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Wandering Chef: Pati Jinich in Mexico

Pati Jinich is the chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC and author of Pati’s Mexican Table, which hits stores March 5. She has a popular TV show of the same name. “I think Americans see Mexican food as being fatty, greasy, and fried or on the other end of the spectrum, very laborious and complex. I try to show people Mexican home cooking.” Born and raised in Mexico City, she often returns to Mexico to research new ingredients, cooking techniques, and enjoy the country’s diverse food scene. Here she shares highlights from a recent trip to Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Celaya.

“People use Mexico City as a stopover but it has some of the most fabulous food.”

El Cardenal
“El Cardenal is among my favorites. It’s been around a long time and they just opened a second location downtown. Here, you’ll find traditional Mexican food that has been passed down through generations. The food isn’t complex. They do a great breakfast, which is a really big deal in Mexico. During the week, Mexicans have fresh-squeezed orange juice and eggs and fruit. This isn’t a grab-and-go meal for us. On weekends, breakfast is like a very generous brunch. Eggs take center stage. Huevos rancheros is a very popular dish, made with warm corn tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs, jalapenos, onion, bean puree, and fresh crumbled cheese and a crumble of chorizo on top. I also like sunken eggs. Instead of poaching eggs in water you poach them in a spiced-up tomato sauce with poblano chiles.” Palma 23, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, 52/ 55-5521-8815, restauranteelcardenal.com

“My husband proposed to me 16 years ago in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a charming colonial town with churches, cobblestone streets, and lots of history. A lot of people say it has been invaded by Americans, but it still has its authenticity. And it has an incredible art scene.”

Moxi Restaurant at Hotel Matilda
“The Hotel Matilda is a very small, very modern hotel that offers a beautiful contrast to the historical town. Its restaurant, Moxi, has been taken over by the famous Mexico City–based chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol. He reimagined the menus with his adventurous, minimalistic-modern Mexican cooking. He does what Ferran Adrià did with Spanish food, but with Mexican food. It’s truly an adventure to have a meal here. I had an interesting crab ravioli that was made out of jicama and a Cornish hen sitting on white beans and Mexican choriza was basted in a very light chile marinade.” Aldama 53, Centro, 52/ 415-152-1015, San Miguel de Allende, moxi.com.mx

The Restaurant
“This is a famous restaurant run by a chef from San Francisco named Donnie Masterson. He is a champion of local, sustainable practices and works closely with local growers and purveyors. It’s real-deal farm-to-table cooking with dishes like grilled pork chop with vanilla-scented sweet potato puree and braised red cabbage. When I visited I had an ice cream sundae with burnt caramel ice cream, marshmallow sauce, and candied salted peanuts. It was outrageous.” Sollano 16  Centro, San Miguel de Allende, 52/ 415-154-7877

La Burger
“La Burger is popular stop on the highway just as you get to San Miguel de Allende. They make the most amazing burger topped with caramelized onions, Mexican cheese, and seared chiles toreados. They also have awesome fries and Mexican-inspired salads with tomato, avocado, and fresh cheese.” Carr. Dolores Hidalgo – San Miguel km. 7.3, facebook.com/laburgerrestaurante

Los Milagros
“For the best-ever churros go to Los Milagros restaurant. They make them from scratch right when you order them and they fill them with cajeta, which is like a Mexican dulce de leche. The perfect pairing is hot chocolate and they make three versions—French, Spanish, and Mexican. The Spanish is very, very thick and sweet. The French is lighter and a little less sweet. The Mexican style has a strong taste of cinnamon.” Relox 17, Centro, San Miguel de Allende, 52/415-152-0097, restaurantlosmilagros.com.mx

Fabrica la Aurora
“This very old factory was turned into a gallery complex and features up-and-coming Mexican and international artists in about 30 gallery spaces. It’s very cool. They also have a lovely café with an outdoor patio set in the middle of the galleries. It is known for its Mexican sweet rolls and cookies and they make really good coffee.” Calz de la Aurora SN  Aurora, San Miguel de Allende, 52/415-152-1312, fabricalaaurora.com

“A very low-key restaurant in a strip mall, Bove is a must-visit. The people who own Bove own ranches that make the milk, cheese, and eggs they use here. They are big proponents of antibiotic-free and organic. They give you an individual earthenware casserole pot that is layered with refried beans, country ham, eggs, grated cheese, and tomato salsa. It’s baked in the oven and comes out all melty and delicious. They also serve incredible coffee.” Local 1-A, Plaza Alhondiga, San Miguel de Allende, 01 (415) 1200891, bove.com.mx

“Celaya is about 40 minutes drive from San Miguel de Allende. It’s not as beautiful as San Miguel because it’s flat and doesn’t have the beautiful hills. But it has real Mexican charm. Downtown Celaya is like a traditional, small Mexican city that you would have found in the 40s or 50s and the food is to die for.”

La Tradicional
“Celaya is where cajeta comes from. I wanted to learn to make traditional cajeta—caramel made with goat’s milk and raw sugar—so I went to La Tradicional. The small factory has been there for nearly 100 years and the cajeta used to be sold through the window in the door. Some nuns took it over years ago and it’s now a small business. They make the cajeta in huge copper pots and jar it in class jars. I smuggled some back home with me.”
Benito Juárez 109  Centro, 38000 Celaya, 52/ 461-612-8706, latradicionaldesalgado.com.mx

La Reina de las Emapanadas del Bajio
“When I was visiting Celaya I saw a line of quite possibly 100 people. The woman I was with told me they were waiting for the best-ever empanadas. La Reina only sells to-go and makes the puffiest, smoothest empanadas I’ve ever had. They make around 50 different varieties including shredded pork and green salsa, and chicken in red mole. All of the food stands you’ll find in this town has been passed down from generation to generation.”
Corregidora Numero 211, Celaya

Photo courtesy of Pati Jinich