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25 Best Restaurants in Mexico

25 Best Restaurants in Mexico

From street food carts to some of the world’s best eateries, Mexico is an exciting and delicious culinary destination

25 Best Restaurants in Mexico

From street food carts to some of the world’s best eateries, Mexico is an exciting and delicious culinary destination.

#25 Taquería Los Parados (Mexico City)

This favorite Mexico City taquería is on the list of author Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, so maybe that's reason enough to pay a visit. Rick Bayless, America's most esteemed non-Mexican expert on Mexico's cuisine, chose the place to demonstrate three essential Mexican salsas on his Mexico One Plate at a Time series, too. The menu at this casual, standing-room-only place is heavy on tacos, obviously — featured are tacos de arrachera (skirt steak), bistec con queso (steak and cheese), and chile poblano con queso (chiles and cheese), among others — but the chicharrón de queso, a thin piece of pan-fried cheese, is also a favorite.

#24 La Choza (Cozumel)

For an authentic meal in Cozumel, locals and tourists alike will direct you to La Choza. Inside the squat, yellow building with its red-tiled roof, the restaurant is big, lively, and bright, filled with archways, small wooden tables, lanterns and plants hanging from the ceilings, and colorful Mexican artwork adorning the walls. La Choza is known for its mole poblano, but equally good are its guacamole, chicken and beef fajitas, quesadillas, ceviche, pork in tomato sauce, and grilled seafood dishes (especially the fish of the day).

#23 Pancho’s Backyard (Cozumel)

Chances are you’ll never find a quiet moment at Pancho’s, as it is constantly bustling with hungry locals ready to tuck into a delicious meal. This is open-air restaurant is as authentic as they come — it even occupies one of the oldest buildings in Cozumel. Diners love Pancho’s beautiful courtyard setting, tile floors, and stone walls, not to mention the lush trees that surround the restaurant. For starters, you’ll enjoy Pancho’s guacamole with tortilla chips or crema de cilantro, a light aromatic cilantro soup with croutons. Mains includemahi mahi topped with an almond, mango, orange, and pineapple pico de gallo; lobster tail with garlic butter; beef, chicken, or vegetarian fajitas; chicken enchiladas with mole sauce and rice; and green poblano peppers stuffed with plantains and walnuts.

#22 Néctar (Mérida, Mexico)

Chef Roberto Solís’ haute cuisine at Néctar is as ambitious as that produced in the big-name kitchens he trained in, like those of Noma, Per Se, and The Fat Duck. Located in the Yucatán, Néctar has a simple philosophy: stay true to the original flavors and roots of the cuisine while presenting dishes in a new, evolved manner. Using the techniques of the modernist kitchen, the menu includes dishes such as tamal with pumpkin seed foam and roasted cherry tomatoes; twice-fried pork belly with roasted guava and Edam cream cheese; suckling pig in a red sauce with onions, beans, and oregano; and crispy-skin chicken with lime salsa and marmalade of habanero chiles with chochoyotes (corn masa dumplings).

#21 Las Palmas (Cozumel)

Las Palmas serves delicious Mexican meals without the frills, with plastic tables and chairs and incredibly low prices. Dishes come in generous portions, so come hungry. Chips and salsa, refried beans, and guacamole often show up on the table while guests peruse the menu. Go for the chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and poc-chuc (a Maya-style grilled pork dish), though diners also rave about the fajitas, enchiladas, grilled fish, and pollo a la plancha con queso (grilled chicken breast topped with melted cheese).

#20 Café de Tacuba (Mexico City)

This historic Mexico City institution, founded in 1912, is big, bright, and bustling, and the menu is a collection of Mexican specialties with other homey specialties added. Standouts include mole poblano enchiladas, chicken tacos with guacamole, chuchulocos (taquitos) in hot sauce, barbecued pork steak, fried calf's brains, beef filet with chilaquiles (cut-up tortillas in a chile-based sauce), and assorted house-made Mexican pastries. A mural on the wall in the main dining room depicts the supposed invention of mole poblano by nuns in a convent in Pueblo.

#19 Birriería Las 9 Esquinas (Guadalajara)

If there is one place to try birria, a spicy Mexican goat stew that originated here in the state of Jalisco, it’s at Birriería Las 9 Esquinas. This Guadalajara eatery can be found tucked in the charming working class neighborhood of Las Nueve Esquinas (The Nine Corners, named for the area's numerous intersecting streets). Guests are greeted by proprietor Don Federico, who seats diners in the blue-and-yellow-tiled, colonial-style dining room while Doña Lupita prepares the restaurant’s namesake dish. As guests wait for their birria, they can munch on the complimentary cebollitas (grilled green onions) and tortilla chips. 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). Insider tip: one of the best ways to eat birria is to first scoop up the meat up with a tortilla chip, dip it into the broth, take a bite, and repeat.

#18 Amaranta (Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico)

About an hour outside of Mexico City, chef Pablo Salas is implementing forward-thinking techniques and practices at his raved-about Amaranta. Salas uses modern cooking styles to enhance local produce and deliver dishes with big, bold flavors, one of the many reasons his restaurant landed a spot on this year’s Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list. For appetizers, go for the pig’s trotters carpaccio au vinegar — fine slices of boneless pig’s feet with vinegar, olive oil, and oregano, cabbage salad, chayote, carrots, and serrano chiles. Mains include oxtail in a manzano pepper mole served with a salt-cured nopal (cactus) salad and cilantro sprouts; roasted veal breast braised for six hours and served with refried beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole-tomatillo sauce; chicken with mole served with glazed sesame and vegetables; and ribeye served with smoked mashed potatoes, organic white beets, and truffle oil. Salas’ brother, Francisco, is the sommelier here and creates unique food and drink pairings, making sure not to neglect local beers and spirits.

#17 Pangea (Monterrey, Mexico)

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 northeastern Mexico, but Pangea remains his flagship, serving diners Mexican cuisine prepared with modern French techniques. Notable dishes include goat (Monterrey's specialty) cooked in beer; steak tartare; foie gras with tuna, watermelon, and truffle oil; angel hair pasta served with shrimp, grilled vegetables, and chiles; and loin of dorado with pork stew, served with a purée of smoky corn and tomato marmalade. Pangea is also home to a highly regarded wine cellar, as Beristáin is a strong supporter of Mexican wines.

#16 neXtia (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)

Bricio Domínguez proved himself as one of the most original chefs in Mexico at his El Jardín de los Milagros in the central Mexican capital of Guanajuato. That establishment is still going strong, but now Dominguez has expanded his reach into the pretty tourist town of San Miguel de Allende with a casual, more-or-less traditional place called 13 Cielos and this restaurant, in the boutique Nena Hotel, featuring his "cocina del autor," or creative cuisine. That translates to such things as cream of black bean soup with charred tortilla foam and guindilla chile oil, wild salmon with cilantro pesto and baby beets, and grilled sirloin with Cambray potato foam and caramelized onions — or, for the truly adventurous, sopes (like thick tortillas) of charred yellow corn with escamoles (ant larvae), avocado sauce, and moth-larvae salt.

#15 Maíz de Mar (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)

Enrique Olvera, the celebrated Mexican chef whose Pujol in Mexico City is our #1 restaurant this year, says that his outpost in the beach resort of Playa del Carmen is a different thing altogether. "It's very casual," he says. "People go in swimsuits. It's mostly a raw bar with lots of local seafood. We serve vuelva a la vida ["back to life," a bracing mixed seafood cocktail], traditional cebiche and cebiche a la veracruzano [with tomatoes, olives, and capers], all kinds of seafood." That includes things like fish with garlic–ginger sauce or with pineapple and guajillo chiles, octopus cocktail with sour orange, and shrimp and pork pozole (a hominy stew). The homemade tortillas are something special. "The Yucatán," says Olvera, "is known for its varieties of corn."

#14 Los Danzantes (Oaxaca, Mexico)

Named for the carvings of dancing figures on the ruins of nearby Monte Albán, the famed pre-Columbian archeological site, Los Danzantes (“The Dancers”) delivers a supreme sampling of Oaxaca’s famous moles and mezcal. Set in the courtyard of a renovated three-story colonial building, Los Danzantes is architecturally stunning. The restaurant features an 80-seat open-air dining room, adobe walls, and a shimmering pool. Guests can be seen dining on fondue de huitlacoche, a corn fungus and cheese fondue with serrano pepper served in a rustic bread bowl; seed-crusted seared tuna with sesame vinaigrette, garlic, and oil dressing duet and a salad; salmon cooked in a traditional Oaxacan black mole, served with plantain and coconut purée and pico de gallo; and ribeye in a salsa de chapulines (grasshopper sauce) with coffee potatoes.

#13 La Querencia (Tijuana, Mexico)

Miguel Ángel Guerrero Yaguës, the chef–proprietor of this Tijuana original, may have coined the term "BajaMed." He was certainly one of the earliest practitioners of this tantalizing hybrid cuisine. La Querencia has a hip, contemporary-industrial look: bare concrete floors, lacquered steel tables, and exposed ducts overhead. Subtle, low-tech touches abound, 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 focus here is on fresh Baja seafood — scallop carpaccio, grilled shrimp salad, Cajun salmon, a mixed seafood plate with red and white miso sauces, and hot chiles. Also available are dishes like fresh pasta with several sauces to choose from, like roasted tomato sauce or pesto, lamb chop in pesto 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.

#12 Itanoní (Oaxaca)

At Itanoní, they believe that corn is the foundation of Mexican cooking. Founded by Amado Ramírez Leyva, who is credited for encouraging the Slow Food movement in his country, this small and open-to-the-street casual spot was named Itanoní for the Mixtec word for corn blossom. Since its opening in 2001, Itanoní has been using “estate” tortillas, made from one variety of corn from a single region, to make all types of antojitos, including tamales, tacos, tostadas, and other traditional foods. Meals, which mostly cost $5 or less, are devoured by schoolchildren, businessmen, and tourists alike.

#11 Rosetta (Mexico City)

Since 2010, Rosetta, a mansion-turned-restaurant, has been on a slow but steady rise toward becoming one of Mexico City’s most impressive eateries. Chef-owner Elena Reygadas has made seasonality, simplicity, freshness, and flavor the cornerstones of Rosetta. The food is Mexican with Italian and other Mediterranean influences. On the menu diners will find authentic homemade pastas and dishes including sea snails with nasturtium leaves; quail with assorted grains, alfalfa, and smoked milk; and a dessert of roasted figs, orange and hoja santa ice cream. Another exceptional dish from the menu is veal sweetbreads with yogurt, peppermint, moscatel plum, and za’atar. Rosetta also has an impressive in-house bakery that has developed a cult following. Rosetta sits at the #33 spot on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

#10 Flora's Field Kitchen (San José del Cabo, Mexico)

Its location down a rutted, dirt road may make some tourists wary, but don’t let the adventure of getting there deter you. Flora’s Field Kitchen, located on Flora Farm, a 10-acre organic farm-plus-market in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, offers an unforgettable farm-to-table dining experience in a beautiful setting. 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. New chef Aaron Abramson, a veteran of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, offers diners everything from a sandwich of homemade sausage with pickled vegetables (at lunch) to burrata with tapenade to 12-inch pizzas from the wood oven to family-style fried chicken dinners with mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits. Diners rave about the fresh juices and the specialty cocktails, like the hibiscus martini or the pelo de perro, Flora Farm’s twist on the Bloody Mary. Sometimes, farm walks are offered pre-meal, and often there is live music into the early evening. A suggestion to keep in your back pocket: Diners suggest taking a cooler along so you can buy some fresh produce and artisanal goods to bring back to your hotel with you.

#9 Quintonil (Mexico City)

Two years ago, former Pujol chef Jorge Vallejo opened Quintonil, a restaurant that fast became one of the country’s most exciting eating places. (Quintonil claimed the #21 spot on this year’s Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Vallejo, whom the American godfather of Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless, described as executing “a very fine, and in some cases really brilliant” style of cooking, kicks Mexican cuisine up a notch. He focuses on ingredients that are native to Mexico — sourcing from small-scale producers across the country — while spicing up dishes with more contemporary cooking techniques. The ambiance delivers a warm, cozy feel, with Vallejo’s wife overseeing the floor and personally attending to guests. On the menu you’ll find reinvented dishes like sardines in green sauce with fennel and purslane, octopus in its own ink with potatoes and sausage, and homemade mole with charred tortillas and basil sprouts, along with other dishes.

#8 MeroToro (Mexico City)

"Mero" is grouper; "toro" is bull. Put them together and you have a splendid "surf-and-turf"-themed restaurant opened four 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 #6) in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja wine country. Téllez (pleasantly) surprises palates in the Mexican capital with fresh ceviches, risotto with bone marrow and red wine, birria (a spicy stew usually made with mutton or goat) of clams, and a delicately cooked 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. Plus, the excellent sourdough bread may be unique in Mexico.

#7 Casa Oaxaca (Oaxaca, Mexico)

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 beautifully marries the flavor profiles and ingredients of the Mediterranean and Mexico; you’ll find 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 same innovative cuisine, and a majority of produce used is organic and local. Appetizers include seafood tostada served with avocado, tomato, cilantro, chile, mayonnaise, and toasted peanuts, or roasted duck tacos served with a green sauce. Signature mains include turkey served with black mole, rice, and fried bananas; rabbit with a yellow mole sauce; lamb chops with garlic and chile; and grilled octopus with rice and grilled vegetables.

#6 Laja (Ensenada, Mexico)

When he's not overseeing the cooking at MeroToro in Mexico City (see #8), Jair Téllez — whose background includes stints at Daniel in New York City, La Folie in San Francisco, and the Four Seasons in Mexico City — can be found at his original restaurant Laja in the Mexican wine country of 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 — Laja has its own orchard, farm, and vineyard — or in other parts of the valley. Téllez offers a four or eight course menu that changes by the week, as he cooks according to the best and most seasonal ingredients available. Menu 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 pastas are inventive (Swiss chard ravioli with ranch egg and beef juice), his meat dishes are full of flavor and perfectly cooked (oven-roasted local lamb with shallots and mustard greens is a standout dish), and his desserts, (white chocolate royal with mascarpone cheese). As Laja has its own vineyard, Téllez makes his own wines, and also serves a fine selection of the valley's best.

#5 Manzanilla (Ensenada, Mexico)

You've got to love a restaurant whose front window reads "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. Manzanilla is a place with personality. Husband-and-wife chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris, pioneers of the so-called "Baja Med" movement, opened this Ensenada hotspot in 2000, tapping into the Baja California region’s natural ingredients and resources. “[Baja California] has the best fish, the best alcohol, the best wine, so the combination is just perfect. It's every chef's dream to live in [here],” Molina said in a recent interview. The menu at Manzanilla is heavily seafood-focused, offering such delights as truly memorable fish with ginger, chile serrano, and soy sauce; oysters steamed with white wine or beer; grilled clams with gorgonzola; fish of the day with chickpea purée, chayote, and seaweed; and for the non-piscatorially inclined, ribeye served with Cambray potatoes; pork loin with vanilla-scented apples and polenta; and a few other meaty specialties.

#4 Moxi (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)

Condé Nast Traveler 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 a couple of years ago — leaving such burgs as Barcelona, Paris, and Sydney in the dust. Well, all right. But San Miguel is certainly an engaging and eye-catching 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, of Mexico City's unparalleled Pujol (see #1) and the hot new Manhattan entry Cosme. Here, in a pleasant, art-enhanced dining room with a breezy terrace, Olvera's crew draws heavily on organically raised local produce to create Mexican-accented international cuisine: shrimp burgers with tartar sauce and guacamole; fish of the day with pineapple purée, serranos, and a cactus salad; pumpkin risotto topped with a poached egg; lump crab salad with avocado, Cambray potato chips, and guajillo and morita chile purée; confit leg of suckling pig with almond mole and tamarind purée; and many other vividly flavored delights. Moxi is not only one of the best restaurants in Latin America, but was also named to The Daily Meal’s list of the 101 Best Hotel Restaurants in the World for 2014.

#3 Misión 19 (Tijuana, Mexico)

http://mision19.com/Javier Plascencia's family owns everything from pizzerias to the revivified dining room at Hotel Caesar's (whose original proprietor, Cesare Cardini, invented the Caesar salad), has been instrumental in helping to turn the infamous border town of Tijuana into an increasingly serious restaurant town. Looking out on the city from the second floor of a modern office building, Misión 19 — 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 Plascencia's flagship, his most innovative and original restaurant. Among the dishes with which Misión 19 tempts diners are baby kale, avocado, and compressed cucumber salad with cured salmon trout and goat cheese dressing; risotto with heirloom beans, wild mushrooms, and huitlacoche; seared fresh local tuna with cactus, black mole caramel, and pickled shimeji mushrooms; and tablitas (crosscut beef ribs) vacuum-cooked for 48 hours and served with "cracklings" of beluga lentils, chayote, and Brussels sprouts.

#2 Biko (Mexico City)

The Mexican-Spanish fusion cuisine served at Biko is described by chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso as "sumptuous with surprises." Biko has established its place as one of Mexico City’s top high-end restaurants, earning a place on the World’s 100 Best list by San Pellegrino. The menu, which changes often, focuses on locally sourced seasonal ingredients, turned 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, with cheese, and topped with cotton candy.

#1 Pujol (Mexico City)

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and working for the superb Alsatian-born chef Jean Joho at Everest 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 bocol huasteco, a kind of plump tortilla with cheese from Chiapas; a mixed vegetable assortment in a mole of pumpkin seeds and broccoli; an "esquite" made not with the usual corn kernels but with wheatberries, flavored with epazote cream, serrano chiles, and queso oreado; and the remarkable "mother mole," cooked for hundreds of days and containing scores of ingredients, served as a pool of sauce with translucent sesame tortillas. The restaurant's list of mezcals is eye- and palate-opening (try the farolito, made from wild agave, fermented in leather, and distilled in clay), and the collection of Mexican wines, especially reds, is one of the country's most extensive.


25 Best Restaurants in Richmond

Stuffed squid with white beans and greens at Restaurant Adarra (Photo by Shawnee Custalow)

From a Basque-inspired escape in Jackson Ward to comfort food that feels like a warm embrace, we present our collection of the 25 best restaurants in Richmond for 2019. We ate our way through the region, hand-picking new gems that have become a part of our regular dining rotation and revisiting timeless institutions that have remained favorites.

On the following pages you will find places that have paved the way and remind us to reflect on the dawn of Richmond dining alongside those that are pushing culinary boundaries, showing us how far it can go. Our list represents restaurants that are doing it right — from service and consistency to memorable meals that conjure memorable moments.

With a burgeoning class size, choosing just 25 was a feat. For the sake of narrowing the field, we did not consider counter-service restaurants, spots that don’t offer dinner or ones that opened after July 31, 2019. Sit back and relish these standouts from a crowded, ever-growing and talented field. Come hungry.

Restaurant Adarra

618 N. First St., 804-477-3456

THE CUISINE: Loosely Spanish-inspired small plates. Think pintxos, stuffed squid, roasted olives and jamon Ibérico.

KEY FACE: Lyne Doetzer, sommelier and one-half of Adarra’s restaurant power couple along with chef Randall Doetzer, is usually working the floor. Ask her about her favorite bottles.

THE MOOD: Intimate and sophisticated, but convivial.

BEST FOR: A double date or a night out with a small group of friends so you can order plenty of dishes and split a bottle or two of wine.

IDEAL MEAL: Tuna conserva and roasted olives to start, followed by the seasonal fish stew. Pair it with one of the fun, low-intervention Old World or natural wines from Adarra’s frequently changing list.

MOST LIKE TO APPEAR IN BON APPETIT

Longoven

2939 W. Clay St., 804-308-3497

BEST FOR: An evening when you can dedicate a few hours to a thoughtful adventure through the multicourse tasting menu.

THE CUISINE: Strikingly beautiful dishes ebb and flow with the seasons, and everything is executed with flawless attention to detail. Expect to find mushrooms and tinges of Japanese influence.

KEY FACES: The gastronomic threesome of culinary prowess — owners Patrick Phelan, the tweezer tycoon his wife and pastry empress Megan Fitzroy Phelan and fermentation mastermind Andrew Manning

INSIDER TIP: Flock to the patio during warmer months — the bar bites remind you that Longoven can also be cool and casual.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: How there’s nothing else like it in Richmond.

BEST AT SETTING THE STANDARD

Acacia Mid-town

2601 W. Cary St., 804-562-0138

THE CUISINE: Serving dishes focused on the freshest ingredients for over 20 years, Acacia is an “eat local” pioneer.

KEY FACES: Dale and Aline Reitzer run the back and front of the house, respectively. Dale has nurtured and mentored some of Richmond’s finest culinary talent while continuing to turn out innovative dishes. Aline, founder of Richmond Restaurant Week, consistently delivers top-notch service.

BEST FOR: Seafood — soft-shell crabs, crab cakes, ceviche, rockfish and white anchovies with radicchio are favorites.

INSIDER TIP: Take advantage of the three-course prix fixe menu ($27 Monday to Thursday all night and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), as well as half-price wine by the bottle on Tuesdays.

MOST STRIKING PRESENTATION

3103 W. Leigh St., 804-355-5555

THE CUISINE: An alloy of umami and the harvest, showcasing an alchemist’s dexterity with fish. Anchovy puree underscores miso-marinated halibut with crisp cucumber, and sweet onion consommé warms steelhead trout over roasted corn — but don’t expect these specific spellbinders. The kitchen conjures seasonality.

THE MOOD: Music flows from above Aloi’s entrance, ushering you inside the exotic bunker where undulating wood ripples through the ceiling and art hangs on dimly lit walls.

WHAT YOU'LL LIKE: Eating with your eyes — the plating is gorgeous.

INSIDER TIP: Cocktail hour on the secluded rear patio offers discounted tipples, fragrant bowls of mussels, a clutch of airy bone-marrow beignets.

MOST LIKE A CELEBRITY CHEF

Brenner Pass

3200 Rockbridge St. Suite 100, 804-658-9868

THE CUISINE: Alpine-inspired dishes, including rustic cheese fondue and house-made charcuterie, served in a space that feels more like a trendy big-city restaurant than little old RVA. James Beard Award-nominated chef/co-owner Brittanny Anderson has appeared on “Iron Chef America” and often hosts visiting chefs for special dinners at Brenner.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: The elegant simplicity. Take the oeufs mayonnaise, literally a hard-boiled egg with house-made mayo — only two ingredients, yet it’s stunningly memorable.

INSIDER TIP: Order a glass (or a bottle) of the Le Morget. Blended exclusively for Brenner Pass, this Swiss white is one of a few wines exported from Switzerland.

BEST AT BEING EFFORTLESSLY COOL

Saison

23 W. Marshall St., 804-269-3689

THE CUISINE: Hearty, seasonal new American fare that pays homage to both Latin American and Southern foodways.

KEY FACES: Justin Ayotte, the restaurant’s beverage director and co-owner, and Sophia Kim, Richmond’s hometown hero who graced the national stage by winning the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience cocktail competition, are both often found behind the bar.

THE MOOD: Cozy and hip. You’ll find friends meeting for a happy hour drink, couples on dates and regulars chatting at the bar.

INSIDER TIP: Don't miss their Sunday fried chicken night, with some of the best fried chicken in the city at just $8.

DRINK PICK: Anything from the inventive, oft-changing cocktail list.

Belmont Food Shop

27 N. Belmont Ave., 804-358-7467

THE AMBIANCE: A snug dining room with worn wood tables and a prominent eight-seater bar makes dining here an intimate, cozy experience.

IDEAL FOR: A date or a solo night at the bar, where you’ll be greeted warmly and tended to unobtrusively, however long you choose to linger.

INSIDER TIP: In an effort to be open on Monday so hospitality pros can have a nice repast on their day off, BFS is closed on Tuesday. We always forget, but you don’t have to.

BEST FOR: The classics. Tuck into a green salad, simple and right, or the roast chicken, a litmus test for chefs and one that owner Mike Yavorsky nails every time. Served with creamy spoonbread, it’s a menu staple that’s always there when you need it.

Alewife

3120 E. Marshall St., 804-325-3426

THE CUISINE: Chef-owner Lee Gregory’s solo venture yields unexpected fruits from Mid-Atlantic seas: smelts, skate and the “trash fish” alewife, a Chesapeake Bay throwback.

THE MOOD: A busy port o’ call, minimally outfitted with a token tiki and a bulbous, nautical mirror. Most of the atmosphere comes from the historic building’s bones, which seem to emit the kitchen’s energy as if a secret portal to seafaring delicacies.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Brunch sails around the world. Try skate chops with red-eye gravy or a rolled omelet with rock shrimp and tobiko herb salad.

DRINK PICK: Pair oysters or ceviche with a stellar Rangpur G&T scented with orange blossoms, or steer toward one of the many low-tannin red wines.

FRESHEST FACE OF THE VASAIO EMPIRE

Dinamo

THE CUISINE: A beautiful mashup of Jewish and Italian food, from Reubens to broccoletti and provolone sausage with polenta and beans. Dishes tend to be simple, rustic and slightly more veg-forward than sister restaurants Edo’s Squid and Mamma ’Zu.

THE MOOD: Lively, casual and intimate, with futuristic decor.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Everything is made with such fresh ingredients that the restaurant doesn’t even have a walk-in refrigerator.

BEST FOR: When you’re craving something homey.

IDEAL MEAL: It’s hard to go wrong, but you can’t beat mussels marinara and a glass of wine at the bar. And when it’s on the menu, don’t sleep on a big plate of their impossibly creamy, tender cabbage (just trust us).

MOST LIKELY TO PUSH BOUNDARIES

Full Kee

6400 Horsepen Road, 804-673-2233

THE CUISINE: Light-years beyond your typical Chinese restaurant.

BEST FOR: Testing your culinary limits. Where else in Richmond can you order Cantonese delicacies like duck tongue?

ALSO BEST FOR: Serving familiar Chinese dishes, authentically. Not everyone seeks the unfamiliar, and Full Kee’s lo mein, chow mein and fried rice dishes deliver accessibility that’s several steps above the norm.

INSIDER TIP: Ask questions. During their busy brunch, it can be difficult to determine what the rolling dim sum cart bestows. Service may seem fast-paced, but they will happily reveal what’s inside each delectable dumpling.

DON’T MISS: Divine deep-fried spicy soft-shell crab.

Heritage

1627 W. Main St., 804-353-4060

THE CUISINE: Heritage relies on the bounty of local producers to create an eclectic menu where Chef Joe Sparatta draws heavily on the culinary traditions of Virginia, Italy and Japan.

KEY FACES: Joe and his wife and co-owner Emilia Sparatta — a hospitality yin and yang. Lindsey Scheer helms the bar, garnering a 2019 Best Bartender Elby Award for her craft.

DON’T MISS: Some of the most cleverly named and curated cocktails.

BEST FOR: The overall experience. Unobtrusive, yet all-knowing, the service shines every step of the way, from drinks to dessert.

INSIDER TIP: The pasta is made in house, and it’s sublime. Unique ingredients make for memorable, not-so-typical Italian fare.

Edo’s Squid

411 N. Harrison St., 804-864-5488

THE CUISINE: Classic red-sauce Italian heaven: spaghetti all’ amatriciana, whole branzino, and squid salad with white beans and arugula.

THE MOOD: Lively and a bit chaotic inside the second-floor, brick-lined eatery — expect a significant wait during peak times.

BEST FOR: A date where you’re more interested in eavesdropping on the diners sitting nearby than in hearing what your partner is saying a group dinner where you can feast family-style on white linen tabletops in the classic Italian manner.

IDEAL MEAL: Dinner at the big table with five friends passing around perfectly executed, Italian delights like scungilli salad, broccoletti drenched in olive oil and garlic, penne puttanesca, and shrimp fra diavolo. Oh, and Chianti — lots of Chianti.

Dutch & Co.

THE CUISINE: Truly seasonal fare with global flair.

THE MOOD: Intimate and intricate. From the miniature embellished clothespins on the bread basket to the tiny tasting dishes, every detail is exact and intentional.

KEY FACES: Partners in business and life, Michelle and Caleb Shriver are always present. She attentively presides over every aspect of the front of the house, while he rocks it out in the kitchen.

INSIDER TIP: Every night from 5 to 10 p.m., they offer a $30 prix fixe menu for three courses. Indulge in the famed Perfect Egg and its crispy rye exterior, then move to a hunk of monkfish with bright and acidic succotash. Find your happy ending in the honey pot, an amalgamation of crunchy and sweet panna cotta with crumbly granola.

Lemaire

101 W. Franklin St., 804-649-4629

THE CUISINE: Chef Patrick Willis’ upscale nod to Southern-inspired dining and Virginia ingredients is delivered inside the nearly 125-year-old Jefferson Hotel.

BEST FOR: An evening to remember — the grand dining room and white tablecloths scream elegance. The elevated yet approachable menu is topped only by the attentive service.

INSIDER TIP: Happy hour diners can indulge in three appetizers for $25 (except in December) such as oysters paired with champagne mignonette, fried deviled eggs and a cheese plate. Start the weekend with $5 Old Fashioned Fridays, and don’t be surprised to spot VCU students and local pols rubbing elbows.

KEY FACE: General Manager Chauncey Jenkins sets the bar for RVA hospitality.

Lehja

11800 W. Broad St., Suite 910, 804-364-1111

ORDER: Any naan, though Sunny Baweja, Lehja’s James Beard Award-nominated chef-owner, will tell you the garlic variety is the most popular. Other notable dishes include Pondicherry duck, featuring shredded duck with a hint of peppery spice, and Andhra chicken curry.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Ample parking at Short Pump Town Center, uber-knowledgeable service.

DRINK PICK: Anything from their impressive wine list, which includes bottles from India.

INSIDER TIP: Chaat is a type of savory Indian street fare, and Lehja serves one daily. Ranging from large chunks of blue crab speckled with pomegranate seeds to fried translucent spinach leaves that are lightly dressed, the ever-changing offerings are a must-try.

L’Opossum

THE CUISINE: Fancy yet soul-baring French fare with a Southern bent that has diners leaning into their plates as if they’re sharing secrets.

THE MOOD: L’Opossum’s homoeroticism-meets-1970s-Americana vibe matches Proust’s definition of style: “The revelation of the particular universe which each of us sees but which is not seen by others.”

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Like an artsy dinner party, escargots and ham biscuits arrive on decorative china placed atop an elaborate, Warhol-print tabletop.

INSIDER TIP: Skip OpenTable, which offers limited seatings, and call for reservations.

KEY FACE: Cocktail captain William Seidensticker, a quick-witted 25-year industry veteran with a dry sense of humor.

Umi Sushi Bistro

11645 W. Broad St., 804-360-3336

THE AMBIANCE: A chic and sexy sushi outpost that feels more like SoHo than Short Pump. The dim blue lights, plush seats and metal chopsticks lend to a sleek vibe.

BEST FOR: A date who will go halfsies with you on a parade of sashimi and rolls.

IDEAL MEAL: Start with tuna tataki, silky ribbons of gently seared ahi drizzled with ponzu sauce, and sake. Order a melange of sashimi and specialty rolls like The Richmond, crisp tempura shrimp and avocado roll topped with eel and sprinkled with roe.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Seamless service. Informative without being overbearing, servers guide you through the menu with care.

INSIDER TIP: Inquire about daily specials, which recently featured buttery, highly desirable toro tuna.

Can Can Brasserie

3120 W. Cary St., 804-358-7274

THE CUISINE: Casual, classic French food is served all day long, from croissants with your café au lait for breakfast to croque-monsieurs and French onion soup for lunch to plats du jour that rotate through classic French preparations every evening.

THE DECOR: Flooded with natural light and breezes from an open front on nice days, this boisterous and lively spot features a lovely bar, beautiful tile work, fresh flowers and white tablecloths.

BEST FOR: Morning meetings, long lunches and romantic dinners. It’s a community meeting spot, and as the light shifts throughout the day so does the vibe. It's a place for everyone, anytime.

INSIDER TIP: Can Can dancers kick up their heels on the bar for Bastille Day/Fête Nationale on July 14.

Peter Chang China Cafe

11424 W. Broad St., 804-364-1688

THE CUISINE: Szechuan chili oil perfumes the air, wafting from a bowl of hand-pulled Grandma’s Noodles.

BEST FOR: Your entire brood. With Lazy Susans, ample room to spread out and portions big enough to share, this is a smart pick for a crowd.

YOU’LL LOVE: The cartoonishly large scallion bubble pancakes that bounce to your table joined by a little ramekin of curry dipping sauce. Embrace your inner Wonka as you stare down these silly looking but seriously tasty appetizers.

INSIDER TIP: Take your leftover scallion pancake home and use the now deflated flavor balloon to wrap up thinly sliced beef for a quick riff on a Taiwanese classic.

BEST FOR TAKING OUT-OF-TOWNERS

Perly’s

111 E. Grace St., 804-912-1560

THE CUISINE: Chef Kevin Roberts and the crew at this Richmond institution give Jewish deli classics a modern spin.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Sipping coffee out of diner mugs or drinking a Bloody Miriam rimmed with everything bagel seasoning.

WHAT YOU WON’T: That you can’t make reservations. (Though it’s also something you secretly love them for.)

BEST FOR: A late breakfast after spending the wee hours rehashing decade-old memories with visiting friends. Perly’s is also a solid go-to birthday spot.

ORDER: Where to begin? Latkes. The famed fish board. Matzoh ball soup. Schlubby Fries. A breakfast or deli sammie. Babka. Do it all and live your best Yiddish life.

Shagbark

4901 Libbie Mill East Blvd., Suite 175, 804-358-7424

IDEAL MEAL: You’ve come for Walter Bundy’s reimagining of Southern classics, so surrender to the concept via Up South fried green tomatoes with Edwards Smokehouse bacon, or try the Compass Winds sorghum molasses-glazed duck, which Bundy serves with a Hubs peanut-studded rice. And don’t you dare skip dessert. The honey gelato, made using Bundy’s own supply, is worth it.

INSIDER TIP: When the weather allows, Shaggy B’s patio is the perfect happy hour hideaway, with dollar oysters on the half shell and $6 classic cocktails.

THE AMBIANCE: The devil dwells in the details of Shagbark’s meticulous interior, with its shagbark hickory partitions, sumptuous lighting and deer-antler chandeliers — a nod to the avid outdoorsman in the kitchen.

MOST OVERDUE FOR JAMES BEARD LOVE

Stella’s

1012 Lafayette St., 804-358-2011

THE CUISINE: Bold and comforting. Large plates of unctuous pastitsio and No. 5 pasta (the number refers to the pasta’s size), traditional Greek specialties loaded with cheese and noodles. Flaky pastry triangles with various fillings — spinach, spiced ground beef and tart cheese.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE: Stella’s ambiance feels similar to that of a large family gathering. It’s loud, a little cramped and happy. Dishes are super shareable.

BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: The corner of the bar near the window. Head in for Meze Ora, a happy hour with great specials, and stay to watch the crowds arrive.

WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW: Why matriarch Stella Dikos doesn’t have a James Beard Award nomination yet? We don’t know, either.

Tazza Kitchen

Multiple locations tazzakitchen.com

WHAT TO EAT: The pizzas or anything from their central brick oven. Think charred cauliflower with pops of fresh mint cast-iron-cooked goat cheese, gooey and tart or smoked pork nachos.

THE AMBIANCE: Chic, modern and edgy. High bar tables in front, low dining tables throughout. Open kitchens with direct views of the action.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE: The Short Pump, Midlothian and Scott’s Addition locations have sizable patios that are perfect for three seasons, thanks to heaters and fans.

INSIDER TIP: They have a few locations in the Carolinas, if you happen to be traveling and want a little taste of home.

BEST FOR A GLOBAL LUNCH EXPERIENCE

Temple

2713 W. Broad St., 804-367-4990

THE CUISINE: Temple explores Laos and its bordering countries with dishes like Guay Teaw Sukhothai, a soupy frenzy that demands your spoon dip back for slurp after slurp of red-lacquered barbecue pork, house-made egg noodles, peanuts and scallions. On a cold afternoon, nothing beats the velvety Jok Gai, a steaming rice congee with a runny egg, crispy dried pork and earthy shiitakes.

DRINK PICKS: A sparkling negroni (on tap!) is brightened with a fuschia-hued hibiscus flower. Their Muy Thai Punch and red and white sangrias are fun, fruity and rum-forward, perfect for sipping with something spicy.

INSIDER TIP: This smart, quick spot features a ridiculously good midday deal — a $12 boxed lunch complete with appetizer, entree and drink.

MOST LIKELY TO FEEL LIKE HOME

Mama J’s

415 N. First St., 804-225-7449

THE CUISINE: Soul food with a smile in the heart of Jackson Ward.

KEY FACE: Mama herself, Velma Johnson. If you're there when she is, let her share a story about growing up in Richmond. Maybe she'll let a family recipe slip.

IDEAL MEAL: Mac and cheese and perfectly flaky and seasoned catfish, or the pork chops that come baked or grilled: order one of each. Finish with a slice of Mama J's homemade cake, especially if there’s lemon or coconut-pineapple on deck.

BEST FOR: That Sunday night when you need comfort food to prepare you for the week. Mama J's exudes a family feel — they weren’t nominated for outstanding service by the James Beard Foundation for nothing.


Share All sharing options for: The Great American Chile Highway

The 643-mile stretch of Interstate 25 between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Denver skips across time and terrain like few other American trails.

The highway passes through settlements that date back to before Columbus and through brand-new housing tracts with Subarus in the driveway. It cuts through lush valleys and staked plains, metropolises and ghost towns, tree-blanketed mountains and punishing deserts. Through majority-Mexican villages, and suburbs whiter than the Rocky Mountain snowpack.

Travelers have trekked this passage for centuries, always with care. Conquistadors named the area around the southernmost section the Jornada del Muerto — Journey of the Dead Man — because of how unforgiving it was. To this day, drivers try to rush over the Ratón Pass (elevation 7,834 feet) that separates New Mexico and Colorado before sunset, lest they get caught in bad weather. And that weather: It can switch from sleet to fog to dust storm to snow to rain, all in the space of a couple of miles.

It’s not a route for the faint of heart. But I did it. And my fuel was the one thing that unites the disparate communities along the way — chile.

Chile peppers are the Southwest’s most famous gastronomic expression: grown and packed and used for decoration, grilled and dried and frozen, and eaten all year in the region. On I-25, however, “chile” is as varied as the land and people. It’s the pepper, for sure, but also a salsa that can be as thick as gravy or as thin as water, mellow or scorching. “Chile” also appears as a cheeseburger, a snack, a meat rub. A full meal or an appetizer. A bowl or a plate. A soup or chicken-fried steak or burrito drowned (“smothered” in local parlance) in it. Red or green chile or both, a style called “Christmas.” Dessert. Heritage. Life.

That adovada skillet at Charlie’s in Las Vegas, New Mexico

Over three days, I saw and tasted how restaurants along the Chile Highway approach their spicy muse. The dishes here rarely venture far from what’s now I-25 because their essence is tied to the chiles grown along the route. No other peppers in the world will do, so home cooks and chefs and packing companies roast freshly harvested green ones every fall to use immediately (and freeze leftovers for the future), or dry the red ones to make powders, flakes, or ristras (vertical bouquets of dried peppers). Either way, a guaranteed, year-round supply is always near.

From this shared ingredient bubbles up a dazzlingly diverse food scene that stretches way beyond Santa Fe and Hatch, the two stops on the Chile Highway that food media focus on at the expense of the rest. Great grub at American Indian-run gas stations. Burger empires. Hyper-regionalism — Cruces-Mex, Den-Mex, Pueblo-Mex, and so much more. (Read Eater’s Definitive Guide to Santa Fe Green Chile.)

I ended up eating “chile” 38 different ways — and I could’ve done more. But caution to the curious: Take the trip in doses, not in one fell swoop like me. Like Icarus, I flew — or rather, ate — too close to the heat. At times, I felt like the trip might actually turn me into a living Human Torch. But like the Phoenix, I rose from the proverbial ashes, spitting nothing but fire.

And the ordeal was worth it.

To outsiders, the food of the Southwest is synonymous with Mexican, mostly because the cuisines share the same foundation: tortillas, combo plates, an emphasis on meats, and especially chiles. But over the past 400 years, residents have fused the traditions of the region’s three main ethnic groups — Mexican, white, and American Indian — to create a gastronomy that belongs to all three yet stands on its own.

These foodways found their most lasting expression in New Mexico, where the state’s Hispanics (known as Hispanos, because many trace their ancestry to conquistadors) settled the northern part of the Land of Enchantment in the 1600s, remaining in relative isolation until the federal government began to pave roads connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe to the greater U.S. after World War II. Removed from constant replenishment from Mexican migration like, say, Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex, much of New Mexican food remained largely frozen in time.

Before my expedition, I vowed not to commit the sin of so many before me: to think of New Mexico as a place where time ran slower than in the rest of the country, and the culture was fossilized, and therefore ripe for exotification.

Caliche’s Frozen Custard in Las Cruces, New Mexico

“It is the Great American Mystery — the National Rip Van Winkle — the United States which is not United States,” wrote Charles Fletcher Lummis in his 1893 book Land of Poco Tiempo. “Why hurry with the hurrying world? The ‘Pretty Soon’ of New Spain is better than the ‘Now! Now’ of the haggard States.”

Even when Southwestern cuisine had its national heyday in the 1980s — when chefs like John Rivera Sedlar and Mark Miller garnered attention for fusing local ingredients with French techniques — reporters and critics depicted the movement’s acolytes as necromancers resurrecting dormant, overlooked riches long forgotten by the locals.

That idea, however, robs the Chile Highway’s denizens of their agency. The people here easily change with the times while keeping true to their chile heritage — it all depends on who’s doing the eating and where. That pride and flexibility characterized my first day.

My journey began in Belen, a city of about 7,000 near the geographical center of New Mexico. At Sandra’s New Mexican Restaurant, I ordered a bowl of posole, which called back to the old ways, spelled with an S (like Spanish friars wrote it out in the 16th century) instead of a Z (the way you find it written out today across Mexico). There was no oregano or cabbage or even lime as toppings — just pork chunks and hominy. And the posole came white, with red chile on the side.

I wasn’t familiar with this presentation, but it didn’t matter: Sandra’s posole was porkier than ramen — the chewy meat, the unctuous broth, the fat kernels. Splashes of red chile opened up its flavors further.

But before I could romanticize New Mexican cuisine as an atavistic treasure, I next gorged on Milly’s Burrito Plate at Alejandro’s Café, five minutes down the street: a great beef burrito buried under french fries and smothered in a fine green chile. It was heavy for breakfast, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that hefty, hearty breakfasts are common throughout New Mexico. Mornings are chilly all year, and there’s nothing like spice and starch to insulate your insides.

My next stop was about 45 minutes south, at San Antonio Crane, named after the small city of San Antonio, as well as the sandhill cranes that migrate to the nearby Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge every winter. The restaurant, a converted house, was slammed, which explained the slow service for my open-faced smothered hamburger, topped with more fries.

There were no arguments about authenticity or heritage at Sandra’s, Alejandro’s, or San Antonio Crane there was chile. And that was all I needed.

Two hours later, I rolled into Las Cruces and La Nueva Casita Café, which has served New Mexican classics since 1957. Families fresh from church or dressed in Dallas Cowboys gear sat around the ample dining room slurping menudo with toast on the side, an unusual pairing — and another nod to mutability.

I went with the huevos compuestos, a specialty of southern New Mexico. Two small tostada shells filled with carne adovada, topped with eggs any style, and drizzled with chile, huevos compuestos are like a crunchy Hispano eggs Benedict. This version was saucy and savory and superb, with chile two ways: as a sauce and as carne adovada, pork that’s baked with red chile powder and other spices and serves as the de facto meat of the Chile Highway. Think al pastor, but better.

A green chile Philly cheesesteak from Johnny B’s in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

At La Nueva Casita, the adovada was bright with the freshness of chile sourced from Hatch, the self-proclaimed Chile Capital of the World and the one thing most foodies know about New Mexico. Those peppers made a cameo in my dessert at Caliche’s Frozen Custard, where I chose the New Mexican sundae: two scoops of vanilla custard, layered with candied Hatch peppers and salted pecans. The crunch and sweet and spice made it one of the best frozen desserts I’ve tasted in years.

I visit Hatch every summer, so this time I bypassed it in favor of a challenge. For years, I’ve passed a billboard on I-25 for Arrey Cafe that screams, “World’s Finest Green Chile Cheeseburger.” Now, I had the chance to put that claim to the test.

The green chile cheeseburger is the Chile Highway manifest. It didn’t even exist until after World War II. But New Mexicans quickly fell in love gracias to Blake’s Lotaburger, a local obsession on par with California’s In-N-Out and Texas’s Whataburger there are 28 Lotaburger locations in Albuquerque alone.

New Mexicans quickly embraced this relative newcomer New Mexico’s Tourism Department promotes a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail to attract tourists. It’s just a cheeseburger with green chile on it. But therein is the beauty: Green chile is the condiment you never knew a burger needed. Diced or whole sauteed peppers are spread across the patty — past and present New Mexico, snug between two buns.

San Antonio’s Owl Bar & Cafe claims to have created the burger to feed the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. It was closed on the Sunday I visited, so I settled for Arrey.

Its roadside ad is almost correct. Arrey makes a great burger — the patty is loosely packed, the Hatch chile is fleshy and piquant, and their secret sauce is a relishy green salsa that ramps up the heat. The double-fire of green chile and salsa lingered longer than I thought it would, but I didn’t think much of it then.

It was a harbinger of the hell settling into every cell of my being.

When I left Arrey, I realized I faced a problem: All the restaurants I wanted to visit were either not open on Sundays or closed by 3. So I sped off to Albuquerque, grabbing any good bites I could find along the way.

El Camino Restaurant in Socorro, New Mexico

I found plenty. A green chile Philly cheesesteak at Johnny B’s in the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, that I dunked into their sturdy cup of red to create a New Mexican French dip. A Frito pie, a glorious mess of crunch, cheese, and Socorro-style red chile sharper and smokier than Hatch, at the 24-hour El Camino Restaurant, whose wooden booths, kachina figures, and dive-y bar make it look unchanged since its 1963 debut. A juicy adovada burrito in the Los Lunas outpost of the statewide chain Burritos Alinstante, New Mexico’s second-best food empire after Blake’s.

I stopped for gas at the Isleta Travel Center, just outside the Pueblo of Isleta, “Pueblo” in New Mexico referring to what the rest of the United States would call a reservation. New Mexico has some of the best gas station food in the country, because Native American tribes run many of them and frequently stock local goods. The Isleta Travel Center sold green chile piñon nuts last time I visited this time, I grabbed a bag of Bar X Brand green chile carne seca, dried beef that feels like dehydrated tissue paper but reconstitutes lusciously in your mouth. And, unlike other jerkies claiming to light up your mouth, Bar X brought the fire.

I rolled into Albuquerque at nighttime, but managed to score an adovada plate at Duran Central Pharmacy, and some adovada-stuffed sopaipillas at Sadie’s, two local standbys. After so much savoriness, I needed something sweet, so I swung by Frontier Restaurant, a legendary late-night diner across from the University of New Mexico. Under the gaze of multiple portraits of John Wayne, I picked at one of their massive cinnamon rolls. But I couldn’t shake the chile: Frontier has two large vats of complimentary red and green. I dunked chunks of the rolls in each. Chile as frosting? Divine.

Undergrads of all ethnicities filled up at the chile station. I felt a tingle in my chest as I beheld a post-racial America brought together by the power of red and green.

Or was it all the chile pulsing through my veins?

Every time I visit ABQ, I stop by Barelas Coffee House. This is where friends took me the first time I visited the Duke City, about 12 years ago, and taught me that “red” and “green” in the Southwest mainly concerns chile. A savory bowl of either at Barelas, with their billowy flour tortillas to sop up every last stain, would make you an instant convert to the city, the state, the chile, the everything.

I started Day Two with a bowl of green, then picked up some biscochitos (anise-flavored shortbread cookies) from the venerable Garcia’s Kitchen chain. I needed some snacks to tackle my longest stretch of the drive: 378 miles, ending in Colorado Springs.

It would nearly become my end, period.

I pumped gas at the Warrior Fuel II station in Bernalillo, run by the Santa Ana Pueblo. Tribes across New Mexico have diversified their business holdings this decade and opened restaurants to promote indigenous eats and offer economic opportunities for tribal members. Such a strategy both preserves the past and ensures the future.

Business was popping at Warrior Fuel II, as construction workers and commuters grabbed to-go breakfast burritos from a display case, or served themselves green chile stew from pots. I ladled myself the latter. Pork, potatoes, and strands of pepper, it was like a fiery fall harvest in a Styrofoam cup, no salsa necessary. Even better was the Pueblo Restaurant inside San Felipe Travel Center in Algodones, run by the San Felipe Pueblo. The bowl of red was tasty, but more memorable was the Pueblo taco — fry bread, ground beef, and green chile, fused together with cheese. Even though this is a choice fraught with colonial implications, other tables enjoyed the same, so I set aside my social justice radar and joined in.

Santa Fe gets so much attention that I decided to continue along I-25, making an exception for Cafe Fina, a cute coffee shop on the outskirts of the City Different, whose huevos divorciados, a Mexico City desayuno of eggs and ham on a lightly fried corn tortilla, were Hispano-ized with Christmas chile instead of red and green salsa. Afterward, I wound my way around the snow-dusted Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the hardscrabble hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico. I liked my juicy, smothered adovada burrito at Maryann’s Famous Burrito Kitchen, but far better was a spot I didn’t expect much from: Charlie’s Spic & Span.

It looks like a tourist trap, with neon signs and goofy paintings, like the cover of Whipped Cream and Other Delights. But behind all the kitsch is a great diner. The adovada skillet, sizzling with runny eggs and potatoes, was breakfast at its best. The flour tortillas were so fluffy that I grabbed a still-steaming bag of them from a table near the cashier on the way out.

But after Charlie’s, I ran into bad luck: The restaurants at every town between Las Vegas and Raton were closed. The hangry was real when I finally reached Enchanted Grounds Espresso Bar in Raton, a cowboy town on the old Santa Fe Trail. It was 2 p.m., and the cafe had run out of food for the day.

The Piñon Brittle from Enchanted Grounds in Raton, New Mexico

“Where else should I eat?” I asked the nice woman behind the counter.

“Nowhere today, really,” she responded. “Everything good is closed on Monday. And everywhere closes around this time. Pretty silly, if you ask me.”

I bought some hot chocolate to wash down buttery green chile piñon brittle and my disappointment. Off to Trinidad, Colorado, a funky mining town that, according to free magazines in the local convenience stores, had been a hub of Mafia activity during prohibition. There were more Italian restaurants than Mexican ones in downtown Trinidad, and pasta was the star at Tony’s Diner.

I also found something that’s rare on Southwestern menus: a bowl of chile caribe. It’s red chile made with dried peppers instead of fresh, which creates a spicier, deeper flavor. It was one of the best bowls I’d ever tasted, and a great introduction to Colorado-Mex.

Chile Caribe from Tony’s Diner in Trinidad, Colorado

Hispanos settled southern Colorado in the 1850s, and many manitos (the nickname their descendants go by) feel greater kinship with northern New Mexico than they do with Colorado. The result is food as removed from New Mexican food as New Mexican is from Mexican, with added influence from European immigrants (especially Italians), whose presence in the area goes back more than a century. It’s one of the few branches of the Mexican food tree where such a mix causes little grumbling — because chile.

Take Corine’s Mexican Restaurant in Walsenberg, a city of 3,000. Open since 1957, the diner’s best entree is Pollo de Colorado, fried chicken strips topped with a thick red chile. The result tasted like Mexican schnitzel, and simultaneously lifted my tired body while weighing down my gut.

The chile was even better at Three Sisters, a honky-tonk bar in Colorado City. Prominent on the menu was a bowl of Pueblo-style green made from the Mirasol pepper, which manitos grew for over a century and is currently being prepped for its national day in the sun by Italian-American farmers in the San Luis Valley.

Sorry, New Mexico: Pueblo peppers and their incarnations beat all of your chiles. Just a cup of it at Three Sisters showed why — it was more intense than Hatch, more pungent than Socorro, and as rare as Chimayó. (Colorado growers only harvested about 600 acres of peppers last year, compared to the 8,000 or so that New Mexico registered.)

Mirasol love was all over Pueblo, a city with its own distinct cuisine. There, the most beloved treat is the Slopper, a hamburger patty in a sea of green chile: bar food, bar none. Downtown’s Gray’s Coors Tavern claims to have invented it, and their version is particularly wonderful.

Better were the chicken tacos on white at Polito’s Beer Barrel, a neighborhood dive just a minute away from one of the last operating steel mills in what was once called the Pittsburgh of the West. The “white” refers to flour tortillas, and Pueblo makes them thick and salty, then fries them for tacos so that the end result tastes like pita chips. As a side, Polito’s offered fideo, Mexican-style vermicelli noodles which I’ve eaten my entire life in soup, but were here closer to a cumin-heavy spaghetti. Fried flour tortillas also made the base for a gigantic tostada at Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe, with a side of rice so soaked in tomato sauce that it was basically a broth.

Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe in Pueblo, Colorado

I left Pueblo with a Reskie Burger — patty, pimento cheese, and extra Pueblo chiles — from Bingo Burger, and a desire to find ever more Pueblo-Mex. But I could only take one bite before my body finally shut down.

Bluntly put: You try eating chile 27 ways over just two days. It hurts.

The 45-minute drive to Colorado Springs was one of the most uncomfortable of my life. My digestive tract was fine it was the rest of my body that burned. My eyes felt like they could shoot an optic blast like Cyclops from the X-Men. My skin was warm my sides began to spasm.

I didn’t sleep that night, constantly waking to the thought of green and red Christmas-ing me with a slow, agonizing, delicious death.

The dish that started my next day, at King’s Chef Diner, looked simple enough: a small bowl of green chile stew, made from Mirasol peppers. No meat, no beans, no nada — just the chile as a soup, with flour tortillas on the side. I had overslept from the previous night’s pain. But with one sip, my troubles disappeared.

What a bowl! Thick, like a comforting Mexican hot chocolate. I was now so hungry that I even scarfed down a huge breakfast burrito at the nearby Rudy’s Little Hideaway, the Pueblo green chile inside zippy and caliente. Rejuvenated, I zoomed to Denver for lunch at La Fiesta. Along a highway defined by restaurants with haphazard hours, La Fiesta probably has the weirdest: open only for lunch, Monday through Thursday until 9 p.m. on Fridays and closed on weekends. La Fiesta is special to me, though, because this is where I first tasted Den-Mex over a decade ago.

The Mile High City’s contributions to Southwestern food aren’t just a galaxy apart from Mexican they’re an entire universe. Chiles rellenos are enveloped in wonton wrappers, then fried. The green chile has an orange tint, not as a shoutout to the Denver Broncos, but because of all the tomato. It’s more like a stew than a sauce, yet it’s consistently hotter than chile in New Mexico (albeit less hot than Pueblo-style).

Huevos divorciados from Cafe Fina in Santa Fe

The region’s favorite supper is the Mexican hamburger — a bean-and-chicharron burrito, smothered, with a hamburger patty in the middle and cheese melted on top. Even Mexican restaurants, run by Mexican immigrants, carry it to ensure they make rent.

I got my regular order at La Fiesta: the namesake combo platter of a chile relleno, bean burrito, and cheese enchilada, everything greasy and hefty and smothered in green. I visited Las Delicias, a Denver chain that splits the difference between Den-Mex standards and meals like carne asada and carnitas. Then I drove to Colorado Springs, intending to slowly make my way back up I-25 to eat at the mountain towns along the way.

This was a mistake. Most of their Den-Mex restaurants close after lunch, which meant I skipped over multiple cities as I returned to Denver. So sorry, Monument. Lo siento, Castle Rock. Your fault, Centennial.

I did find something interesting at Charito’s House in Larkspur, home of Colorado’s Renaissance Festival. It was a straightforward Mexican restaurant — the owners are from the state of Puebla, and their tacos were great. But their menu impressed me. Under the Lo Traditional section were crispy rellenos, Mexican hamburgers, and green chile.

Traditional to I-25 and nowhere else.

Mexicans have a reputation as culinary chauvinists (much-deserved, I say: Please @ me) who want their cuisine to stay in eternal stasis and who are triggered by the very thought of peas in guacamole. But the Chile Highway presents a third way that even the Mexican immigrants who ran Charito’s could understand: Den-Mex wasn’t their Mexican food, but rather, a long-lost cousin happy to reconnect, wanting only respect from its elders.

Respect we should all give.

My chile belly was grumbling again by the time I hit Urban Sombrero in Englewood, a sports bar surrounded by economy hotels where the Den-Mex is not dialed down. They chopped up and fried chiles rellenos, the easier to dunk them in a better-than-expected green chile. I calmed down with a potent green chile martini at national chain Chuy’s Tex-Mex in Westminster.

This gave me the second wind I needed to complete my Den-Mex holy quartet, the places I always make pilgrimages to whenever I’m in town. A bean and cheese burrito with green chile at Santiago’s, a chain with nearly 30 locations around Denver, was far better than its longtime local rival Chipotle (whose headquarters relocated to Orange County, California, in 2018). A fabulous pork chop prepared adovada-style was smothered in meaty green chile at Señor Burritos. Two moist pork tamales were bathed in green at El Noa Noa, the restaurant where I once dined with anti-immigrant former congressman Tom Tancredo before debating him at a Chicano theater across the street.

The chile goddess at Denver’s La Fiesta

I concluded my odyssey with the best Den-Mex of them all: a Mexican hamburger at the Original Chubby’s. I crowned it America’s best Mexican dinner in my 2012 book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, because I thought Chubby’s represented Mexican food at its finest — surprising, filling, bueno, and proudly regional.

Chubby’s was a small stand when I covered them, and I fondly remember how you could only order to-go and they covered it with two paper plates stapled together so the chile wouldn’t spill. Since then, the owners have knocked down the original building and erected a multihued palace complete with seats and big-screen TVs. The neighborhood around Chubby’s is quickly gentrifying, but they’re still open from 6 in the morning until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. on weekends, with unending lines of blue-collar patrons.

The Mexican hamburger remains awesome — sticky and mushy and smothered in so much chile that the carton is overflowing. As it should.

Like many of its fellow Chile Highway denizens, the Mexican hamburger will probably never be popular anywhere else, and Chubby’s has never received any national accolades. It’s too working-class, too homely, too fattening, and just not Mexican enough.

America’s loss. The Southwest’s chile game is strong, and I’m more of a convert than ever. And that’s why, even after eating 37 previous chiles in 60 hours, with my gut bloated and my esophagus irritated, I gobbled up my entire Chubby’s Mexican hamburger — and my appetite has never been happier.

Gustavo Arellano’s I-25 Eating List

NEW MEXICO

Sandra’s New Mexican Restaurant 721 N. Main St. Belen, NM, (505) 861-2222 no website
Alejandro’s Café 925 S. Main St., Belen, NM, (505) 861-1222 no website
San Antonio Crane 17 Pino St., San Antonio, NM, (575) 835-2208 no website
La Nueva Casita Café 195 N. Mesquite St., Las Cruces, NM, (575) 523-5434
Caliches 131 N. Roadrunner Pkwy., Las Cruces, NM, (575) 521-1161
Arrey Café Hwy 187, Arrey, NM, (575) 267-4436 no website
Johnny B’s 2260 N. Date St., NM, (575) 894-0147
El Camino Restaurant 707 N. California St., Socorro, NM, (575) 835-1180 no website
Burritos Alinstante 1140 Main St. NE, Los Lunas, NM, (505) 565-8570
Isleta Travel Center 4050 NM-47, Albuquerque, NM, (505) 869-9686
Duran Central Pharmacy 1815 Central Ave. NW, Albuquerque, NM, (505) 247-4141
Sadie’s 5400 Academy Rd., NE Albuquerque, NM, (505) 821-3388
Frontier Restaurant 2400 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM (505) 266-0550
Barelas Coffee House 1502 4th St. SW, Albuquerque, NM, (505) 843-7577 no website
Garcia’s Kitchen 1736 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque, NM (505) 842-0273
Warrior Fuel II 1005 US-550, Bernalillo, NM, (505) 867-9700 no website
Black Mesa Travel Center 26 Hagen Rd Algodones, NM, (505) 867-4706
Café Fina 624 Old Las Vegas Hwy., Santa Fe, NM, (505) 466-3886 no website
Maryann’s Famous Burrito Kitchen 528 Grand Ave., Las Vegas, NM, (505) 426-8929 no website
Charlie’s Spic & Span 715 Douglas Ave., Las Vegas, NM (505) 426-1921 no website
Enchanted Grounds Espresso Bar 111 Park Ave., Raton, NM (575) 445-2219 no website

COLORADO

Tony’s Diner 734 E. Main St., Trinidad, CO (719) 846-6000
Corine’s Mexican Food 822 Main St, Walsenburg, CO, (719) 738-1231 no website
Three Sisters 6695 W. Hwy. 165 Colorado City, CO 81019 (719) 676-2276
Gray’s Coors Tavern 515 W. 4th St., Pueblo, CO, (719) 544-0455 no website
Polito’s Beer Barrel 2113 E. Evans Ave., Pueblo, CO (719) 564-9915 no website
Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe 317 Baystate Ave., Pueblo, CO, (719) 564-0407 no website
Bingo Burger 101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, CO, (719) 225-8363
King’s Chef Diner 131 E. Bijou St., Colorado Springs, CO (719) 636-5010
Rudy’s Little Hideaway 945 S. 8th St., Colorado Springs, (719) 632-9527
La Fiesta 2340 Champa St., Denver, CO (303) 292-2800
Las Delicias 439 E. 19th Ave., Denver, (303) 839-5675
Charito’s House 9080 Spruce Mountain Rd., Larkspur, CO, (303) 681-2373 no website
Urban Sombrero Sports Grill 7340 S. Clinton St., Englewood, CO 80112 (303) 955-2309
Chuy’s Tex-Mex 6595 W. 104th Ave., Westminster, CO, (303) 469-9441
Santiago’s 571 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, (303) 534-5004
Señor Burritos 12 E. 1st Ave., Denver, CO (303) 733-0747 no website
El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurant 722 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, CO (303) 623-9968
The Original Chubby’s 1231 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO, (303) 455-9311


Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber

Consider the relish tray. Starting your meal with a selection of applesauce, cottage cheese and corn relish might seem odd (and it’s certainly a sight for those who haven’t dined here before), but for regulars at this Clearwater Beach mainstay, the appearance of the footed silver tray is a time-honored tradition. Robert Heilman Sr. and Eva Nelle Heilman opened the restaurant on Mandalay Avenue in 1948. (A previous incarnation was started in Lorain, Ohio, in the 1920s.) The restaurant was destroyed in a fire in 1959 but quickly rebuilt, and the space still oozes the elegance and glamour of a bygone era. The menu falls in line with the theme. Where else are you going to find a Harvey Wallbanger and Clams Casino on the menu? Dinners start with salad and a choice of vegetable, fries or baked potato. Prime steaks are dry-aged and come with classic accoutrements ranging from a buttery bearnaise sauce to a light yet sultry demi-glace. Fat, golden crab cakes are plump with lump blue crab, and jumbo gulf shrimp are tossed into a hearty pasta primavera and served Rockefeller-style: baked with spinach and topped with a creamy Mornay sauce. There are a few areas in which you can dine, including the Mad Men-esque main dining room outfitted with low ceilings and an intimate atmosphere. If that’s not enough to set the mood, the piano player holding court in the corner of the room certainly helps, as does the Beachcomber Classic martini, which arrives with a sidecar of sorts — a miniature carafe with the remaining cocktail held in a tiny glass globe filled with ice. It’s plenty to keep the evening going, as this place has for decades.

447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach (727) 442-4144 heilmansbeachcomber.com

Don’t skip: Beachcomber Classic martini, crab cakes, relish tray


Easy tapas recipes

A well-made tortilla is central to any tapas menu. This easy recipe with just four ingredients is a classic and will go down a treat among a small-plate spread.

Patatas bravas

Recreate this popular Spanish tapas dish at home with our easy recipe. Crispy baked potatoes are topped with a smoky paprika tomato sauce and fresh parsley.

Smoky albondigas

Make these Spanish-style meatballs using beef and pork mince and serve in a rich tomato sauce as part of your tapas spread. Mop up all that lovely sauce with some bread.

Ham croquetas

Bite-sized balls of deliciousness. Filled with manchego and ham, this simple-to-follow recipe makes them an easy tapas-friendly treat.

Piquillo peppers

Bring Spanish flavour to your entertaining with this easy recipe for a quick piquillo pepper salad. These sweet little chillies can be bought in jars and with a little sherry vinegar and parsley turned into a tapas dish.

Chorizo al vino

This recipe for chorizo al vino comes from Lobos, a tapas bar in Borough Market. It’s really simple but combines classic, bold Spanish flavours and is ideal to serve as part of a tapas spread.

Garlic prawns

Prawns, peppers and silky, garlicky aioli makes for a delicious Spanish-inspired one-pot dinner for two, or a great sharing plate to enjoy as part of a bigger tapas feast.

Padrón peppers and chorizo skewers with honey drizzle

These sticky grilled padrón peppers with chorizo and honey drizzle make the perfect tapas dish or finger food to serve with drinks over the summer months.

Cod fritters

A Spanish tapas classic made easy. Bite-sized smoked cod and potato fishcakes bound together with egg and flour then quickly fried until crispy. Serve with lemon wedges.

Pan con tomate

A really quick and easy recipe for that tapas feast, this is best made with nicely ripe Spanish tomatoes. It makes a good breakfast too – Catalans and Spaniards often enjoy it with a coffee in the morning.

Mussels with saffron

Trade in your usual moules marinière for this pepped-up Spanish recipe with mussels, saffron and spinach. Ready in just 30 minutes, it makes a great sharing tapas dish.

Migas

This recipe comes from Lobos tapas bar in Borough market and is an ideal addition to a Spanish-inspired sharing menu. The runny fried egg with the pancetta and crisp bread is deeply satisfying.

Baked tetilla cheese with escalivada

This recipe also comes from Lobos tapas bar in Borough Market. Tetilla is a Spanish cheese available from delis and online. This dish takes just 30 minutes to prepare and is great as part of a sharing spread.

Chorizo, potato and parsley tortilla

Adding chorizo to this classic Spanish tapas recipe gives it extra flavour – we love that kick of paprika – as well as vibrant colour. A meatier version of the traditional tortilla, it earns its place at any Spanish-style feast.


Mexican Recipes

This collection of Mexican recipes includes perennial favorites, such as enchiladas, tacos, and tortilla soup. Find everything from soup and salad to dessert.

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What's Hot


25 of the Best Mezcals to Try Now

IF YOU LIKE TO DRINK COCKTAILS…

“Anyone who has entered a cocktail bar in the last five years has seen the emergence of the mezcal cocktail,” Bank says. “If you want to dip your toe into those waters, try a cocktail made with Sombra Mezcal ($36), Cruz De Fuego Mezcal’s Espadín ($40), or La Luna Mezcal’s Cupreata ($45). All three are affordable bottles that taste good neat, but also work well in cocktails. Unlike some of the more exotic mezcals, these brands work hard to make each bottle taste the same, so that bartenders can rely on a specific flavor profile for their cocktail recipes.”

IF YOU’RE A BEER AFICIONADO…

Monte Alban ($27) is an old-school mezcal that has been in the U.S market for decades,” Bank says. “It’s gold in color and has a worm (caterpillar, really) in the bottle. Twenty years ago, if you knew what mezcal was, this is what you pictured. Smoky and salty—and earthy from the worm. If all of your beer-snob friends laugh when you order PBR, this is what you should get when they start talking about mezcal. And eat the worm, just to show them you’re for real.”

IF YOU LIKE TO SIP PREMIUM TEQUILA…

“There are hundreds of varieties of agave—the plant that provides the sugars to make mezcal, tequila, raicilla, and other agave-based spirits. If the only agave spirits you’ve had are tequilas, then you’ve only tasted one agave: The tequilana blue weber,” Bank explains. “By law, that’s the only agave that can be used to make tequila. And to meet demand, almost all tequilas have introduced some level of industrialization, so you usually only get to taste blue weber agave that has been processed in an industrial way. If you want to taste the same kind of agave that has been converted into a spirit in an heirloom manner, try La Luna Tequilana ($80). They’ve roasted the agave in a stone-lined earthen oven, milled it by hand using wooden mallets, fermented it open-air in wooden barrels, and distilled it in wood-fired copper stills. Sip it slowly, neat, and experience the taste that created the demand for tequila a hundred years ago. Again: The smaller the sip, the bigger the flavor. And once your palate has tasted the La Luna Tequilana, try the espadín from Lalocura ($153), made in the same type of heritage way but with a different agave and may well be the best illustration of why Oaxaca is the epicenter of mezcal. Also try the Ensamble from Los Vecinos Mezcal ($65), which features a few different agaves processed in an assortment of ways and blended to a sweet, peppery sipper or Fidencio Unico mezcal ($45), which proves that not all mezcals are smoky.”

IF YOU WANT TO TRANSITION FROM MEZCAL COCKTAILS TO NEAT MEZCAL…

“Here’s a pro move: Try a neat pour of the mezcal used in your favorite cocktail. Take small sips and hold those sips on your tongue to the count of five before you swallow,” Bank recommends. “That first sip will clear your palate the second will introduce your palate to the complexities of the spirit the third will be your first ‘actual’ taste of the spirit, now that your palate has been initiated. The smaller the sip, the bigger the flavor. And the more often you drink agave spirits, the better your palate will get at identifying complexities. Once you’ve fallen in love with the mezcals from your cocktails, expand to crowd-pleasers like Mezcal Vago’s Elote expression ($60), Del Maguey’s Chichicapa ($68), or the soon-to-the-market Vámonos Riendo mezcal, which is an espadín-tobalá blend that is mildly fruity, mildly spicy, and absolutely delicious.”

Lagrimas De Dolores Mezcal Añejo

IF YOU LIKE FINE WHISKEY…

“You sip your Scotch and bourbon slow, savoring the caramel and vanilla flavors that the wood has imparted. But you can also enjoy those same flavors on top of an agave base with reposado and añejo mezcal expressions,” Bank says. “Some gringo mezcal enthusiasts will tell you that this is the wrong way to drink mezcal—that the wood buries the flavors of the agave or that it’s not traditional to age your mezcal in wood. To the former, I’d say that the wood doesn’t bury the flavors any more than their beloved pechuga expressions do. Pechuga is a mezcal that has been distilled with fruit and (often) some form of protein, like chicken, added to the still. And those same enthusiasts love their pechuga. To the latter I’d say that the intention may not have been to age in wood. But until the mid 1900s, the only way to transport mezcal was in wooden barrels attached to donkeys, so that for sure was aged. And to all of them I would say, try Lágrimas De Dolores Mezcal’s Añejo Cenizo—a musky, vanilla-accented dram out of Durango, Mexico, that pays homage to the owner’s grandmother, who would only drink wood-aged mezcals.”

IF YOU LOVE A SMOKY, PEATY ISLAY SCOTCH…

“So you have an adventurous palate and want to drink something with big, bold flavors. Try La Venenosa Raicilla Costa ($97) , which is like smoky blue cheese submerged in mineral water, or Lalocura’s Tepextate , which hits you in the face like a water balloon—just imagine that someone replaced the water with pollen, black pepper, and poblano chiles. Or try Del Maguey’s Tobalá ($122) , which was made from agaves that were cooked underground—and then left there for 30 days to grow crazy molds.”

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING TO PAIR WITH YOUR DESSERT…

“Pechuga-style mezcals are generally distilled with fruits, spices, and protein (the latter usually taking the form of a chicken or a turkey),” Banks says. “For a fruity dessert, try the Pechuga from Banhez ($100) , Don Mateo ($100) , or Don Amado ($110) —or the new-to-market Diaz Brothers Agave pechuga distilled with Dark Matter Coffee, chocolate, and habanero chiles. If you’ve got a dark chocolate dessert, try balancing it with a sweet pour like the Durango release from Derrumbes Mezcal ($77) or the flowery sweetness of Erstwhile’s Tobalá ($90) .”


Fish taco recipe

600g dorado/mahi mahi fillets (cod or halibut will do) cut into finger-size pieces
1 litre cooking oil
12 corn tortillas

For the batter
125g
plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine chilli powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
250ml Mexican beer

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl along with the baking powder, chilli powder and pepper. Turn through with your fingers before adding the beer and whisking until the consistency of thick paint. Leave to rest for an hour.

For the pico de gallo
5 ripe tomatoes, diced
½ red onion, diced
Small handful of coriander leaves, chopped
1 small jalepeño pepper, seeds removed and diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl and set aside.

To garnish
Finely sliced red cabbage
Sliced radish
Your favourite hot sauce
Lime wedges
Chipotle mayonnaise (add a clove crushed garlic, a teaspoon chipotle paste, pinch of salt and squeeze of lime to a cup mayonnaise and mix until smooth)

Heat oil to 170C in a deep pan or fryer – a small piece of bread should turn crisp and golden in a few seconds. Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan and place the tortillas on the pan two at a time and warm until just lifting from the surface. Wrap in a clean tea towel to keep warm and moist.

Coat each piece of fish in the batter and submerge in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about two minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet or kitchen paper to drain.

To serve, place two pieces of fried fish in the centre of each tortilla, then add the other ingredients. My recommended order is: chipotle mayonnaise, pico de gallo, cabbage, radish, hot sauce and a squeeze of lime.

Tom Kevill-Davies is the author of The Hungry Cyclist: Pedalling the Americas in Search of the Perfect Meal, and the owner of the Hungry Cyclist Lodge in Burgundy


Austin

CICLO
Modern Latin Kitchen
Located in the Four Seasons Resort

LIVE OAK
Cocktail Lounge
Located in the Four Seasons Resort

FORT WORTH

TORO TORO
Pan-Latin Steakhouse
Located in the Worthington Renaissance Hotel

HOUSTON

BAYOU & BOTTLE
Bourbon-Centric American
Located in the Four Seasons Resort


50. Best place to eat: RamenRamen Jiro, Tokyo

"People in Japan always say ramen (Japanese noodle soup) can't be this and can't be that. Ramen Jiro is very non-traditional, in your face, take it or leave it. You either love it or hate it, but people who like it are good people. It's got pork, it's got cabbage, it's got garlic, and the sauce is sweet. It's gnarly. There are several branches my favourite is the one near Keio University."

2-14-11 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Fergus Henderson, St John, London
Anthony Demetre, Arbutus, Soho
Skye Gyngell, Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey
Rowley Leigh, Le Café Anglais, London
Oliver Rowe, Konstam at the Prince Albert, London
Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, The River Café, London.
Helena Puolakka, Skylon, London Stuart Gillies, The Boxwood Café, London
Jason Atherton, Maze, London
John Torode, Smiths of Smithfield, London
Atul Kochhar, Benares, London Mourad Mazouz, Momo, London
Sally Clarke, Clarke's, London
Michel Roux Sr, The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire author of "Pastry"
Jun Tanaka, Pearl Restaurant, London
Sam Hart, Quo Vadis, London
David Thompson, Nahm, London
Raymond Blanc, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire
Richard Corrigan, Bentley's, London
Theodore Kyriakou, More, London
Alan Yau, Wagamama, Hakkasan, Yauatcha, all London
Sam and Sam Clark, Moro, London
Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin, New York
Chloe Doutre-Roussel, chocolate connoisseur, buyer and writer
David Chang, Momnofuku, New York
Eddie Hart, Fino, Barafina, London