The list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, 2016 is always exciting. Yes, Pujol has dominated for about the past decade, but looking over the list, every foody gets a little extra moisture in the mouth and makes a note for any city’s where they’re likely to be. And for Mexico’s gourmet community, there’s a lot to be thankful for.
The list is voted on by 250 culinary experts and this 2016, the announcement of the winners was made right here in Mexico City. It’s fitting because no less than nine restaurants in the entire country were honored with inclusion in the prestigious list.
If you’re visit to Mexico includes some of these other cities, so much the better. But there’s also a lot to be said for sticking close to the capital, as the list below will show.
Enrique Olvera’s restaurant is always up there, or so it seems after so many years, awards and rave reviews. At number five on this year’s list, Pujol also placed on “The Art of Hospitality” awards list. They know what they are doing. A menu that’s constantly reinvented with local products it’s pretty much the height of Mexican kitchen creativity and flavor. And always with a nod to tradition, culture and the best of what we can be.
Though he’s pushing up next to the shade thrown off by Pujol, Jorge Vallejo’s has done an incredible job despite the competition. The restaurant’s “urban orchard” which provides a great deal to the kitchen emphasizes both fruit and vegetables in everything they serve. Twists on all kinds of traditional Mexican dishes make it a fresh, light and healthy night out.
Number three on our list and we can’t get out of Polanco? Biko’s gachupa kitchen brings dynamic Basque cooking to a Mexican context. Highly original and complex, this is the place for the truly sophisticated diner.
Edgar Núñez’s entry on the list brings us to the south of the city, but the trip is worth the slog through traffic. Rock cod with trout and suckling pig with shredded duck make for all kinds of rarely tried combinations. Freshness is everything, and nearly everything is local. This is the gourmet option in Pedregal.
The surrounding State of Mexico gets a lot of shade too. So a contender from Toluca is a welcome addition to any gourmet list. From the rich and varied palette that feeds so much of the capital, it helps to get back to basics. Chef Pablo Salas serves a magnificent carpaccio with cabbage salad in a local vinegar dressing. His pipian is beyond memorable, and the menu continues to evolve away from the more meat-centered dishes of the past.
Pangea’s seven-course tasting menu is one to be reckoned with. In contrast to Monterrey’s reputation, Pangea’s menu is generous. Baja-native, chef Guillermo González Beristáin brings extensive international experience to bear on a menu that was already richly Mexican. The results are a medley of gourmet virtues.
All the way down the list we come back to glorious, working-class-esque, tried and true Nicos. It’s been around FOREVER, and it’s still kicking out some of the very best, even if they can’t always get their imagery up to the chic and minimal of the others. It just makes sense. Organic pork is marinated in some amazing combination of chillis, brown sugar, and chocolate. Even if the image sometimes slips into Frida Kahlo tourist-land, don’t be fooled. Tamalito corn and corn sprouts, recipes mixed up with pulque, it’s all in a day’s work, and this is the real deal.
“Organic, local, sustainable,” chef Diego Hernández Baquedano’s Ensenada haunt is a herb gardener’s delight. Hernández spins lots of traditional Mexican fare with a blend of California artistry and just plain delight in herbs, most of which are grown on site. Tamales, the bean soup, the tuna tostaditas, there’s lots of gourmet to inspire, and the menu is different every day.
To close, we go back to Polanco. And the reward is significant. Founding chef, Martha Ortiz, pulls out all the stops with plate after plate of vibrant, bold creations that are served with extraordinary flare and plenty of flavour. Desserts are a big draw but don’t skimp on dinner. Though playfully presented, there’s a lot to be savoured.
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.
Address: Durango 279, col. Roma Norte
Phone: 9130 8456
Website | Facebook
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.
Address: Tabasco 101, col. Roma Norte
Telephone: 7155 1299
Website | Facebook
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.
Address: General Prim 95, col. Juarez
Phone: 5592 5571
Website | Facebook
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.
Address: Paseo de la Reforma 500, col. Juárez
Phone: 5230 1806
Website | Facebook
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.
Address: Durango 359, col. Roma Norte
Phone: 5211 9855
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.
Address: Ejército Nacional 774, col. Granada
Phone: 5203 8383
Website | Facebook
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.
Address: Colima 65, col. Roma Norte
Phone: 6812 1073
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.
Address: Jalapa 124, col. Roma Norte
Phone: 5564 0492
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.
Address: Ejército Nacional 769, col. Granada
Phone: 5325 7601
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.
Address: Monte Everest 770, col. Lomas de Chapultepec
Telephone: 7313 9100
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.
Address: Isabel La Católica 30, col. Centro Histórico
Phone: 5510 1316.
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.
Address: Gobernador Luis G. Vieyra 12, col. San Miguel Chapultepec
Telephone: 2614 3314
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.
Address: Tolstoi 9, col. Anzures
Telephone: 5254 5430
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.
Address: Calle de la Palma 23, col. Centro Histórico
Telephone: 5521 8817
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.
Address: Calle Francisco Petrarca 254, col. Polanco
Phone: 5545 4111
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.
Address: Puebla 371, col. Roma Norte
Phone: 6391 2121
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.
Address: Cuitláhuac 7, San Pedro Actopan
Telephone: 5844 2226.