Chef James Lowe of the London-based food collective the Young Turks took time last year to travel before beginning to work on his new restaurant project in East London. His travels took him to China, Taiwan, Italy, Copenhagen, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. For Lowe, Mexico was an inspiration.

“I can’t wait to get back to Mexico City,” he says. “I was invited to Mexico to speak at a food symposium called MesaAmerica that lasted for five days, but I ended up staying for over three weeks. I can honestly say that Mexico City was one of the best places I visited, due in no small part to the strong food culture and great restaurants.” Here, he shares some of his restaurant highlights from his first-ever visit to Mexico City.

Pujol
“A trip to Mexico City wouldn’t be complete without going to Pujol. The chef and owner, Enrique Olvera, has created a fabulous restaurant that blends some modern touches with perfect versions of classic Mexican dishes. There are two tasting menus to choose from, neither of which is too big or expensive. The service was well paced and friendly and there were some incredible dishes, such as ant larvae tostadas, sea bass taco with black beans, smoked baby sweet corn, and a dessert featuring rotten bananas. It’s all too often that you find ambitious restaurants seeking to deconstruct classics. Pujol simply nails them.” Francisco Petrarca 254 Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 52/55-5545-3507, pujol.com.mx

El Borrego Viudo
“This one is off the usual tourist track. A bunch of locals actually told me that I’d get food poisoning for sure if I ate here. But I didn’t. And I loved it. It is a small unassuming restaurant with a massive car park where most locals order and sit in their car to eat. The name of the restaurant translates as ‘the widowed mutton,’ which gives you all the clues you need to figure out what food they specialize in. I had a plate of lamb tacos that featured tongue, brain, and shredded shoulder. Eating lamb offal back home will never be the same. I’m a big fan of offal—there is something deeply satisfying about it that I don’t know how to explain. I often cook it in my kitchen, not to offend or shock, but more in the hope that others will realize that it is not something to be afraid of and that it is actually incredibly tasty. The brain tacos were a revelation, boiled and served warm with coriander, lime juice, and raw onion—so simple and delicious. I’d certainly recommend drinking the Tepache as well, a mildy effervescent and alcoholic drink made from fermented pineapple skins.” Revolución, Tacubaya, Miguel Hidalgo, 52/55-5516-4901

Merotoro
“There is a strong regional identity in all of the food in Mexico which I found incredibly inspiring, especially coming from England—a country where that has been lost over time. It is rare to find the food from one region in another in Mexico, partly because of pride and partly infrastructure. Merotoro’s chef Jair Tellez cooks food from his native Baja California. There’s a lot of fish, acidity, and vibrancy in the food. Bloody Marys are made with the addition of clam and shrimp stock and taste incredible. A dish of aguachile, sea urchin, and goose neck barnacles was part of the first dinner I had in Mexico and ended up remaining one of the most memorable dishes of the whole trip. I also ate some of the most incredible tomatoes I’ve ever had—the sort of dish that makes you wonder what the point of ever eating British tomatoes again is?” Amsterdam 204, Hipódromo Condesa, Cuauhtémoc, 52/55-5564-7799, merotoro.com

Barbacoa El Hidalguense
“Barbacoa is a very old-school way of cooking that was used across Latin America and on the Caribbean islands as well. The main meats cooked here are young lamb and mutton. You can order it by weight or cut and it comes with a set of tacos and whatever accompaniments you want to eat with it. Interestingly their lamb comes from herds which are tropicalized breeds of British Black Face sheep which I cook a lot in England. The meat is cooked on the owner’s farmland at 2 p.m. the previous day and wrapped in aged maguey leaves. At 2 a.m. it is taken from the fires and transported to the restaurant, ready to serve for breakfast. The maguey plant is also put to use for the old-school Mexican drink of pulque, which used to be brought down from Hidalgo in large quantities until beer—cheaper and more stable to transport—came along and took over the market. Anyway, it’s amazing and unique and this place in particular is a real chef’s favorite.” José Martí SN, Escandón, Miguel Hidalgo, 52/55-516-6788

Photo: Jayms Ramirez, AFAR.com