It comes as something of a surprise to international visitors to learn that there is no single “Mexican food” in Mexico. Nicos Restaurant may be something of an exception.
Regional cuisines are hotly debated and competitive with their own specialties. And in the capital you often find, in addition to a vast a array of regional restaurants, an array of chefs and line cooks struggling to keep up with how things are cooked six or eight states away from where they grew up.
That mix-up can lead to lackluster cooking – most often in the form of generic sauces meant to accompany dishes from multiple regions, to name but one example. The same mix-up can also lead to truly excellent fusions of world-class cooking at restaurants recommended all over the world. Pujol, Maximo Bistrot, Rosetta have all been named and acclaimed and praised far and wide.
The closest one can come, in fact, to something like “Mexican food” is the capital’s version of comida tradicional. That is, a fusion of traditional ideas and familiar dishes from multiple origins, each prepared with a bit more flair but never focusing too long on one regional cuisine. The truly exotic are generally found in a handful of city neighborhoods frequented by the well-heeled and the visiting internationals. You can probably name them already: Polanco, Condesa, Roma Norte, among a few others.
Nicos Restaurant is off this beaten path in the Claveria neighborhood of Azcapotzalco, in the city’s northwest (see the map below). Already you get an idea that this is something special.
Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo is son of the restaurant’s founder, Maria Elena Lugo Zermeño who opened in 1957 at the height of the Claveria’s postwar prosperity.
Importantly too, Nicos is very much a breakfast joint of the highest caliber, though one could stretch it and call this a brunch place if one is being truly loose with definitions. Mexico’s favorite pan dulces, laced with nuts and figs accompany huevos a la diabla, and enchiladas that are that perfect mix of the traditional re-interpreted for the high-minded. Café de olla and Oaxacan chocolate are points of pride.
Lunches start in early afternoons with a legendary nata soup, a recipe presumably smuggled from a Capuchin monastery in Guadalajara. Salads include grapefruit flowers and particular interest is shown to the pork, the gorditas and the steak (Filete Nicolasa) with salsa de Jamaica and carmelized apple is must-eat specialty (and not always on the menu).
Nicos Restaurant is, perhaps obviously, very much a bastion of historical 19th century Mexican cuisine. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling between mid-August and the end of September, the Chiles enogada, pretty much the crown prince of 19th century dishes, are widely considered the finest in Mexico City.
It’s one of the few places in Mexico City that nixtamalizes their own corn (for tortillas). What you get are much hardier and cakier tortillas. Afficionados praise the process as the only authentic way to prepare and serve tortillas and Nicos Restaurant is one of the few places you’re still going to get them this way.
Nicos is also well regarded for a generously appointed wine-cellar and plenty of folks show up just for a bottle and a wedge of extra hard cheese, of which Nicos can always be relied on for an outstanding selection.
Address: Av. Cuitlauac No. 3102, Azcapotzalco, Colonia Clavería
Hours: Monday thru Friday – 7:30 till 19:30 hrs. Saturdays 8:00 till 19:00 hrs.
2016 was a banner year, not just for good eats and good coffee, but for seeing some of our old favorites really come into their own. Hopefully not lost in all of the rave reviews were these ten top-notch new restaurants – perhaps the best New Restaurants of the past year. As we see it, these are the ones who are just getting going.
Photo above: Mia Domenicca
A Mediterranean corner in Colonia Roma, Mia Domenicca always feels like cooking for friends. Priding themselves on a kitchen that turns out truly memorable dishes, the place is casual and friendly, but the menu should leave no doubt that you’ve got some pretty sophisticated friends.
Taking the concept of “comfort food” to some considerable extreme, La Roma is not just good for the soul. With considerable attitude, it’s not really a biker kind of place (though it looks like it). Specializing in burgers, plenty of their sandwiches will meet the expectations of higher-browed clientele, and deeply satisfying, some of their heavier dishes will beg to be revisited.
Chef Jair Téllez’s next evolutionary step after winning acclaim for Merotoro and Laja (in the Valley of Guadalupe), Amaya’s menu is still more sophisticated. A fusion of Spanish and Mexican cuisine, the wine (raro or not) is also carefully selected for outstanding results.
The new place at the Four Seasons, Zenaya is seafood to write home about. Starting with traditional recipes from Nayarit, Chef Tonatiuh Cuevas traveled to the coast to soak up the seasoning of the beach. Quality and freshness have been well noted by some of the city’s most vocal citics.
Mexico City’s most beloved Japanese chef brings a much-needed update to the concept of Mexican-Japanese food. With an extremely traditional menu, you get the hyper-simple technique and the full blown Hiroshi treatment for every dish. This is not one to miss.
A pure vegetable-based cuisine for everyone, every dish is created with organic and artisanal ingredients. Soups, salads, and hamburgers all attest to the fact that vegan can be not just edible, but even really good, and without mammoth portions.
Innovative, high-quality dishes, in an unpretentious environment, Lucas focuses on seasonal everything, and so everything is fresh. With a nice mix of cocktails, for Roma Norte this is a decidedly sophisticated corner of the night.
Bastardo, like the child of none-too-respectable parents, is nothing if not creative. Chef Jorge Avedaño latest venture brings always unusual ingredients to the table and the results are something like a mix of down-home and high society. Among the best new restaurants, this is not one to underestimate.
Granada’s not just a bunch of overpriced condos for girls from Toluca. The second Granada entry in this year’s list, is a fusion of Mediterranean, Asian, American and Spanish food all from Valencian chef Ricard Camarena. Eclectic is a ood first word to describe it, but the flavors and technique somehow all make sense here – if nowhere else.
For daily delights inspired by a traditional bakery, you shouldn’t have to climb Mount Everest. But that’s where you’ll find this new and rather exclusive bakery and coffee shop with a pretty good menu tacked on to keep it innovative. Contemporary Mexican food comes in ample servings to make it one of the best new restaurants of the past year. And the terrace, for lunch is one reward for venturing out to Lomas.
Mole, the word comes from the Nahuatl, molli, is always among the most emblematic of Mexican dishes. There are multiple varieties of moles, each prepared with different chiles and spices. This mixture is then thickened with corn, vegetables and sometimes with a meat stock. And then it’s set to stew.
The interesting thing about mole is that over the decades it’s continued to evolve. More and more chefs and restaurants strive to include a mole on their menus, with original dishes inspired by nothing but that original dark sauce. Dishes today range from the most traditional to the most modern and extravagent. And they always bear something of the original identity in their complex characters and flavors.
Among the most popular is “mole poblano.” But as there are so many versions of moles in the city, the best moles in Mexico City are often far and away from those concocted originally in Puebla, or Oaxaca or Guerrero. From the pot, they come red, black or sometimes green, but for all the best moles in Mexico City start with the list below.
One of the city’s true classics, Azul is at home in an impressive old building and prides itself on a rather high Mexican gastronomy. The house mole is rather on the traditional side, but for the adventurous, there’s also a sweet version served with duck.
With very fair prices, La Poblanita’s portions are very generous, and the mole enchiladas, are not to be forgotten. Overall, a traditional and rather “poblano” style menu should fill up even the most finicky of guests.
A favorite since the 1940s, Los Panchos has been recommended by world-renowned chef, Enrique Olvera. One of the city’s most varied menus, the house mole is one of the star dishes, and always comes out not just sweet, but exotic, multi-layered and complicated.
Always esoteric, El Cardenal has been one of the best Centro restaurants for as long as anyone can remember. Most famous for the breakfasts, at lunchtime all the niceties go away and the real guns come out. A chicken breast stuffed goat cheese ought to get you going but the red mole is easily among the best moles in Mexico City.
Easily one of the most recognized eateries in the city, Pujol usually makes lists of the best in all Latin America. Cuisine is distinctly Mexican while the atmosphere is sophisticated and minimalist. Among the most popular of dishes is the “mole madre/mole nuevo,” made through a fusion of ancestral and modern techniques.
Priding itself on traditional and contemporary Poblano recipes, many of the moles are from carefully secreted recipes, each with a unique flavor. Order the chilaquiles with mole or the guava mole, both of which are exceptional.
El Familiar – Milpa Alta
San Pedro Actopan may be practically the world capital of mole and the majority of inhabitants dedicate themselves in one or another to the production of the sauce. El Familiar offers one particular mole with walnuts (mole de nuez), which goes spectacularly with almost anything. But the three-mole enchiladas offer an amazing sampler for those unwilling to commit.