<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> About Restaurants in Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




By David Eidell (09/04)

Perhaps the biggest difference between restaurants in the US and Mexico is that Mexico has few “Wholesale Food” distributors to supply thousands of its mom & pop restaurants. Most Mexican restaurants must use locally grown meat and produce. Generally speaking restaurants in the northwest state of Sonora feature excellent steaks and other beef dishes while cool mountainous states in southern and central Mexico supply their restaurants with excellent produce. The catch is that many of those Sonoran restaurant meals may be limited to beef, beans, cheese, and chiles, while restaurants with great produce offer up shoe-leather-tough beefsteak. The best kind of restaurant therefore will capitalize on its strengths by using good recipes and more than a touch of sazon (chef’s talent).

Earlier this year I found myself south of Acapulco in late afternoon. The highway was typical of much of Mexico, two lanes that wound its way up and down hills and valleys. Suddenly I caught sight of a sign on a small building to the right “Restaurant Nuevo Milenium” (New Millennium Restaurant). After checking the rear view mirror for tailgaters, I applied the brakes and then bounced my way into the sandy parking lot. The New Millennium Restaurant (like an overwhelming majority of Mexican restaurants) wasn’t much to look at: Flamingo pink adobe brick, no glass in the window ports, and wobbly plastic chairs and tables adorned with a beer company logo. The women inside gave me a big smile and motioned me inside, so I slid back and chair and took a seat. Large floor stand fans whirred the late afternoon air and dozens of clay pots sprouted ferns, palms, and other tropical plants. Like most good restaurants this one somehow felt comfortable. In a flash I had a menu in hand, while the “la masera” (waitress) waited patiently for me to me to decide on a drink and an entrée.

The hand printed dinner menu was divided into four pages. Page one featured the standard Carne Asada Tapiquena, Tacos, or Chilies Rellenos. The title of the next page caught my attention: Comida de Campestre (Wild Game—Food Of The Field). Below was an exotic selection: Venado (Venison—Deer Meat), Cordoniz (Quail), and Iguana (Yes, the one you think it is). I quickly ordered venison, and then after the waitress departed I remembered what had happened that very morning: The coastal highway had passed through an exotic region that somehow reminded me of those movie sets of prehistoric jungle monsters. Nature was beckoning so I found a rare pullout and gently nudged the pickup off the nearly deserted road. As I strolled around the other side of the camper I suddenly heard a horrible series of gurgling belches that was answered by another and then yet another gurgle from the high cliffs. The belches could not have come from something small, yet I knew that Mexico was not host to Jurassic Park size lizards. As I opened the door to the truck I saw a four-foot long iguana waddle across the hot roadway. After I left, echoes of those reptilian roars followed me for miles.

Soon dinner arrived on a large oval platter. My gastronomical Geiger Counter had scored another bulls-eye, the venado was smothered in a delicious tomato based sauce, the Spanish Rice was fluffy and delicate and a stack of handmade corn tortillas awaited within a steaming hot towel. From the most humble to the most stiff upper lip, Mexican restaurants expect their customers to use tortillas as taco cloaking—dishes on the plate are scooped into a beckoning corn disc, which is folded over and then consumed without benefit of a fork or other utensil. Restaurant Nuevo Milenium turned out to be a real find. La Cuenta (The Bill) added up to the equivalent of five dollars and change. I have mentally marked this as a “must stop” on my next trip through the area (Three miles north of the town of San Marcos, which is forty miles south of Acapulco on the main coastal highway Mex 200).

Other favorite restaurants include the somewhat upscale Restaurant Tuluc in San Cristobal de Las Casas (which serves daily lunch specials for around four dollars), the slightly luxurious Restaurant Del Mar in downtown Guaymas (Superb seafood dishes), the “Upstairs Restaurants” in the central mercado (market) in Mazatlan (authentic home cooking for a dollar or two), and innumerable tiny eateries throughout the country serving memorable dishes. The grand prize however (The Big Enchilada) goes to a humble restaurant that is amazingly close to the border—the border with California no less.

Towering far above the snooty chrome and mahogany eateries of Cancun, the leather and oak dining temples of Mexico City and gimmick laden restaurants of official tourist Mexico, resides the establishment of Casimiro Cordoba (the owner and host). Thousands of miles distant from the state of Mexico, Mr. Cordoba created a theme restaurant dedicated to aficionado Aztec cuisine and atmosphere, but in a genuinely Mexican manner. The name of his restaurant is a real mouthful: El Taco de Huitzilopochtli was named after the god of Aztec war. Despite my elevation of this restaurant into a lofty “Number One” position, it is neither luxurious nor spectacular in furnishings—rather it is thoroughly quirky as a matter of fact, quirky like much of Mexico. El Taco de Huitzilopochtli is located in Ensenada, Baja California, and locals actually blush when an American (or other foreigner) inquires of it: What other restaurant features purple and green paint with concrete sheep and goats on its roof, and a painting of a muscular Aztec warrior on a billboard menu by its front door? Inside you will find on your table an assortment of five very different chile salsas, and a menu featuring corn fungus tacos (Huitlacoche), a bundle of delicious reedy vegetable (Huanzontle), or stewed pork in banana leaves (Cochinita Pibil). Even more pervasive than the delicious authentic fare is the presence of Casimiro, visiting from table to table, chatting, eyebrows going up and down, hands waving in the air, the very epitome of what a grand master of a restaurant owner ought to do in Mexico. The walls of the restaurant are covered in paintings, printings and metal art depicting Aztec Mexico. The only downside of this eatery is that it is only open on weekends. Sundays may have live entertainment in the form of a local singer reminiscing Mariachi tunes. Officially closed at four in the afternoon, Casimiro may lock the front door, inspire the singer to even greater deeds and then break out the moonshine Tequila. More than once I had to sober up in the front seat of my car after stumbling out into the chilly afternoon air. The best way to get to and from El Taco de Huitzilopochtli from downtown Ensenada is by Taxi (Every taxiista knows how to get there). Located in the far northeast suburbs of Ensenada, the restaurant is not easy to find unless your Spanish is accomplished. “Foreigners” are more than welcome, for example on a chance meeting on a bus near Tecate, Casimiro, implored me to tell more Americanos to visit his restaurant. Because his delight knows no bounds in hosting somewhat apprehensive newcomers to his magic world of superb authentic fare, I have given this restaurant an exalted number one position on my list of favorites. His Mexican patrons feel no less enthusiastic about the place. Prices are modest.