- When: September 2015
- Male DINK Rating: 13/15
- Female DINK Rating: 14/15
- Total Cost: $365; Food Cost: $170
- Subsequent Review: Pujol Review: Haute Mexican Cuisine in D.F.
The foodie scene in Mexico has exploded since I lived there over a decade ago. Look at the restaurant rankings on Elite Traveler and World’s 50 Best over the past few years, and you’ll see the big three in Mexico City: Biko, Quintonil, and Pujol. Since not many cities can claim to have this many restaurants on these lists, Mexico City seems to be a stand-out. I will mention, however, that there are no Michelin-starred restaurants in Mexico because there is no Michelin guide published for Mexico. I’m confident that if the Michelin inspectors went to any of the foregoing restaurants – Biko, Quintonil, and Pujol – they would award one or more stars to each, as they are all that good.
Having this many top-rated restaurants in one city makes the trip a no-brainer.
If you needed further motivation to book a flight, take a look at the current exchange rate for the Mexican Peso! If you forgo alcohol, you can have an excellent tasting menu at each of the above-referenced restaurants for well under $100 a person. That’s essentially unheard of for a comparable meal at a US establishment. Finally, in case you are still on the fence, all of these restaurants are within walking distance of each other and are located in a great, safe neighborhood (Polanco). So, the moral of the story – before we even get into the food and review – is GO NOW!
One knock – and it’s not on the restaurants – is that they do not have Michelin stars, as noted above. So, if you are on a quest to rack up Michelin stars like you’re playing Super Mario, a visit to Mexico City – which will be a great dining expedition – will not garner you any additional stars.
I have the benefit of knowing a bit about Mexico City, and that comes in handy when traveling there. I would highly recommend staying in Polanco (one of the many “colonias” or neighborhoods in the city). Polanco is safe, houses many nice hotels (JW Marriott, Intercontinental, W) and shops, is pretty and walkable, and all three restaurants are nearby. This time, we stayed at the W; however, I have stayed at the JW and Intercontinental before – they are normally similarly-priced, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Our flight got in late, and we had to push it to get to the W in order to make our 10 p.m. dinner reservation at Quintonil (review forthcoming). The next morning, we ordered some coffee and pan dulce from room service and took it easy, awaiting our lunch reservation at Pujol. Yes, I said lunch. With the way our schedule worked out (short trip), we were forced to make a lunch reservation at one of the restaurants in order to squeeze everything in (we had a dinner reservation that night at Biko). We were a bit restless, so we decided to get dressed early and stroll along Mazaryk, a main street through Polanco that is home to many high-end retailers, for a bit. After window shopping, we headed to Pujol.
When we found the small, barely-marked suite that was Pujol, the door was locked…we were a few minutes too early. As we waited outside, a few other anxious diners showed up and joined us. As the doors opened, a very strong smell of smoke and cooking goodness wafted out. We were off to a good start. After being greeted warmly and shown to our table (located by the walk-in wine cellar), our waiter offered us a choice of a few house cocktails. Being in Mexico, I chose something mezcal-based, and Female DINK chose a cucumber margarita. Neither one of us is a big cocktail drinker, but both of these drinks were delicious and creative. We made our individual selections from the tasting menu that was already on the table, were asked about food allergies, and our meal began.
Pujol starts fast and fun. The first course – “Street Snacks” – is a small barrage of exactly that – dishes playing on the traditional Mexican street snacks. Each snack was well-executed and showed a control of flavor. The most memorable, though, was the baby corn. This was served in a gourd with smoking corn husks inside, contributing to the sensation that the corn was hot off the grill. The corn itself was coated with a chile mayonnaise and sprinkled with powered ants. Delicious. My only complaint was that there were only two pieces of corn each – I could’ve eaten a lot more of this.
I had ordered the “Tongue with Broth,” and Female DINK had chosen the “Cuitlacoche.” The tongue was great; it was supremely tender, had a nice bite from the serrano chiles, and was a good portion size. To me, this dish was amazing in its simplicity and execution. The cuitlacoche and chicken liver was similarly good, with the liver having great texture and taste. Female DINK commented that while the combination was initially surprising, it actually worked well.
Female DINK and I again chose different items for the third course – I went with the “Octopus tostada,” and she chose the “Suckling lamb taco.” The octopus was well-cooked and had a nice texture. The habanero mayonnaise, however, felt a bit overpowering. And, didn’t I already have a similar sauce with the baby corn? Female DINK’s lamb taco was served open-faced, dotted with avocado purée and squash blossom flowers. The lamb was amazing, and the upscale taco seemed to work.
I’m going to commit a faux pas and skip the next course (we both ordered the “Rabbit”) because we failed to take a picture of it – and neither one of us remembers it! Failure, I know. I will say, though, that we were both feeling full by this point in the lunch.
The pre-dessert course, “Mole madre,” was a nice change of pace, and the course felt very original and personal. The dish was presented with a dark outer circle of mole that had been aged for “755 days,” while the inner portion was a brighter, newly-prepared mole. The aged mole, as you would expect, had a deep, rich flavor and was a bit grainy (not in a bad way). The new mole was more salsa-like in texture, having a bit more acidity and punch to it. Contrasting the two was fun. Although neither of us finished the dish since mole is rich and a bit heavy, we both enjoyed it. After the mole came a small palate cleanser, a lemon sorbet served inside a lemon – always a nice touch, I think.
The meal finished as it began – with a barrage of small desserts, complete with a small pour of traditional warm chocolate and churros. However, we had a small mishap. As one waitress was explaining the dishes, the waitress placing Female DINK’s chocolate on the table accidentally spilled it, making a bit of a mess on the white tablecloth. While the one waitress continued explaining the dishes without breaking rhythm, the mess was cleaned, a white napkin was placed on the table to cover it, and a new warm chocolate was brought to Female DINK. All of this was done in an urgent, professional, and orderly manner. Great service. Except for the cactus, the desserts were all well done, although I can’t recall each one. Beginning and ending with several small bites brought a nice symmetry to the meal and experience.
Without spoiling the reviews for Quintonil and Biko, Pujol was our favorite of the three. The food at Pujol was the most interesting, and the service was a bit more formal, while still being friendly. And, at under $100 per person, it’s a steal. When we go back to Mexico City, we’ll go back to Pujol every time.
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