“We’re doing something a little more elaborate here,” says 23-year-old Omar Ramirez, chef of 433, a breakfast restaurant that will soon open for dinner in the Mexican city of San Luis Potosí. We’re chatting in the otherwise empty space, where I’ve just finished tasting some of the dishes Ramirez is considering for the menu, including a spicy spaghetti with fresh avocado and panela cheese – a spin on a common “de casa,” or traditionally-made-at-home Mexican dish. Every course is delicious, plated beautifully, and garnished with tiny flowers. Now we’re eating dessert, a guava meringue that is nothing like the churros or ice cream you might buy from vendors in the surrounding streets.
Ramirez, who was born, raised, and trained as a chef in Mexico City, is correct that 433 will be “elaborate” around here: Housed in the brand-new Santosi Hotel, a former elementary school that has been renovated into one of the city’s only upscale boutique hotels, 433 will be among San Luis Potosí’s first chef-driven restaurants. Both the restaurant and the hotel are emblematic of how the landscape of this old mining hub is changing: As recently as the 1990s, San Luis Potosí, capital of the state of the same name, was a quiet little place with a giant church and one shopping mall that had two stores.
“I had the time of my life whenever my mom took me to the arcade, because I'd see everyone I knew,” says Javi Puente, who grew up in the ‘90s in San Luis Potosí and now works as the marketing manager of the W Punta de Mita (the coolest surfing-themed resort in Mexico).
Located smack in the center of Mexico’s three most important cities, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City, Puente’s old hometown is now a popular base for travelers who want to see as much as they can of the country, or who just want to take day trips to Real de Catorce for some spiritual awakening and peyote in the desert or to the spectacular surrealist sculpture garden Las Pozas. The accessibility to Mexico’s major cities has also made San Luis Potosí attractive to businesses. In the last ten years, the industrial zone has grown exponentially, foreigners have moved in, and the city has begun to feel metropolitan while still retaining its traditional charm.
“Now when I visit my family, I see buildings in the residential zones,” Puente says. “It’s hard to believe. I never saw anything like that when I was growing up. Every time I go back, there’s a new building.”
In San Luis Potosí, you should definitely spend a day eating. The city has always had great Mexican food, but the cuisine has grown more diverse and the restaurants more competitive as the foreign community has expanded. Start your day with a breakfast that’s also a party at Café Cortao, where the mariachi band will play right at your table and the restaurant’s owner will sit down with you, ask you what you do and don’t like, and choose your meal for you. (What he chose for me involved mole and mushrooms and eggs and was among the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in Mexico.) Later, hit La Rúgula for some fancy manchego nachos (order the Totopos Rúgula) and a 7 Barrios, a San Luis Potosí craft beer, on the rooftop. And save room for dinner at 433 – even if it hasn’t had its official opening for dinner, you can book it out privately and sample the dishes Ramirez is considering for the menu.
When I tell Puente about 433, he’s surprised. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a chef-driven restaurant,” he says. “The market is difficult in San Luis Potosí. People are traditional. They’re open to trying new things, but they usually go back to what they know. That’s why all the old restaurants are still there.”
But Chef Pati Jinich, host of PBS Pati's Mexican Table and author of Pati's Mexican Table and Mexican Today, is optimistic: “It makes sense that there might be some skepticism and even resistance. It is precisely this tug and pull in the last couple decades that has allowed Mexican cuisine to reach new heights and brim with possibilities. What is wonderful is that sometimes these efforts to create chef-driven restaurants and new presentations of regional dishes help locals see their own culinary wealth in a different light; they can appreciate the new while preserving the old.”
The meals and hotel stay that are the subject of this review were provided at no cost to the contributor.