The sign outside Mosto advertises it as a “little agave spirits bar” with “big mezcal energy!” It also advertises “al pastor straight from the trompo.”
Now, Mosto doesn’t have tequila and mezcal like Hard Water has whiskey or Smuggler’s Cove has rum (or even how The Monk’s Kettle has beer). Mosto’s menu is very simple: one page, double-sided, with the front page devoted to cocktails, beer, wine, and food (it only lists six cocktails, seven beers, and two wines) and the other side entirely devoted to tequila and mezcal. That’s impressive, but it’s not the book of selections you’ll get at other speciality bars.
But sometimes, a simple menu is better. Sometimes you can learn a lot more with a curated list. More specifically: When it comes to tequila, I certainly can. I can tell you about tequila, sure; a bit about the history, about how it’s made, factoids about the contemporary industry, but in terms of actually being familiar with the spirit, I don’t know nearly enough to have meaningful opinions. Whiskey, beer, wine, and to a lesser extent gin and rum, I have strong opinions about and I can fight for them to the death. But with tequila, I’m honestly still at the stage where I shyly point to bottles and ask “is that good? It’s supposed to be good …”
So I came here to Valencia Street between 18th and 19th streets to learn. I also came to sit inside at the bar and make smalltalk like I used to, but as soon as I walked in I kind of hated the interior. Mosto’s inside is small and cramped, with all the comfort of a cave and all the atmosphere of a deli counter where the lights don’t work. On top of that, the music was too damn loud for a real conversation anyway. Sitting at that counter would have been like having a drink in the waiting room of the decrepit warehouse office of an illegal surgeon in Gotham City. That wasn’t going to happen.
“Can I sit outside?” I asked the bartender.
I was seated at a table on the street, brought a menu and a small bowl of fried garbanzo beans and seeds, and told to come back inside when I was ready to order.
“Do you do tequila flights?” I asked. Because even if I wasn’t going to risk my health by sitting in a bar and having a conversation with strangers, I could still learn something about tequila.
The bartender looked embarrassed when he said “No.”
I studied the menu, and, after a while, I went inside to order a Smooth Criminal (bruxo x mezcal, orgeat, lime, cynar, egg white, $15) and the happy hour al pastor tacos (three for $10). I waited for the drink at the bar, and was told the tacos would be brought to my table outside. As I picked the drink up to go, a man wearing a bike helmet on his head walked into the bar.
“Hey, what’s that drink?” he asked me, pleasantly. “What’s in it?”
And … I froze.
I’ve been wanting to talk to strangers in bars again for months, to find it in myself to walk up to strangers and strike up conversations during a time of plague, and now a stranger had walked up to me and …
“It’s a Smooth Criminal,” I muttered. “It’s on the menu.” And I walked out.
Oh, I blew that so badly. Am I just broken? I asked myself as I sat at my table and waited.
The drink was good, smooth and lightly sweet with a nice texture, but my mood had hit the floor.
Then, the guy from inside, still wearing his bicycle helmet, came out and sat down at another table, waiting for his tacos.
I took a deep breath. “Hey,” I called out to him. “You asked about this? It’s mezcal, orgeat, cynar, and an egg white … which is why I got it. I love egg white drinks. They help smooth the flavors together and give it a great texture.”
“Oh yeah?” he said. He got up and came over. “What’s orgeat?”
“Kind of an almond flavored syrup …”
His name’s Enrique. He doesn’t know a thing about booze, but he loves the tacos at Mosto. They’re among his favorite tacos in the city. His all-time favorites are from a taco truck which he says is owned by the same people who own Mosto, “but they don’t do pastor at the truck, so I come here for that.” He kept his bicycle helmet on his head the whole time we talked
My tacos came out first, and then his, and my God … they were incredible. The sign had told me, but I still had not seen this coming.
I savored mine, but Enrique wolfed his down and then went on his way. “I just stop here for tacos,” he said, he wasn’t here to do the bar thing. The bartender came out to check on me, and when I told him the tacos are delicious he smiled with an abundance of pleasure.
“Aren’t they good?” he responded.
I remembered the look on his face when he admitted that they don’t do tequila flights. This guy cares.
When I was finished, I went back inside. The bartenders shifted while I was out, which I regretted. I really wanted to talk more with the guy who’d been working with me so far. But all the best things had happened at Mosto when I’d pushed ahead anyway, so I asked the new bartender what he’d recommend in a straight tequila. “Is price an object?” he asked. I said no, we had a short talk about my favorite flavor profiles, and then he recommended the Fortaleza Blanco still strength, which they didn’t actually have on the menu. I took it back outside and sipped. It was bright, sharp, and flavorful, slightly buttery and earthy, with a pepper finish.
Man, I wish Mosto did flights.
But Mosto, just as it was, had given me an experience worth having. The whole point of going out is to meet the bars where they are, just like you meet the people in them, and figure out how to have fun from there.
The sign outside got Mosto exactly right.