The Best of 2016: But Was the Chef Naked?

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I’ll start with the bad news. Pretentiousness ran rampant in 2016.

It’s disturbing to this critic that some of our most talented chefs try so hard to bring contemporary food trends to our tables. We the public willingly shell out mega pesos to consume unctuous dibs and dabs of nothing more than hypotheses. I’m afraid a few cooks are making the rounds of their polished  gastro-palaces  as stark naked as the emperor, applauded by patrons duped into thinking they are privy to a cutting edge dining experience. Others, blatantly ignored by the trophy bearers, toil in less well-heeled venues churning out brilliant, honest fare.

I’ve never had much respect for the slavish following of trend. Culinary-wise, taking this approach begets poorly rendered versions of dishes ill conceived from the get go. Echos of malinchismo resound insidiously in Mexico as skilled chefs feel a need to “create” along international lines. I’ve been ceremoniously  presented drink/food pairings as ill conceived as opera diva Monserrat Caballé’s cringe-making duet with Freddy Mercury. I’ve sampled dishes that sound awful and are. This year, a much ballyhooed new Iberian/fusion locale offered caviar wrapped in jamón ibérico and called this brackish (and laughingly pretentious) concoction a taco. Rutabaga with mole? Feh! Endless attempts to dazzle, wow and awe result in pretty little gems that run the gamut of flavors from torpid to ugly. Or incorporate fashion ingredients – pork belly, kale, beets etc. but do it ineptly. I would much prefer to see classics interpreted or modernized, decent plates of food that would make Julia Child proud. Let’s get out of the lab and back to the hearth.

That off my chest, there’s much to celebrate. Many noteworthy openings took place in 2016, enriching our ever expanding gastronomic landscape;  running themes were the creative celebration of regional Mexican fare, and cooks who resourcefully take advantage of the amazing local/seasonal bounty our land has to offer and do keen things with them. Bravo.

The 10 best of 2016, in no particular order, are:

  • CANTINA FINA; This cantina is, as its name states, ‘fina’ – pretention is not on offer here.
  • SENERI, which features the Michoacán cooking of chef Fernando Martínez
  • PASILLO DE HUMO, an extraordinary Oaxacan ‘antojería’ under the baton of chef Alam Méndez
  • MIA DOMENICCA: this pan-Mediterranean is the best fine dining option in the Roma/Condesa area and amongst the top in the city
  • GARUM is chef Vicente Torres venue for quietly refined, accessible Hispano-Mex cooking
  • AH-UN RESTAURANTE JAPONÉS introduces high-level Nippon noshing to the centro histórico
  • FAT BOY MOVES brings a personal interpretation of David Chang’s modern Korean comfort food to the Condesa
  • PARIÁN CONDESA who needs yet another ‘mercado gourmet’ I would have thought, but the design is great and there’s a lot of good eating here
  • AMAYA;  Baja Californian Jaír Téllez offers honest market-driven fare at his new Juarez venue
  • NEXO opened its doors in 2015 but really came into its own this year; it may be the finest restaurant in the city

Honorary mentions to:
Raiz, which is the re-vamped Kaah Siis and better than ever
Kura Izakaya; my Japanese family would agree that it doesn’t get any more authentic
Merkavá, Daniel Ovadia’s promising new unpretentious Jerusalem bistro
Jacinta Comedor, chef Edgar Nuñez’ relaxed lunch spot
Público Comedor, where chef Pablo Salas refines market food
Las Salseadas which elevates my favorite, the flauta
El Tajin whose kitchen is now in the capable hands of the capable Ana Arroyo
Ricerca Gelatería which offers the best gelato in town, hands down; worth the trip

Special honors are due chef Luís Chiu of Asian Bay who has undertaken the difficult task of educating the public about all manner of things gastro-sino – his regional dinners last year were knockouts.

See my guide to Mexico City in The Guardian

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About The Author

Nicholas Gilman is a food writer based in Mexico City; he's author of Good Food in Mexico CIty: Food Stalls, Fondas, Fine Dining.