Category Archives: 2023

Direct Flights to Huatulco 2023-2024

Huatulco Direct Flight Schedule 2023-2024

Check Flights: FIND FLIGHTS

From Canada:



  • Oct 29, 2023 – Nov 5, 2023- Saturday and Sunday
  • Nov 6, 2023 – Dec 17, 2023- Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Dec 18, 2023 – Apr 7, 2024- Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Apr 8, 2024 – Apr 21, 2024- Monday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Apr 22, 2024 – Apr 28, 2024- Monday and Saturday
  • Apr 29, 2024 – May 5, 2024- Mondays



  • Oct 17, 2023 – Oct 29, 2023- Tuesdays
  • Oct 30, 2023 – Dec 17, 2023- Thursdays
  • Dec 18, 2023 – Apr 28, 2024- Tuesday and Thursday



  • Oct 18, 2023 – Oct 29, 2023- Wednesday and Saturday
  • Oct 30, 2023 – Nov 5, 2023- Tuesday and Saturday
  • Nov 6, 2023 – Nov 12, 2023- Tuesday, Friday and Saturday
  • Nov 13, 2023 – Dec 3, 2023- Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
  • Dec 4, 2023 – Apr 7, 2024- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
  • Apr 8, 2024 – Apr 28, 2024- Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
  • Apr 29, 2024 – May 5, 2024- Wednesday and Saturday



  • Dec 24, 2023 – Apr 14, 2024- Sundays



  • Oct 13, 2023 – Oct 22, 2023- Sunday and Friday
  • Oct 23, 2023 – May 12, 2024- Fridays

Air Canada

  • Nov 5, 2023 – Dec 17, 2023- Sundays
  • Dec 19, 2023 – April 28, 2024- Tuesday and Sunday

From Dallas with American Airlines

  • November 8, 2023- Dec 8, 2023- Wednesday and Saturday
  • Dec 8, 2023- March 31, 2024- Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
  • April 1, 2024- May 4, 2024- Wednesday and Saturday

From Chicago with Volaris– use a google search to find this flight as it was not appearing on the Volaris website and is operated by Apple Vacations

  • January- March – Saturdays

From Mexico City

  • Aeromexico- Daily 7:40am, 12:25pm. 3:20pm 
  • Volaris- Daily 6:45am, 3:25pm
  • Viva Aerobus- Mondays and Sundays

From Guadalajara

  • Volaris- Sunday and Thursday

From Tijuana

  • Volaris- Sunday and Thursday

From Oaxaca

  • Aerotucan- Daily 9am

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

Researchers believe that taste memories can be among the strongest one can have based on a principle called “conditioned taste aversion,” a survival tactic that helps one remember if something was eaten previously and was either poisonous or caused illness. This principle states that this memory biologically helps to prevent one from repeating the mistake in the future when this food is encountered.
-from the article Food and Memory by Joy Intriago

I love when something is so unexpectedly delicious that it imprints on me, creating a food memory that I will remember for years to come. It isn’t usually exotic foods, but an oddly delightful and unexpected pairing that causes my taste buds to perk up. Over 25 years ago in Brighton, UK, at a vegetarian restaurant, after watching The Wedding Singer at a movie theater, I had a combination of beet, cucumber, dill, something creamy and something crispy… maybe a piece of fried wonton. I have tried to recreate this perfect combination but have never managed to hit the same balance of yum.

About 13 years ago, on a chilly May evening, I had dinner in Montreal with my aunt and uncle at Laloux, a French restaurant. I had a combination of foie gras and apple that has made every time I have eaten foie gras since, feel like something is missing.

When I miss my father I can taste the pancakes with ham and maple syrup that he made for me on Sunday mornings. The beauty of a food memory is that you don’t just remember the taste but all the details of the moment get frozen and saved.

Last month I went to Mazunte for a 3-day silent meditation retreat. I was feeling a little dubious about going as I lived in Mazunte for a couple of years when I first moved here in the late 90s. Back then it was a dirt road village with a few palapas on the beach, one Italian restaurant and electricity in only a few parts of the village. Each time I have been recently I felt annoyed by its growth, and I felt even more annoyed with myself, for being that kind of person. Change happens, places grow, some evolve and some just get bigger.

Upon arrival for my retreat I was told that the retreat actually started the following day so I was left to my own devices for dinner. I wandered into the village. Stopped and visited the family that welcomed me into their fold twenty-five years ago and set off to find dinner. Outside the restaurant La Cuisine a blackboard displayed the evening’s specials and one was Tortellini de Conejo con Salsa de Zanahoria y Parmesano (rabbit tortellini with carrot and parmesan sauce). My mouth watered just thinking about it. It did not disappoint. Large tortellini with ground rabbit and a hint of fennel seed… I think, I tried to decipher each bite. The carrot and parmesan sauce was the perfect complement and I liked the cleverness of serving carrots with rabbit.

I had to admit, progress has its advantages in bringing new ingredients and chefs with different techniques. And it’s not new, it’s always been this way. Change is the only constant.

The Chilies of Mexico

By Julie Etra

While there are chilies – some of them (in)famous for their heat – from around the world, like the medium hot Hatch chilies from New Mexico, or hot Thai chilies, or even hotter Scotch Bonnets, this article focuses on the chilies of Mexico. Note, both spellings are acceptable: chili and chile.

The common name “chili” is from the Náhuatl word chilli. Chilies have been cultivated in Mexico for over 6,000 years. Although their precise origin is unclear, they no doubt come from Latin America. The Nahua (Aztecs) had various uses for the fruit besides consumption, including using the smoke to punish children or to combat military enemies; the smoke from charred chiles caused extreme eye irritation (anyone who has chopped a fresh or roasted high-Scoville-unit chili and then rubbed their eyes knows this firsthand).

Taxonomy and Biology

Chilies are in the genus Capsicum, derived from a Greek word meaning “capsule” (botanically speaking, that is incorrect since the fruit is a berry). They are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), along with tomatoes and potatoes. Capsicum consists of 20–27 species, five of which are widely cultivated, with C. annuum being the most important. C. annuum includes chili de arbol, jalapeño and poblano, and others such as the domesticated sweet orange, red, and yellow bell peppers, Which are mature versions of the green bell pepper and not considered chilies.

The other four widely used chilies are C. baccatum (the domesticated ají pepper found in many South American countries), C. chinense (habanero chilies), C. frutescens (the Tabasco chili), and C. pubescens (the Mexican manzano, Bolivian locoto, and Peruvian rocoto). Many specific Mexican chilies have Náhuatl language equivalents (tlalchilli = chili de arbol).

Chilies found today have been bred from their wild ancestors, most likely the chiltepin or similar small but picante chilies that are found everywhere, since birds are one of the vectors and spread the seed with their waste. The chiltepin or pequin (or piquin) chilies that sometimes appear in the wild in Huatulco are consumed by the chachalacas (loud partridge-like birds with a red eye – chachalaca means chatty, which they are!). I have quit trying to cultivate these chilies, hoping to cut down on the chacalaca conversations in my yard! Wild chilies are pollinated by honeybees, bumblebees, other species of bees, and ants (and no doubt other insects).

What is the best way to describe chilies? Should we classify chilies by their heat? Fresh versus dried? By region? By size? By preparation?

CONABIO, Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, puts out a fabulous poster of Mexican chilies with the slogan “Si no le pusiste chile, no esperes que te sepa.” This is the short version of a quote from David Alonso López, a graduate of the International Gastronomy program at the Universidad Mexicana: “Si no le pusiste chile, no esperes que te sepa la comida, aunque hay de picantes a picantes”: “If you didn’t add chilies, don’t expect you know our food [culture], although there’s hot and then there’s really hot.”

Chiles are often categorized by their heat or level of picante (spiciness), measured in Scoville units. For example, the habanero pica (bites), so it rates as very hot at 350,000 Scoville units, while the proletariat poblano, typically associated with the chili relleno, is considered mild at 1000-2000 units. (This might not always be the case with individual peppers, since chilies cross pollinate and hybridize.)

How to Use Mexican Chilies

Chilies can be used fresh or raw in salsas (immature/green; mature/red). They can be smoked, pickled (as in escabeche, that dish of pickled chilies, carrots, etc. that appears on many restaurant tables), or roasted. I like to roast poblanos, chop them up and add them to a batch of pinto or black beans, along with other ingredients, of course. Roasting usually adds heat; a roasted serrano is hotter than its fresh form. Typically, when chilies are roasted, the seed and the membranes are removed.

Dried chilies can be used in many ways; the red chili de arbol flakes are often served with pizza; chilies can be dried and ground into powders; whole dried chilies can be reconstituted by soaking in vinegar or water for use in salsa, e.g., guajillo salsa.

Poblano chilies can be stuffed (chili relleno; relleno = “filled”), not just with cheese but with almost anything. The poblanos first need to be roasted to char and remove the skin, which is hard to digest.

My favorite relleno is the very complicated chilies en nogada – chilies in walnut cream sauce, stuffed with meat and fruit and garnished with the sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley, the colors of the red, white, and green Mexican flag. The dish originated in the city of Puebla, where the struggle for Mexican independence began. It is said to have been prepared for Emperor Augustín de Iturbide (first president and then emperor after the war of independence – a long story for another time). It is a source of pride for the inhabitants of the state of Puebla; people from Puebla are known as “poblanos,” although that really means “people of the pueblo/town,” and not people of the pepper! You can order this exquisite dish at Campestre Santa Clara in La Crucecita.

Here’s a list of the varieties of chilies mostly commonly available in Huatulco, in fresh, dried, or smoked form, along with a few unusual chilies you might look for. The most popular are available in the supermarkets, but you’ll have better luck checking out the baskets at the produce markets and the Organic Market held on Saturdays in Santa Cruz (Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco – MOH). The Saturday schedule varies by the season.

The bola chili comes from Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, and Veracruz. When it is dried, it is called cascabel. It’s used in salsas and “jams” (paste form), and has a nutty flavor.

The chawa chili grows in the Yucatán, and is used fresh (green) in salsas or pickled in escabeche.

The chilaca chili is from the state of Chihuahua, and is used green or red. A dried chilaca is called pasilla. Use chilacas in stews or roast them with cheese.

Chile verde del norte is similar to the anaheim chili or perhaps the Hatch chilies; green is spicier than red, which can be almost sweet. If it is dried while green, it is called chile seco del norte; if red, chile colorado. It can be used for chilies rellenos, in stews, soups (especially posole, the broth made with pork, hominy, and chilies, plus all the chopped toppings you want), and marinades and sauces.

Chile de arbol grows everywhere, is used fresh, either green or red, and dried, usually ground (molido). It’s picante – hot – and is used in everything.

Chile chicuarote (sometimes criollo) comes from the Valley of Mexico, and is grown in the San Gregorio Atlapulco neighborhood of Xochimilco, the floating gardens south of Mexico City. It is used fresh (green/red) or dried in salsas and moles. It’s also the title of a 2020 film directed by Gael García Bernal that portrays two young chicuarotes – the informal name for Xochimilco residents, meaning “pretty spicy” – who go from unsuccessful clowning to armed robbery while riding public transportation.

Chile chilhuacle is a rare chili that grows in Oaxaca, and is used dried. Considered essential in mole negro.

Chile costeño is also from Oaxaca, also used dried in moles and salsas. It adds a fruity flavor.

The chile loco comes from Puebla and is available in the rainy season. It used fresh or dried in salsas, pastes, or roasted and sliced. Picante.

The rare chile tuxta or tusta is from Oaxaca. It is dried and used in traditional recipes.

The small Chiltepin chilies grow throughout Mexico and are used fresh in salsas and aguachile (chili-water), a shrimp dish from northwestern Mexico like ceviche but without the marinating time that “cooks” the fish. Picante.

Güero chilis (güero = blond) are basically the same as banana peppers. They are grown in northern Mexico and used fresh in yellow mole, salsas, and escabeche.

Jalapeño chilies are available everywhere. When jalapeños are smoked, they are called chipotle; the canned version is called chipotles en adobo (sauce). Because it is smoked for less time, the morita chili is a milder type of chipotle. Jalapeños have many fresh uses (salsas, pickled for escabeche), while chipotles are used in stews and moles, among other dishes.

Manzana chilies come from the state of Michoacán in the Central Mexican Valley. They can be roasted or grilled, and are often used in salsas.

The mirasol chili grows upright – its name means “look at the sun.” Mirasol chilies come from the central Mexican altiplano (plateau). The dried form is called guajillo, a mild, sweetish pepper that adds rich flavor to moles, salsas, and stews.

Pequin chilies come largely from Coahuila and are used dry, mostly in salsas. Of course, the supermarkets all carry shaker bottles of “chili piquin,” sometimes with lime, which is great for sprinkling atop corn, eggs, avocado toast, and tropical fruit.

Poblano chilies are grown, predominantly in the state of Puebla, but are available everywhere; once the fresh poblanos are roasted, they can be stuffed (see above – delicious for chiles en nogada). Smoked poblanos are called ancho chilies, and good in bean dishes and stews. Serrano chilies are widely grown and available across Mexico. They are used fresh, both green and red, especially for salsa. Dried, they’re called chile seco. For more information and fun, check out these sites.

Lila Downs’ fabulous tribute to the chili, Son del Chile Frito.

  1. Conabio Poster:
  2. Scoville Chart:
  3. On bola chilies:
  4. On loca and poblano chilies:
  5. On the chicuarote chili:

“Cheap and Crappy” Becomes“Sophisticated and Inventive”:The Modernization of Mexican Fine Dining

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

A while back, I was in La Crucecita, sitting at the Oasis Restaurant (now closed), watching a table of Americans send their nachos back for more cheese. Three times, they sent them back – the chips were drowning in Cheez Whiz. A far cry from Pujol, the famous Mexico City fine-dining restaurant established by Chef Enrique Olvera in 2000. Olvera does not serve nachos – maybe he’s never even seen them.

Nachos were created in 1940 by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya at the Victory Club Restaurant in Piedras Negras, on the Tex-Mex border in the state of Coahuila, when some women shopping in Eagle Pass crossed over and came in asking for “something different” – Nacho produced nachos. Cheez Whiz was invented in 1952 by Kraft Foods scientist Edwin Traisman and his team at Kraft Foods. While no one seems to know when Cheez Whiz met nachos, it was created for the British market to make Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit) – in the US, that’s Saltines drowning in Cheez Whiz.

According to a 2023 report from Datassential, a restaurant consulting firm, the Tex-Mex and Latin category has surpassed Italian as America’s favorite food. “Cheesy, spicy foods with Latin-inspired ingredients and preparation” are driving demand for nachos, fully loaded nachos, fajitas, burritos, enchiladas and so on (see “From Tex-Mex to Haute Cuisine,” in The Eye, July 2016). Tex-Mex, maybe Cali-Mex, is pretty much the northern picture of Mexican food – something northerners like, with limited and familiar ingredients, tailored to their tastes – ipso facto, not actually authentic.

Regional Authenticity

The first step toward Mexican fine dining came with the recognition of the variety of Mexico’s regional cuisines (see Brooke O’Connor’s article elsewhere in this issue). Diana Kennedy’s groundbreaking The Regional Cuisines of Mexico came out in 1972 (see “In Search of Diana Kennedy’s Huachinango Veracruzano” in The Eye, Feb 2023). Fifteen years later, in 1987, Rick and Deann Bayless of Chicago published Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico. That same year, they opened Frontera Grill, arguably the first US restaurant featuring authentic Mexican food. According to the late Molly O’Neill, food writer with The New York Times, “There’s nothing even remotely similar to Frontera Grill … anywhere else in America.”

WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station, did a story on Frontera’s 30th anniversary in 2017. Bayless told quite a tale of being “different.” The very first guests to walk into Frontera took one look at the menu, said “I don’t know what you’re doing, because this isn’t Mexican food. You’ll be out of business in six months,” and got up and left. Frontera Grill is going strong, and Rick Bayless’ Frontera salsas are sold in most American supermarkets.

Two years after the Frontera Grill opened, Bayless founded Topolobampo, also in Chicago (Bayless now has seven Chicago-area restaurants). Zagat, a restaurant rating service based on customer reviews, said the restaurant was an “educational experience” and its “dynamite tasting menus feature food that’s wildly inventive yet still approachable.” Zagat mentioned “an excellent wine list and cocktails that are works of art; knowledgeable, passionate service and a lovely, upscale setting (remodeled with a sculptural ceiling and dramatic lighting).”

Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless based their relationships with Mexican food on variations in regional cuisine, combined with authentic ingredients and traditional culinary techniques, but Bayless also laid the foundation of fine dining for Mexican cuisine, with that wine, those cocktails, high-end service, and a setting that required architectural, interior, and acoustic design services.

What Is Fine Dining?

It’s definitely not just being famous – one of the most famous restaurants in the US is the raucous, chaotic Katz’s Delicatessen on East Houston Street in Manhattan. It’s famous for the 80-odd-year-old sign “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army” and the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in the film When Harry Met Sally. Wonderful as Katz’s may be, fine dining it’s not.

Fine dining isn’t just the food, either. It’s the experience of eating the food. Of course, the ingredients must be of the highest, freshest quality; the flavors unique; and the dishes exotic, abetted with touches of “modernist cuisine”; and the presentation geared to showcase the food with elegance. In a fine-dining restaurant, you might even be told about your experience – one Topolobampo menu divides the dishes into “Vibrant,” “Fresh,” “Ancient,” “Soulful” “Complex,” “Enchanting,” and “Luxurious.” Beyond the food, fine dining requires impeccable, luxurious service. The setting and atmosphere must enrich the experience. And the prices match it all.

Fine Dining Mexican Style

Mexican fine dining has many characteristics, but that touch of modernism seems to be the key. “Modernist cuisine” takes its identity from a six-volume tome of the same name, subtitled The Art and Science of Cooking (2011). Remember nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s? Lighten up elaborate French cooking? “Tender crisp” green beans? Modernist is that, but with science, especially in terms of chemical interactions in cooking and the techniques and elaborate equipment that control those reactions. Baked potato foam? Sous-vide, anyone?

“Modern Mexican,” first officially noted in 2017 by New York Times food writer Julia Moskin (named for Julia Child), is a “movement, inside and outside Mexico, to finally vanquish the rice-and-beans stereotype and to celebrate its vast and sophisticated cuisine.” The 25-year-old movement is led almost exclusively by chefs, both male and female, whose reputations have established multifaceted careers that have disseminated the dishes of modern Mexican cuisine around the world.

Gabriela Cámara
Starting a restaurant to celebrate a cuisine is a massive undertaking, but it began with a simple concept in Mexico City. In 1998, Mexican-Italian Gabriela Cámara, just 22 and finishing up her art history degree, opened Contramar in the Condesa/Roma area of Mexico City. The area was on the cusp of gentrification, still filled with artists.

Cámara and her friends would go on holiday to Zihuatenejo and eat fresh fish, simply prepared, on the beach. She was not so much interested in a fine-dining establishment as she was in those beach dishes made with Mexican fish straight from the sea, rather than the customary frozen European fish. The neighborhood is now upscale and Contramar has become a top fine-dining restaurant. Open only for lunch (in CDMX, that’s noon to 6 pm during the week, 11 am – 8 pm on weekends), Contramar is the modern version of the family lunch table, lunch being the most important, interesting meal of the day.

Cámara opened Cala, a fine-dining Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, in 2015; she closed it in 2019 to join President López Obrador’s administration as a food-policy expert. Her 2019 cookbook, My Mexican Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions, marks her concern with food policy, production, and consumption. And culture: In a 2019 Robb Report article on Mexican fine dining, Cámara said, “People think Mexican is cheap, crappy food. But now Mexican can be super sophisticated. That gives people a cultural pride we didn’t see even just a few years ago.”

Enrique Olvera
Olvera was born in Mexico City in 1976. In high school, he started cooking for friends; word got around that his dinners were superb, and he decided to become a chef – not a glamorous or high-status career at the time. Olvera went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, north of New York City. He received an associate’s degree in 1997 and a bachelor’s in 1999.

When he went back to Mexico City, he cooked for his parents’ friends, who turned out to be his first investors. He opened Pujol in Polanco in 2000, but it was rocky going at first. Since there had never been a fine-dining restaurant that served Mexican food anywhere, not in Mexico, not in the rest of the world, what it was supposed to be like was unclear. At one point, according to a 2017 article on the travel site Culture Trip, Olvera felt disconnected from the whole enterprise, feeling that he was “using Mexican ingredients, but not to make Mexican food.”

Olvera went to Oaxaca and took a look at their cuisine, quite different from the cooking around Mexico City. It gave him ideas about how to use new-to-him ingredients in unique ways that would still be true to Mexican culture and to the idea that food is a way to be happy, to celebrate. Gradually, Pujol succeeded, to great acclaim.

With Pujol on a solid footing, Olvera went back to New York, assessed the restaurant scene and in 2014, opened a new restaurant, Cosme, on East 21st Street off Fifth Avenue, and then in 2017, the more casual Atla on Lafayette Street in Noho. Interviewed by CNN when Cosme opened, Olvera said, “I want Mexican food to keep moving. I understand that we have beautiful traditions. I feel very proud of those traditions, but I want to keep on building new traditions for the next generations.” Olvera has other fine-dining restaurants in Oaxaca City, San Miguel de Allende, and Los Cabos. Modern Mexican Takes Off In the space of two years, well-known chefs opened four more fine-dining Mexican restaurants in CDMX, all in the posh areas of Polanco and Roma Norte. In 2010, Elena Reygadas, trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, opened Rosetta in Roma Norte. She now has four more CDMX restaurants – Panadería Rosetta, Lardo, Café Nin, and Bella Aurora.

Martha Ortiz was a political science/sociology major when she did a study of social mobility in Milpa Alta outside Mexico City and realized the critical role of food in social structure; she went on to cook in kitchens around the world before returning home. In 2003, she opened Áquila and Sol in Polanco as a showcase for regional styles from across Mexico. It was unusual for women to be owner/operators of restaurants, so when, in 2008, the city counted her parking spaces and found only 90 rather than the required 91, they shut her down. Ortiz opened Dulce Patria in 2011 in Polanco, which fell victim to the pandemic. She has moved on to Ella Canta in the Intercontinental Hotel in London (opened 2017), and is now in charge of Tuch de Luna, a restaurant at the Mayan Riviera resort La Casa de la Playa.

In 2012, two chefs who had been with Olvera at Pujol opened restaurants; Jorge Vallejo and his wife Alejandra Flores opened Quintonil in Polanco and Eduardo García opened Máximo Bistrot in Roma (recently moved to the Álvaro Obregón neighborhood). Vallejo graduated from the Centro Culinario Ambrosía in Mexico City; in 2019, he opened Ixi’im in the luxury hotel Casa Chablé, near Mérida in the Yucatán. García trained at the culinary school at the Art Institute of Seattle. With his wife, Gabriela López Cruz, Garcia also operates Havre 77 and Lalo! in Mexico City.

Beyond Mexico City, Baja California has Laja, opened in a renovated hacienda in Ensenada by chef Jair Téllez in 2000. It’s what in the US we would call an organic farm-to-table restaurant. Laja is now run by a Téllez protégé, Rafa Magañez. Malva is also in Ensenada, also a farm-to-table establishment, and was opened by chef Roberto Alcocer in 2014, after working in fine-dining restaurants abroad. Rodolfo Castellanos opened Origen in Oaxaca in 2011, after studying at the Culinary Institute of Mexico and receiving the Turquois scholarship to study in France. Castellanos is able to marry French and Mexican elements in his cuisine – he was Top Chef México in 2016.

Are We All Good with This?

W-e-l-l-l … not everyone thinks that moving from “traditional” or “authentic” dishes toward menu items that “modernize” the cuisine is properly respectful of the culture. New York Times restaurant reviewer Pete Wells, speaking of the newly opened Cosme in 2015, discussed New York’s new obsession with Mexican restaurants. Some empire-building chef decides to open a new restaurant specializing in “some other nation’s food. By the time the news releases are ready, a week’s vacation has become a research trip, and a snack bought with pocket change has become a $13 appetizer.” The resulting restaurants “present, some more convincingly than others, a chef’s south-of-the-border fantasies.”

Wells sees Olvera as using reverse cultural appropriation in creating Cosme. He did his research in Manhattan to see what the menus, the cocktails, the customers, and the settings were like. Cosme shows an “uncannily state-of-the-art instinct for what New Yorkers want when they go out for dinner.” The cooking “sails right over ideas like tradition, authenticity, and modernity,” using underpinnings from Mexico and fresh local ingredients to give diners “a thrill.” Wells would no doubt find echoes of Cosme “deported” back home to Pujol – by the way, he LOVED eating at Cosme!

The Art of Portraying Food in Art

By Randy Jackson

I was interested to see a recent news story about a restored fresco from Pompeii depicting what the headline billed as an early version of pizza. The fresco shows a flatbread with toppings believed to include pomegranates, dates, and a type of pesto sauce. But what attracted my attention was not an interest in the history of pizza, or even the fascinating discoveries of daily Roman life frozen in time at 79 CE, but our ongoing interest in depicting food in art.

I trace this curiosity to a much younger version of myself wandering around art museums in Europe, and pondering why there were so many paintings of bowls of fruit. What, I wondered, was so great about that? In an attempt to answer that, and to hopefully develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of still-life painting, it helps to have some historical context of food in art.

The Meaning of Food in Art

When food is represented in any human artwork, it always conveys, or intends to convey, some meaning. Some of the earliest depictions of food appear in the Egyptian pyramids. These drawings were thought to hold magical properties that could enable the deceased to have food in the afterlife. Food as sustenance, and in the afterlife, you gotta eat, right?

Centuries later, the ancient Greeks and Romans painted food in their frescos of celebrations. Here, food was portrayed as symbols of wealth and abundance. One thing the Pompeii flatbread painting has taught us is that good quality food was not reserved solely for the elites. The everydayness of the meal, portrayed in the fresco of a house attached to a bakery in Pompeii, demonstrates that a much wider group than the elite enjoyed their meals, and had access to foods prepared, at least in part, for the pleasure of eating.

As European civilizations moved through the Middle Ages, the depictions of food in art no longer reflected food as celebratory, but rather as one of the regular features of daily life. Paintings of the period often showed food preparations for meals and feasts. Christianity was of course a central force running through the Middle Ages and food is an important symbol of devotional Christian practice (bread = the body, wine = the blood of Christ). Probably the best examples of this, in art, were the paintings of the Last Supper, where fish or lamb (both symbols of Christ) were conveyed along with wine and bread.

As European society gradually emerged into the Renaissance, food in art began to represent abundance. There was also a movement in paintings towards detailed realism. Scenes of butcher shops and kitchens (notably in the Italian Baroque) were common, although food did not yet serve as the centerpiece of a painting, often being shown as part of busy crowded scenes in the paintings of the time.

But the attention to detail for everything in the paintings, including the food, was greatly elevated from earlier paintings of the Middle Ages. While food remained a secular object, it was rarely painted without some Christian symbolism.

An interesting side note on food in art in the Renaissance is seen in the work of Italian painter Giuseppi Arcimboldo (1526-93). Arcimboldo’s work is recognizable today for its creative genius – he painted portraits entirely from fruits and vegetables. These food portraits were only part of Arcimboldo’s more conventional body of work; the portraits were understood to be for the amusement of the court (he was a painter for the Habsburg court in Vienna). Arcimboldo’s other paintings, including his religious paintings, have largely been forgotten in the context of better-known Renaissance paintings.

Food in Art in the Dutch Golden Age

The movement towards naturalism and detailed personal observation emerging in Renaissance art provided the underpinning for still-life genre paintings to emerge, culminating in the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s.

The Dutch Golden Age is thought to cover a good portion of the 17th century. Spurred on by the wealth of overseas trade, the Netherlands emerged to lead Europe in the arts and sciences. Of note in this flourishing is the Dutch Reform movement that shifted the Netherlands away from Catholic-dominated Europe, which then led to independence from the Church in intellectual life, commerce, and the arts. In the Dutch Golden Age, wealth was largely held by the merchant class. As a result, decisions in all aspects of society reflected perspectives and interests different from those of the elites, royalty, or the church, which still shaped most of the rest of Europe. It was the wealthy merchant class who commissioned works of art. This, along with the Renaissance movement towards naturalism and observation of details, motivated Dutch artists to create the genre of still-life paintings.

Dead Game, Red Lobsters, and Bowls of Fruit

To my own youthful question about what is so great about paintings of bowls of fruit, the answer, somewhat clearer from the passing of years, is that attention to detail is a deepening of awareness. Artists can bring a greater awareness to us, the viewer, through their attention to detail and the reproduction of that detail on canvas of texture, light, shadows, and hues. This can, if we apply our own attention to the painting, bring a sense of marvel. Articulating many aspects of the beauty of Food in Art, I recommend the New York Times article titled “A Messy Table, A Map of the World” – an amazingly entertaining tutorial in understanding the social history of art.


Re-Visiting the Food Scene in CDMX

By Carole Reedy

Recent changes in the nation’s capital reflect the adventurous and innovative character of this grand city. Previously called DF (Distrito Federal), our village of more than 20 million inhabitants is now called Cuidad de Mexico (CDMX), an effort to exercise more political autonomy.

With Covid restrictions lifted, the city has experienced an explosion of visitors, foreigners and nationals alike seeking residency here. Many come for jobs that are unavailable in rural areas. Foreigners are retiring here due to the lower cost of living and quality of life. And in today’s work-from-home environment, CDMX allows individuals to live and work from an apartment or hotel in a vibrant cultural city for a fraction of the cost of London, New York, Boston, or Copenhagen.

The reasons for the popularity of the city are diverse. Mexico City is rated sixth in the list of best cities by Travel and Leisure Magazine. However, with good news comes an eye-opening reality: Mexico City is now the second most expensive city in Latin America…and the 21st most expensive in the world.

The peso is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, currencies worldwide as of this writing, which is as always advantageous to some and not to others.

Just as in most major world cities, rental costs are up and so are many restaurant prices. Inflation has been rampant, but appears to be slowing. Let’s take a second look at some of our favorites eateries as well as some new choices.

Rosetta, 166 Colima, Roma Norte.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular spots in the city, due mainly to the recognition given to its chef, Elena Reygadas, named best female chef in the world 2023. Rosetta now claims the 50th spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, according to a panel of 1,080 culinary experts. Among my friends, it is the restaurant most requested during repeat visits.

At a recent lunch our group enjoyed the most popular item on the menu–the salt-encrusted sea bass. I always have the risotto, this time with beet, radish, and cheese from Chiapas (you can never go wrong with the risotto, prepared in a different manner on each visit).

Prices do not appear to have risen much, although to me a glass of wine always seems proportionally out of touch with reality! This is true in almost all restaurants these days, where you can often order a margarita or other cocktail for a more reasonable price. Main dishes are fairly priced, but appetizers, desserts, and bottles of wine will quickly fatten your final bill.

Quintonil, 55 Newton, Polanco
Breaking into the Top 10 at number nine on the Best Restaurants list this year, chefs Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores prove once again that fresh ingredients are the secret to success. They have appeared on the Best Restaurant list since 2015.

Here you’ll find an a la carte as well as a tasting menu, which is offered at a fixed price. The cost of the tasting menu is 4,500 pesos per person, and 6,825 pesos for the beverage pairing option (a popular choice). You’ll find all kinds of exotic items on the menu among expected favorites: Grilled avocado tartare with escamoles, a ceviche of vegetables in smoked cactus, Crottin cheese with pico de gallo and chili oil, Chicatana ant chorizo; santanero beans from Oaxaca and candied onions; red sauce with jumiles and epazote.
The restaurant was redesigned in 2020, the year the pandemic started and thus the ruin of many an eatery. Fortunately, the restaurants mentioned here were able to ride out the storm. Just blocks always from Quintonil you will find another of the most recognized restaurants in the world…

Pujol, 133 Tennyson, Polanco
Pujol has collected so many accolades it is difficult to find something new to highlight. Its founder and chef Enrique Olivera is world famous, full stop.

Olvera founded Pujol in 2000 with the goal of providing unique experiences in Mexican gastronomy using techniques from across the country. After starting out with just three waiters and three chefs in the kitchen, Pujol now appears on the Best Restaurants list year after year, and his restaurant Cosme in New York City receives accolades too. According to Larousse Cocina, Olivera is considered one of the Ten International Figures of the Gastronomic Industry by

What can you expect from Pujol? The outstanding mole negro from Oaxaca. “The mole we make is black mole from Oaxaca,” the chef tells us. “It has 100 ingredients: tomatoes, some nuts, herbs, nutmeg, and seasonal fruits.” It is best served with a corn tortilla and hoja santa. The secret is in the reheating of the mole over 2000 days.

Clients also seem to like the emphasis on Mexican spices and corn products used during the marathon tasting menu. Unusual cocktails are also served, many incorporating the very popular Mexican mezcal, which seems to have replaced tequila as the favorite drink of the country. No doubt about it, the price tag is high, but people from the US, Canada, and Europe don’t find the prices as daunting as we who live in Mexico. The tasting menu at Pujol is 2,565 pesos per person. There is no beverage pairing option as of this writing.

Your visits to the capital are not limited to the central colonias of Mexico City: Roma Centro, Condesa and Polanco. A trip further south to Coyoacan and San Angel is a must for all visitors. Here are the former homes of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, as well as the fascinating view of the life of Leon Trotsky in his humble home just blocks away from Frida’s Blue House.

Oxa Cocina Única in the Bazar Sábado, Plaza San Jacinto, San Ángel
Charming ambiance, excellent service, and a variety of dishes from Oaxaca have contributed to the recent success of this eatery. Although it’s located in the Bazar Sábado, which, as the name suggests, is open as a shopping bazaar only on Saturdays from 10 am to 7 pm, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, except Mondays. On a recent visit we enjoyed perfectly prepared salmon in a pistachio sauce, sopes de pollo for appetizers, and the best of Mexican wines from the Casa Madero winery. Other favorites include the margaritas, bean soup, shrimp tacos, and of course the cafe de olla.

Bistro 83, 17 Calle de Amaragura, San Ángel
If you want a beautiful peaceful garden setting, spend the morning, afternoon, or evening (open from 8 am to 11 pm every day) at Bistro 83 across from Plaza Jacinto. Here you will enjoy Mediterranean specialties such as escargot, octopus, salmon, or carpaccio del res. There are also fondues, pizzas, and salads, all delicately prepared and presented.

Perennial favorites
Our favorite small and simple restaurants include San Giorgio for true Italian pizza in Roma Sur; Manila for duck tacos in Condesa; and Mog for hot and spicy Asian bowls and sushi in Roma Norte. These stalwarts continue as always with specialties that never disappoint.

Mexico’s Six and Eight Legged Edibles

By Kary Vannice

Mexico is renowned worldwide for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. However, there are some traditional foods in Mexico that you’re more likely to find on the end of a fly swatter or squished under a shoe in other countries. Insects and arachnids have long been a part of Mexican cuisine, adding unique textures and flavors to traditional dishes for those brave enough to try “entomophagy” – basically, eating bugs. And worms. And their babies.

Chapulines – Crunchy Grasshoppers: Perhaps the most famous insect in Mexican cuisine is the chapulín, a type of grasshopper. Native to the southern state of Oaxaca, chapulines are widely enjoyed for their crispy texture and savory taste. Often toasted or fried with garlic, lime, and salt, these delectable critters are commonly served as a snack or used as a flavorful garnish for dishes like tacos and quesadillas.

Escamoles – the Caviar of Ants: Considered a gourmet delight, escamoles are the edible larvae of the black ant species known as Liometopum apiculatum. Found primarily in the central region of Mexico, these ant eggs are often referred to as “insect caviar” due to their delicate flavor and creamy consistency. Typically sautéed with butter, garlic, and spices, escamoles are enjoyed in various dishes, including omelets, tacos, and even served on their own as a luxurious delicacy.

Ahuatle – More Mexican Caviar: In central Mexico, a few farmers still cultivate ahuautle, the egg of a rare flying bug (similar to a mosquito), to preserve a culinary tradition that dates back to the Aztec Empire. Said to have a “rich but delicate flavor,” ahuautle can be found on the menus of restaurants that strive to stay connected to their ancestors’ way of life. One chef serves a version of fried pancakes made with ahuautle, eggs, and breadcrumbs, accompanied by a green sauce comprised of tomatillo, nopales, and squash blossoms. Its name derives from the Náhuatl language, where “atl” means water and “huauhtli”, amaranth, so it translates as “water amaranth.”

Jumiles – Zesty Stink Bugs: Hailing from the southern state of Guerrero, jumiles are small, shiny beetles that possess a pungent aroma. Despite their unique scent, jumiles are highly esteemed for their tangy and slightly minty taste. They are often incorporated into salsas, moles, and other traditional sauces, adding a distinctive and bold flavor profile to the dishes.

Chinicuiles – Vibrant Maguey Worms: Known as the “red mezcal worm,” chinicuiles are bright red caterpillars (the larvae of the Comadia redtenbacheri moth) found on maguey plants, which are used to produce the renowned Mexican spirit, mezcal. These worms are harvested, washed, and traditionally pan-fried with garlic and spices; you can find them in glass bottles at a good mercado. They are sometimes consumed straight from the bottle alongside a shot of mezcal, providing an intriguing combination of flavors and textures.

Gusanos de Maguey – Spirited Treats: While not technically insects, the presence of mezcal worms, usually white, in the popular spirit’s bottles is worth mentioning. These larvae typically come from the Hypopta agavis moth, and their inclusion in mezcal bottles adds a touch of novelty. Although not traditionally consumed, some adventurous individuals choose to taste the worms, which have a smoky flavor and a slightly crunchy texture.

Chicatanas – Seasonal Flying Ants: When the rainy season arrives, so do the chicatanas – the large, winged ants that take flight in southern Mexico. These seasonal delicacies are collected, toasted, and ground into a paste or incorporated into sauces. With a distinctive flavor reminiscent of roasted peanuts, chicatanas lend a unique taste to dishes like tamales and moles.

Tarántulas – Arachnid Delicacies: Venturing into the realm of arachnids, certain regions in Mexico are known for their consumption of tarántulas, also called, like the stink bug, jumiles. Particularly popular in the state of Hidalgo, these giant spiders are cooked in various ways, including frying, grilling, or stewing. Despite their intimidating appearance, tarántulas are said to have a delicate, slightly nutty taste, making them a sought-after treat for the brave gastronomic explorer.

Scorpiones – Stingers on Sticks: Scorpions are typically deep-fried or grilled to ensure their venom is neutralized during the cooking process. The crispy, crunchy texture of the cooked scorpions provides an intriguing contrast to their delicate flavor. In certain regions, particularly in the state of Durango, scorpions are enjoyed as a snack, often dipped in chili powder or served with lime.

Mexico is famous for its culinary landscape, which thrives on diversity and incorporates unique ingredients that captivate the senses. From the crunch of chapulines to the creamy texture of escamoles and the bold flavors of jumiles, the country’s culinary traditions celebrate the richness of insects and arachnids. By embracing the gastronomic adventure of entomophagy, one can embark on a culinary journey through the fascinating realm of strange insects and arachnids, savoring the exotic flavors that have become an integral part of Mexican cuisine.

Seven Regions of Mexican Flavors

By Brooke O’Connor

When someone asks about Mexican food, the iconic taco springs to mind (see the article by the Chaikens elsewhere in this issue). While tortillas are served everywhere throughout Mexico, and provide the basis of some dishes, Mexican cuisine itself varies sharply by region, and offers much more. The regions vary – there might in fact be a dozen distinct Mexican cuisines. When we see a dish described as a la Veracruzana or Oaxaqueña, what does that mean?

With each cuisine comes history and culture – another example of how diverse and colorful Mexico is.


Starting close to home, the state of Oaxaca offers a unique cuisine that can’t be mistaken for any other region. Apart from being known as “The Land of Seven Moles” (more on mole later), Oaxaca produces cheese, chocolate and mezcal.

Because of the diversity of Oaxaca’s climates, and 17 different indigenous groups with their own cooking traditions, Oaxaqueños are proud of their cultural cuisine. They represent the most pre-Hispanic traditions in Mexico, and many families cherish recipes handed down for thousands of years.

What Is Mole, Anyway?

Mole comes from the Náhuatl word mōlli meaning “sauce.” It refers to a family of sauces and not one recipe. There are hundreds of mole recipes throughout Mexico. In Oaxaca alone, there are over 200 known mole preparations. Some are quite complicated, made with over two dozen ingredients like chili peppers, fruits, nuts, seeds, cacao beans, and spices.

It should be noted that the next-door state of Puebla also claims to be the birthplace of mole. Here are seven well-known moles oaxaqueños.

Mole negro (black), perhaps the most popular mole, contains 20-30 ingredients – including chocolate – and is sweet, savory and very rich. Mole Rojo (red) is sweet, savory, and rich like mole negro, but has other flavors like guajillo and pasillo chiles, tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole amarillo (yellow) is much lighter, less rich and contains things like green tomatoes, ancho and guajillo chili peppers, hoja santa, and spices. Mole verde (green) includes green chili peppers, tomatillos, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), hoja santa, epazote, and other leafy greens.

Mole coloradito (reddish) includes ancho chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole manchamanteles (tablecloth stainer) is named because of the bright red chorizo grease and ancho chili peppers used in the recipe, but also includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, almonds, plantains, and fresh pineapple. Mole chichilo (made from chilhuacle chile peppers) is also rare; it is similar in color to black mole but not quite as thick, and it’s the only mole among the seven that’s flavored with beef.

Oaxaca is famous for some other dishes. Tlayudas are large, thin, crunchy, partially fried or toasted tortillas, covered with a spread of asiento (lard melted to grease), refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxacan cheese, and salsa. Memelas are fried or toasted cakes made of masa topped with different fresh ingredients. An empanada de amarillo is a handmade corn tortilla folded over and stuffed with chicken and yellow mole. Enmoladas are essentially enchiladas covered in mole sauce. A tetela is a triangular empanada or quesadilla that predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Garnachas istmeñas, coming from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, are crispy, thin masa cakes with finely ground beef and pickled cabbage. Caldo de piedra is a famous soup of fish and shrimp soup, heated with hot river rocks. (Don’t eat the rock). Tamales oaxaqueños are filled with cornmeal encasing shredded meat and mole sauce, then wrapped with banana leaves and cooked.

Some miscellaneous Oaxacan specialties include chapulines, grasshoppers of the genus Sphenarium, toasted on a comal with or without spices (see the article by Kary Vannice elsewhere in this issue). Nicuatole is a pre-Columbian gelatinous dessert made from ground maize and sugar. Pan de yema is a rich, sugar-coated egg bread; and Oaxaca’s coffee and chocolate are both highly prized.


After Oaxaca, the cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula is recognized for the variety and originality of its cuisine. There are culinary influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East; Yucateco cuisine is unique in its use of spices like cumin and allspice, and herbs like large-leafed Yucatecan oregano. They also make seasoning pastes with ingredients unique to the Yucatán.

It’s interesting to note that the people of Yucatán Peninsula, which comprises the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, consider themselves a bit set apart from the rest of Mexico. Probably due to geographic position, they have been culturally isolated and have their own unique ways and beliefs. Many locals consider themselves “Yucateco” as readily as “Mexicano.”

This is where we get cochinita pibil (roast pork marinated in achiote and orange, cooked in an underground oven called a píib), panuchos and salbutes (types of tostadas), sopa de lima (tortilla soup with lime), tzik de venado (shredded venison salad), and pavo en escabeche (pickled turkey).


Nearly half of Mexico is considered northern territory, and Tex Mex border food got its inspiration from this region. States considered norteño are Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, all on the border; Sinaloa is on the lower Sea of Cortez, and Durango is landlocked right next door.

We find meat, particularly beef, with very large white flour tortillas and rice everywhere. Pinto beans and Spanish rice are common side dishes. There is also some seafood near the coast, and roast cabrito (baby goat). Nachos and burritos originated here, as well as caldo de queso (simple soup featuring potatoes, green chiles, chicken broth, and cheese) and aguachile (a type of ceviche of fresh raw shrimp, cucumber, red onion, lime juice, and water-pulverized chilis).

Sonora produces coyotas, which are traditional cookies made from flour dough and filled with piloncillo, an unrefined brown sugar. The coyota is named for a female coyote; the term is also slang for a female of mixed Indian and Spanish heritage.


The state of Veracruz lies along the Gulf of Mexico, where the port city of Veracruz is located; the state capital, Jalapa/Xalapa, is high in the mountains. Veracruzano cuisine gives seafood a leading role. There are heavy Caribbean, Mediterranean, and African influences in the traditional dishes. This is also the home of the beloved jalapeño pepper; it is believed that vanilla originated here as well.

In many veracruzano dishes, you can find capers and olives, which rarely appear in the rest of Mexico. Pescado a la veracruzana is fish, particularly huachinango – red snapper – with tomatoes, capers, and olives. Other Veracruzano seafood dishes are arroz a la tumbada (a type of thick saucy paella), chilpachole (thick seafood soup), and acamayas (a shrimplike river crustacean often prepared al mojo de ajo).

Not to be missed if you see it on a menu in Veracruz is mole de Xico – Xico is a city in central Veracruz, the mole from Xico is very rich and sweet.


The state of Puebla produces two of Mexico’s most iconic dishes: mole poblano (an especially complex sauce of dried chiles, chocolate, nuts and seeds) and chiles en nogada (picadillo-stuffed chiles with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds – see Julie Etra’s article elsewhere in this issue). There are also cemitas and chanclas (Poblano tortas, or cakes, the latter soaked in salsa), chiles capones (simple cheese-stuffed chiles). Puebla also gives the U.S. one of its most popular Mexican dishes, chiles rellenos (again, see Julie Etra’s article).

Puebla is also famous for its soups: sopa poblano (a smoky chili soup), chileatole verde (broth and chiles thickened with masa), and sopa de hongos y poblano (made with mushrooms, roasted and diced poblano chili peppers, corn, tomatoes, chipotles, epazote, onions, garlic, and zucchini flowers)


The state of Jalisco is particularly proud. They have a saying that translates to “Jalisco is Mexico,” because many things we would recognize as traditional Mexican culture originate here – tequila, the rodeo and mariachi bands.

The variety of geography from coastline, snow covered peaks, and the largest freshwater lake in the country allow for a variety of foods. The most well known may be birria (chile-stewed goat or lamb), torta ahogada (the Mexican style French dip – ahogado means drowned), caldo michi (a fish soup), pacholas (a ground meat patty with chili), pozole rojo de Jalisco (a broth-based soup with posole [white corn or hominy], vegetables and a variety of meat and condiments).


Last but not least, let’s not forget that the state of California was Mexican land until 1848. So much of what is considered Cali-Mex cuisine is in actuality a fusion of norteño and Baja traditional cuisine.

There are unexpected influences here of Russian and Chinese immigrants. Moreover, Japanese colonies established the fishing industry in Ensenada and even today, fish and shellfish from these waters are sold to Japan’s global auction market.

Caesar salad and margaritas originated here. Seafood is all around you, so you’ll find an abundance of tacos of tempura fish and shrimp, ceviches, grilled lobster, and seafood cocktails. This area now also boasts vineyards, cheese and olives.

Wherever you travel in Mexico there are bound to be delicious food, hearty smiles and gregarious hospitality. However, I’ve found making a point of eating the traditional food, in the areas where it originated, is particularly satisfying.

There is one caveat. Unless you are a connoisseur of salsas, and have a craving for surprises, it is better to ask how spicy hot the salsa or sauce is. Some salsas are made to be used in very small quantities, while others are to be used liberally all over the plate. I often ask, Este nivel de picante es adecuado para los niños? (Is this spice level ok for kids?) Asked with a smile, people are happy to guide me in the right direction.

The Inexplicable, Unaccountable, Ambiguous Taco

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

People on every continent and in essentially every major city in the world are likely to be able to tell you what a taco is, but they won’t have the same item in mind. The only taco characteristic on which everyone agrees is that a taco is a folded tortilla with some content in the middle. The nature of the tortilla and the quantity and quality of the “something in the middle” are subjects of ongoing, everlasting debate.

the etymology of the word “taco” is in dispute. Some contend that it is derived from the Aztec language, Náhautl; the Náhautl word tlahco means in the middle. Others say that in Spain taco means “light lunch.” Yet others adhere to a fanciful story of Mexican silver miners carrying their lunch meat, usually cheap offal, wrapped in a tortilla. The lunch looked like tacos – paper-wrapped plugs of gun powder used to blast open silver veins in the mine.

Which Tortilla?
No matter what etymology you accept, there are still scores of variations in what people think the tortillas look like. In Mexico, the original wrapping was probably made from white corn masa – a kind of tortilla that is still ubiquitous here. The northern Mexican states, where wheat is grown more abundantly than corn, likely introduced flour tortillas as expedient taco wrappers. Today many kinds of tortillas are used to make tacos.

Given the abundance of yellow corn north of the border, tortillas used to make tacos in the US are not white, and often are intensely colored. Flour tortillas used for tacos can be whole wheat or flavored with spinach, nopales (cactus), tomato, basil or many other vegetables. The flour used for the tortillas might even be made from ingredients other than wheat – cauliflower-flour tortillas have recently hit the market. Such tortillas are currently being produced to meet the latest diet crazes: high fiber, gluten free, keto, carb-balanced, sugar-free and so on. Of course, the original handmade white corn tortilla pretty well met all those dietary requirements.

Some say that the corn tortilla is the only type of tortilla that should be use for a taco, but there remains an international dispute about whether the corn tortilla should be soft or a crunchy shell. Soft tortillas predominate in Mexico. But thanks (or maybe, no thanks) to the American entrepreneur Glen Bell, who founded his now multinational chain of Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1962 (he called them
“Tay-Kohs”), some people around the world think that the crunchy taco shell must be used for an authentic taco.

Although Bell reportedly claims to have invented the hard taco shell, in 1960 we were munching down tacos made with hard shells in Los Angeles, at a bar oh-so-creatively named La Cantina, before Bell switched from selling hamburgers to tacos. The shell there was filled with ground beef flavored with onions, cumin, chili powder and other spices, topped with lettuce and fresh chopped tomato salsa; liquids ran down your arm when you raised the taco shell to take a bite. That’s how you knew it was the “real deal.”

What about the Filling?

Today, when people dispute the best filling for a taco, they rarely suggest ground beef, lettuce, and tomato salsa. Nor do they generally suggest the auténtico “real deal” offal such as entrails and lungs that would have been eaten by the Mexican workers who were using the other tacos to blow up areas in silver mines.

The driving force behind nominations for the best taco filling seems to be individual and regional tastes. In coastal regions shrimp or fresh fish – batter-fried, pan-seared, or grilled – are popular, especially when topped with shredded cabbage and a special sauce, ingredients often held as top secret by the taco maker.

In states of Mexico noted for their moles, the main ingredient of the filling – the selection of chicken, beef or pork – seems less important than the sauce that coats the main ingredient – mole poblano, coloradito, verde, amarillo … pick your favorite. Cowboy or vaquero country brings out tacos filled with almost every part of the steer, including one of our favorites – lengua, aka tongue. In areas where pigs predominate, carnitas are a commonly touted filling. And, as Julie Etra pointed out in an article in The Eye (July 2020), pork prepared pastor-style on a spit is emerging as a favorite around the country.

Are Tacos Going Upscale?
Recently, the most upscale and notable restaurants are vying for the most expensive and innovative tacos. Pujol, one of the top-rated restaurants in Mexico City, has leaped into Mexican-Asian fusion tacos on a tasting menu priced at over US$300 per person and sold at a taco bar called Omakase. There you can be served tacos filled with rarified ingredients such as lobster, Brussels sprouts, and macadamia nuts. Perhaps the most expensive taco in the world is reportedly found at the Grand Velas resort in Los Cabos, where a taco presented in a gold-infused tortilla and filled with Kobe beef, caviar and truffled cheese will set you back US$25,000 (not a typo). Our son says, “This is not a taco – it is a statement.”

You need not break the bank to find a really good taco. People who are truly taco connoisseurs vote with their feet, not their credit cards. Find a taco-truck or a hole-in-the-wall taqueria with a long line of hungry patrons waiting to be served. Get on line and listen to the disputes about which of the several tacos being prepared is the best. Order the one whose description makes you salivate the most. Or order one of each type. How many should you order? The number of tacos that can satisfy one for a meal is also a matter of dispute – some say three, some say four, some say more. At a recent taco eating contest the winner swallowed 126 tacos in eight minutes. If he had been downing Grand Velas tacos, that would have set him back US$3,150,000. Everyone would probably agree that that’s excessive. Provecho!