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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.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]