doña Maria is a brand of mole available in a jar in most grocery stores. Like the jarred stuff, El Saguarito's Doña Maria Chicken Mole Enchiladas strike a balance of sweet and spicy with a comforting blend of textures from toothsome corn tortillas and chunks of chicken.
For more information, visit elsaguarito.com.
One of the most beloved specials here, the chicken mole, is smothered in a lip-licking mole sauce made from cacao (recent change from the chocolate previously used), peanuts, prunes, ancho chiles, and other spices.
A tortilla on the side helps to wrap the cozy dish together.
For more information, visit lainditarestauranttucson.com.
The Davila family knows their mole. The restaurant, formerly known as Little Cafe Poca Cosa, serves outstanding meals like its sister restaurant Cafe Poca Cosa, but in a more casual setting with no dinner.
The Pollo en Mole Negro includes slowly simmered chicken breast in a smooth mole sauce of bittersweet chocolate, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, mild dried chiles, and whatever other family secrets they won't tell us.
Enjoy this with one of their fabulous juice blends or their iced coffee and horchata.
Don't forget to bring cash — it's all they accept.
Keep up with Friends of the Little One on Facebook.
Mole isn't as common in burrito form, but it's no less lovable. The earthy mole and soft filling benefit from the griddle-crisped tortilla exterior. It also comes vegan.
Balance this with a tart glass of their house tamarindo.
Keep up with Martin's Comida Chingona on Facebook.
Brussels sprouts and amaranth get the royal treatment in the Coles Con Mole Chilhuacle from the dinner menu. The yellow mole is made with the rare yellow chilhuacle pepper.
For a true mole indulgence, order the Mole Flight.
For more information, visit pencarestaurante.com.
Reforma's Mole de Pollo takes airline roasted chicken breast and dresses it lavishly in mole colorado con poblano, Cotija, cilantro, and scallions, all served with Spanish rice and black beans.
For more information, visit reformatucson.com.
This Enmoladas de Pollo uses a family recipe that spans three generations The four enmoladas, which are like folded tacos bathed in mole, are filled with shredded chicken and topped with cheese and onion and served with a side of rice.
Keep up with El Antojo Poblano on Facebook.
El Torero's Chicken Mole features a lush sauce with complex fruit and chili flavor. It is served with beans and rice, a tortilla, sesame seeds, and red onion.
For more information, visit eltorerotucson.com.
One of the newer tacos on BOCA's comprehensive taco menu, the Mole de Pollo features shredded chicken in mole poblano with sesame seeds.
For more information, visit bocatacos.com.
What's your favorite mole in town? Tell us in the comments.
[This article was originally written on May 5, 2016, and most recently updated on July 2, 2019.]
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...