Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014, this small café might be hard to find, but it's definitely worth the search. The bohemian dining room of Red Cabbage Café is a colorful one, with brightly painted walls covered with photographs, paintings, posters, and magazine clippings about cultural icons of Mexico, including Frida Kahlo, who even has a special menu dedicated to her, replicating dishes she and husband Diego Rivera used to prepare for guests. That menu includes things like cream of peanut soup (which, according to Red Cabbage Café, was the opening course at Kahlo and Rivera’s Christmas dinners); mole poblano, made with 25 different ingredients and served over chicken breast with rice and beans; homemade flan; and of course a shot or two of tequila or a margarita. Other than the special Kahlo menu, Red Cabbage Café offers a versatile mix of dishes from different regions of Mexico, including tortilla soup, stuffed chile peppers, and tacos, all made from scratch and in authentic style. The restaurant also offers cooking classes.
While its location in a seedy section of Tijuana may seem off-putting to some, it was at Caesar’s Restaurant on Avenida Revolución that the Caesar salad was invented, by immigrant Italian chef Caesar Cardini, in the 1920s, and the place is still very much worth visiting today. The décor is old-school — dark wood paneling, ancient espresso machines at the bar, photos of a bygone era — but the restaurant (not the hotel) was taken over in 2012 by Javier Plascencia, the innovative chef-restaurateur who has worked to revitalize Tijuana's dining scene. He has brought first-rate Mexican and continental cuisine here — including you-know-what, tossed tableside.
An outdoor grill and picnic tables under a canopy hung with ceiling fans are all that chef Benito Molina, of Ensenada's Manzanilla (see number 43) needs to satisfy touring wine lovers (and indigenous winemakers) in the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country, inland from the coast. Its name means "wild," and Silvestre — open only on weekends, and only from late spring to early autumn — indeed has an attractively unstructured, out-in-the-countryside feeling about it. The menu is fixed-price, including six courses of locally sourced foodstuffs — perfect salads, grilled organic vegetables, lightly smoky grilled oysters, great seafood from all along the Baja littoral (swordfish and tuna are regulars), maybe herb-strewn lamb or Sonoran rib-eye steak with grilled scallions and tortillas, and Baja cheeses. It all tastes even better than it probably would in an indoor restaurant; that expanse of vineyard that begins just a few feet away adds real flavor.
La Marea Restaurant is not a typical surf-and-turf establishment. Tucked within the Viceroy Riviera Maya in the small village of Playa Xcalacoco, just outside Playa del Carmen, the beachfront resort restaurant is a refuge of fine dining. The restaurant is open for dinner only, and Mexican chef Jetzabel Rojas Barragán prepares contemporary interpretations of Mexican cuisine with Mediterranean influences — for instance plantain risotto with crispy Ramonetti cheese, cinnamon, and poached egg; cocoa-crusted Sonora rib-eye with wild mushrooms, roasted Cambray onions, and pasilla chile sauce; and Puerto Morelos poached lobster tail and risotto with asparagus risotto, sweet potato chips, and vanilla butter.
Yes, it’s touristy, but Los Danzantes delivers a supreme sampling of Oaxaca’s famous moles and mezcal. Los Danzantes ("The Dancers") is named for carvings of dancing figures on the ruins of nearby Monte Albán. Set in the courtyard of a renovated three-story colonial building, the 80-seat open-air dining room with adobe walls and a shimmering pool is often packed with tourists dining on fondue de huitlacoche, a corn fungus and cheese fondue with serrano pepper served in a rustic bread bowl; breaded chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and porcini mushrooms with chipotle cream; and shredded turkey with red mole and chayote. The goat cheese flan with figs, honey, and chocolate sauce, and the empanada with quince, cream cheese, and a red wine reduction are sweet endings to an iconic and memorable Mexican meal.
Owner David Martinez and chef Andoney Garcia run this tiny, super-casual seafood place, open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. only, showcasing absolutely fresh fish and shellfish harvested locally. Come here for crema de almeja (a Baja take on clam chowder), local oysters, sashimi or ceviche of whatever's fresh and good, fried calamari, steamed clams, giant shrimp with garlic sauce, or seafood-laden rice or pasta. Simple white wine and cold beer flow freely.
Tucked in the charming working class neighborhood of Las Nueve Esquinas ("the nine corners," named for the area's numerous intersecting streets), Birriería Las 9 Esquinas is the top spot to sample birria (a spicy Mexican goat stew that originated here in the state of Jalisco). Proprietor Don Federico greets diners and seats them in the blue-and-yellow-tiled, colonial-style dining room while Doña Lupita prepares the restaurant’s namesake dish. Complimentary cebollitas (baby onions) and tortilla chips are brought to the table while live music entertains guests as they wait for the birria to be served. Here, the birria consists of goat with mirasol, ancho, and pasilla chiles cooked overnight over a low fire and served with a consommé (a clear broth). It’s best eaten by first scooping the meat up with a tortilla chip and then dipping it into the broth — delicioso!
This historic Mexico City institution, founded in 1912, is big, bright, and bustling, from the entrance, with its massive mural depicting chocolate in various contexts (being enjoyed by a nobleman, being mixed into mole in a convent kitchen), which overlooks the pastry counter, to the back dining rooms with their ornate mirrors, wrought-iron railings, and Moorish-style lights. The menu is an anthology of Mexican specialties with other homey specialties added. Standouts include the mole poblano enchiladas, the chicken tacos with guacamole, the chuchulocos (taquitos) in hot sauce, the barbecued pork steak, the fried calf's brains, the beef filet with chilaquiles (cut-up tortillas in a chile-based sauce), and the assorted house-made Mexican pastries.
Located down a rutted, dirt road in the center of Flora Farm, a 10-acre organic farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, Flora’s Field Kitchen offers the ultimate in farm-to-table dining. All ingredients used come from the farm owned by Gloria and Patrick Greene; breads are made from a wood oven and the free-range meat comes from their nearby 150-acre ranch. At night and on Sundays, the wood oven is used to craft 12-inch Neapolitan-style pizzas with toppings such as house-made lemon ricotta and thyme. The seasonally changing menu, which ranked number eight on The Daily Meal’s 25 Best Farmstead Restaurant Experiences, includes family-friendly comfort foods served family-style or à la carte like double-cut pork chop and oven-roasted half chicken. Farm walks are offered pre-meal.
A special-occasion place for the well-to-do of Tijuana, owned by the Plascencia family — Tijuana restaurant royalty — with Javier Plascencia (see Misión 19, number 22) in charge of the kitchen, Villa Saverios is a comfortable restaurant, with bare wood floors, mottled walls, white-napped tables, and a glass room divider etched with images of grapes. The open kitchen at end of the room produces what might best be described as sophisticated Mexican-accented continental cuisine based on top-notch fresh ingredients, many of them Baja-sourced. A kind of carpaccio of smoked marlin is dressed in Baja olive oil and garnished with avocado, basil, habanero chiles, and mango vinaigrette; beautiful deep-water Baja shrimp are simply boiled and served on a bed of samphire; oven-roasted short ribs, slow-cooked for eight hours, are nestled on a bed of smashed potatoes enriched with Real del Castillo cheese from Ojos Negros, east of Ensenada. The cooking is first-rate throughout and shows real finesse.
Miguel Ángél Guerrero Yaguës, the chef–proprietor of this Tijuana original, may have coined the term "BajaMed" and was certainly one of its earliest practitioners. La Querencia has a hip, contemporary-industrial look, with bare concrete floors, lacquered steel tables, exposed ducts overhead, and low-tech touches like mounted game trophies on the walls, a tropical fish tank at one end of the dining room, and a row of rusty old cooking implements hanging above the divider that separates the open stainless steel kitchen from the dining room. The menu appears on oversize blackboards. Roast duck, lamb chops, and a marinated rib-eye with shallots and Roquefort are available, but the focus is on fresh Baja seafood — scallop or marlin carpaccio, grilled shrimp salad, grilled octopus, a mixed seafood plate with red and white miso sauces and hot chiles. There's also pasta with pesto or romesco sauce, and a range of tacos, tostadas, and burritos employing such uncommon fillings as smoked marlin, giant squid, manta ray, tuna fin stew, and abalone "chorizo" — all of it delicious.
When he's not overseeing the cooking at MeroToro in Mexico City (see number 47), Jair Téllez — whose background includes stints at Daniel in New York City, La Folie in San Francisco, and the Four Seasons in Mexico City — is designing daily four- and eight-course fixed-price menus here at his original restaurant, a rustic, laid-back establishment in the Mexican wine country of the Valle de Guadalupe. Téllez was a pioneer of Baja Mediterranean cuisine, and is fanatical about using the freshest and best organic ingredients grown around the place or in other parts of the valley. Because he cooks according to what's best and most seasonal, the particulars can be unpredictable, but his salads are anthologies of freshness, his soups are authoritative (a cream of eggplant with jamón serrano, for instance), his seafood is first-rate (marinated yellowtail with preserved lemon, say), his meat dishes are full of flavor and perfectly cooked (oven-roasted baby lamb raised a mile or so away is a standout), and his desserts, usually based around fruit from neighboring orchards, are bright and refreshing. Téllez makes his own wines, and also serves a fine selection of the valley's best.
Condé Nast Traveler recently anointed San Miguel de Allende, a pleasant and colorful artists' and American retirees' community in the state of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, as the top city in the world — leaving such burgs as Barcelona, Paris, Venice, Budapest, Sydney, and Kyoto in the dust. Well, all right. Whatever. But San Miguel is certainly an engaging place, and one of its great attractions — and a rare example of contemporary architecture in the city — is the Hotel Matilda, a comfortable and alluring hostelry graced by an excellent restaurant, Moxi. Moxi is under the direction of Enrique Olvera, whose Pujol (see number 10) is one of the top contemporary restaurants in Mexico City. Here, in a pleasant, art-enhanced dining room, with a breezy terrace, Olvera's crew draws heavily on organically raised local produce to produce Mexican-accented international cuisine: lump crab salad with avocado, Cambray potato chips, and guajillo and morita chile purée; agnolotti filled with local farmers' cheese and sauced with mixed herb pesto; fish of the day cooked in parchment with green epazote mole and a potato and purslane salad; confit leg of suckling pig with almond mole and tamarind purée; and many other vividly flavored delights.
This is the dining room at La Villa del Valle, the first chic boutique hotel in the Valle de Guadalupe (it opened as Las Brisas del Valle, but was constrained by the proprietors of the Las Brisas resort in Acapulco to rename itself). With sweeping hilltop views of Mexico's premier wine country, here, chef Diego Hernandez creates daily fixed-price menus that are basically Baja-Mediterranean with some Asian accents, utilizing a wide range of vegetables and herbs grown on the property (his cold mint soup wins raves), along with local duck and quail, and seafood from the nearby coast at Ensenada (smoked tuna figures often), served with the hotel's own wines. A standout dessert, if you're lucky enough to dine here when it's on the menu, is cornbread with crème anglaise, crumbled pork cracklings, and pumpkin ice cream.
"Mero" is grouper; "toro" is bull. Put them together and you have a splendid "surf-and-turf"–themed restaurant opened three years ago by Gabriela Cámara and Pablo Bueno of the popular Contramar. The place may be located in Mexico City's posh Colonia Condesa, but the vibe is relaxed (bare tables and slat-backed chairs; open kitchen), and the inspiration comes from far to the northwest, from Baja California, and Cámara and Bueno have secured the services here of one of that region's most accomplished chefs, Jair Téllez of Laja (see number 56) in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja wine country. Téllez (pleasantly) surprises palates in the Mexican capital with such dishes as ceviche made with samphire as well as the expected chiles, combines scallops with cucumbers, flavors risotto with bone marrow, and serves grouper (of course) on a bed of puréed cauliflower. Tellez's signature dish, though, shows that he has both feet on the ground: pan-fried pork jowl with lentils and a poached egg.
You've got to love a restaurant whose front window promises "Fine Wine, Live Abalone, Rare Mezcal." The hot pink chandeliers and massive wooden back bar (like something out of an upscale cantina from a century ago) that greet you when you enter are a good sign, too. This is obviously a place with personality. Husband-and-wife chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris have plenty of personality, too, as does their seafood-heavy menu, offering such delights as truly memorable roasted Baja oysters with tarragon butter and chiles; grilled clams with gorgonzola; fish of the day with chickpea purée, chayote, and seaweed; (live) fried abalone with soy and ginger; and for the non-piscatorially inclined, creamy rice with oxtail, pork loin with vanilla-scented apples and polenta, and a few other meaty specialties.
In the fascinating historic colonial city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, motorcycle-riding chef Bricio Dominguez interprets traditional dishes and uses sometimes pre-Hispanic raw materials to produce consistently fascinating and satisfying dishes. Thin-sliced octopus is glazed with chocolate balsamic; sweetbread tacos are combined with avocado and a tomato foam; lamb chops come with smoked tamarind sauce and beer-vinegar honey. The adventurous might want to sample escamoles, the larvae of agave ants, which Dominguez offers in chalupas or in a creamy rice with Mexican artisanal cheeses. While retaining familiar Mexican food forms more closely than some other cutting-edge Mexican chefs today, Dominguez leads diners into unfamiliar but attractive territory at the same time.
Chef José Manuel Baños Rodriguez’s restaurant gives diners a gastronomic tour of Oaxaca. Named for a verbena-like herb commonly used in Oaxacan cooking, Pitiona showcases the region's versatile cuisine, with dishes using a perfect balance of traditional and experimental cooking techniques. Many of the chef’s recipes are said to trace back to his mother and grandmother, but they've been personalized and modernized with Rodriguez’s own playful style. Think mole with chicatana(ants), lamb with green mole and white bean foam, and carrot tacos with shrimp cevhice. To keep surprising his diners, chef Rodriquez likes to change his menu every month.
After excelling in renowned kitchens in San Francisco, including Jardinière, La Mar, andChez Papa, chef Rodolfo Castellanos returned to his homeland of Mexico to open up his own restaurant in Oaxaca. Origen has bloomed into more than just a restaurant, offering cooking workshops and its own shop featuring locally sourced and carefully hand-crafted products such as coffee, spices, candies, and jams. In the restaurant itself, chef Castellanos serves carefully crafted dishes, heavily relying on seasonal availability and products from local farmers' markets. Sample fare includes sautéed scallops with cauliflower purée, pork belly, pomegranate, and mandarin; suckling goat confit with yellow squash purée, capers, raisins, and spiced carrots; and baked Alaska with mamon (a type of sponge cake), leche quemada (a type of milk candy) ice cream, caramelized pineapple, and meringue.
Javier Plascencia, whose family owns everything from pizzerias to the special-occasion Villa Saverios (number 61) to the dining room at Hotel Caesar's (number 92), where the famous salad was invented, has been instrumental in helping to turn the infamous border town of Tijuana into something approaching a fine dining destination — and Misión 19 is his flagship. Looking out on the city from the second floor of a modern office building, the dining room — with wraparound windows, an open latticework of wood enclosing the bar, pastel neon accents, and cactuses that look like something out of a cartoon — is every bit as eclectic, colorful, and energizing as Plascencia's creations. A bastion of "BajaMed" cuisine (and why shouldn't northwestern Mexico have every bit as much a claim to the Mediterranean as Northern California?), Misión 19 tempts diners with such unexpected but welcome fare as seaweed and goat cheese salad with cured, grilled salmon trout; risotto with heirloom beans, wild mushrooms, and huitlacoche; fish of the day in fermented soybean sauce with poblano chile adobo, roasted carrots, and almonds; and tablitas (crosscut beef ribs) vacuum-cooked for 48 hours and served with "cracklins" of beluga lentils, chayote, and Brussels sprouts.
Guillermo González Beristáin opened Pangea in 1998, and since then has set the standard for Mexican haute cuisine, influencing chefs and other restaurants to follow in his footsteps of presenting local Mexican produce in new, inventive ways. Beristáin has opened several other restaurants in the northeast region of Mexico, but Pangea remains his flagship, serving diners Mexican cuisine prepared with modern French techniques. Notable dishes include a warm local artichoke soup with sausage toast, cocoa, and pink pepper; fresh and smoked salmon ravioli with asparagus, hazelnuts, and saffron; braised beef with a green peppercorn demi-glace, mashed potatoes with Ramonetti cheese, organic vegetables, and a porcini mushroom emulsion. Pangea is also home to a highly regarded wine cellar, as Beristáin is a strong supporter of Mexican wines and has even launched a project to promote more unusual grape varieties.
Chef Roberto Solís’ haute cuisine at Nectar is as ambitious as that from the big-name kitchens he trained in, namely those of Noma, Per Se, and,The Fat Duck. Located in the Yucatán region of Mexico, Nectar is all about preserving the original flavors and roots of the regional cuisine, and presenting it in a new, evolved manner. Using the techniques of modernist cuisine, the menu includes dishes such as fried summer tomatoes with pork, tomato water, and Oaxaca cheese ice cream; venison with orange, grapefruit, burned corn purée, quail egg, honey and onions, and beer; and local pumpkin with pepitas, tomatoes, grilled onions, and cotija cheese.
Located in the colonial-style Casa Oaxaca Hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico, the restaurant of the same name offers hotel guests and outside diners alike a high-end experience of modern, Oaxaca-style cuisine infused with Mediterranean flavors. Behind the culinary creations is chef Alejandro Ruiz, who is not afraid to mix the flavor profiles of the Mediterranean and Mexico: basil and rosemary are just as relevant in his kitchen as huitlacoche and grasshoppers. The restaurant is split between two locations: the dining area at the hotel, with a popular open terrace for diners to enjoy the views, and another freestanding restaurant a 10-minute walk away in the historic district of Oaxaca. Both locations feature the innovative cuisine, and a majority of produce used is organic and local. Signature dishes include sea bass ceviche with passion fruit nectar and wild turkey breast with mole.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and working for the superb Alsatian-born chef Jean Joho at hisEverest in Chicago, Enrique Olvera opened this contemporary-style restaurant in Mexico City in 2000, with the idea of using indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking methods to produce food with French-style refinement. He succeeds admirably with such dishes as romeritos (an herb that looks like rosemary and tastes like spinach) with favas, coriander stems, and chicken dressing; suckling lamb tacos with avocado, peas, cacao, and poblano chiles; oxtail mixiote (meat pit-roasted with chiles, herbs, and spices); and fermented banana with macadamia nuts, plantain vinegar, and chamomile petals. The restaurant's list of mezcals is eye- and palate-opening, and the collection of Mexican wines, especially reds, is one of the country's most extensive.
The Mexican-Spanish fusion cuisine served at Biko is described by chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso as "sumptuous with surprises." With a three-year-long streak on the World's 50 Best" list by San Pellegrino, Biko has established its place as one of Mexico City’s top high-end restaurants. The menu changes often and consists of locally sourced seasonal ingredients, compiled into refined, simple dishes that match the minimalist décor of Biko’s dining room. The signature appetizer, "Foie 100% Algodón [Liver 100% Cotton]," is an elegant plate of whipped foie gras served with different complements depending on the season, including a version wrapped in iceberg lettuce, paired with cheese, and topped with cotton candy.