There’s no place like Mexico. The culture, the people, the many cities, towns, and beaches—there’s so much to discover. But something new has been happening in this country, a culinary movement that is putting Mexico on everyone’s lips. Recently, a new generation of chefs has been taking traditional fare and giving it their own updated spin, making the foodie scene in Mexico one now rivals the best food cities in the world.
There are countless places where this movement is thriving (and too many to talk about here!), but some of the most notable are Tulum, Mexico City, and Baja Mexico. Here’s why everyone wants to eat in Mexico right now, and—spoiler alert—this will make you hungry.
Prestigious Pedigree: Tulum
This bohemian chic beachside town has long been an “it” destination for travelers in the know. Less than a 2-hour drive from Cancun, it’s worth the trek if you’re looking for some of the best meals in the Yucatan Peninsula. Arguably, this all started in 2010 with Hartwood, creating not only a drive for local, seasonal and expertly prepared food but an audience who would travel from all corners of the globe wait in line for it. With this momentum, several other restaurants joined the contemporary, thoughtful bandwagon, culminating in last year’s highly publicised, pricey pop-up from former Noma chef, René Redzepi. Although short-lived, his seven-week restaurant was one of the hottest meal tickets in the world, the effects on Tulum’s culinary scene have been lasting.
With no electricity and a completely outdoor restaurant, Hartwood is the brainchild of Brooklyn chef Eric Werner and his partner, Mya Henry. All the cooking is by open fire with a handmade wood-burning oven and grill, the entire place is candlelit, fish is spear caught in the Caribbean, produce comes from local Mayan farms, everything is composted, the restaurant itself has zero carbon footprint, and the food will transport you to a wonderful, magical, happy place.
Another must-visit is Mur Mur, an open-air, jungle restaurant by chef Diego Hernandez, who also has restaurants Verlaine in Los Angeles and Corazon de Tierra in Baja California. Like Hartwood, it centers on local produce cooked on a griddle and a wood-fired oven, but where it differs is that Hernandez pays special attention to putting an international twist on traditional ingredients and is heavily influenced by the cuisine of where he’s from: Baja and the Pacific Coast.
Established Scene: Mexico City
The epicenter of Mexico’s fine dining scene, this is where the contemporary food trend has really caught fire—some of the city’s restaurants have been recognized as being among the top 50 in the world. The ideal destination for anyone who’s interested in food, there are so many excellent, original restaurants to choose from, it’s dizzying. Over the past decade, exceptional chefs have taken Mexican cuisine and translated it to something completely new, original and impossible to resist.
One such restaurant is Pujol, which had its major breakthrough in 2010, when chef Redzepi came, ate, fell in love, and told the rest of the world. The chef, Enrique Olvera (a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America) opened this contemporary-style restaurant in 2000 with the aim to use indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking methods for food combined with French-style refinement. One of his most famous dishes (featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table) is the Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo: a plate with a perfect circle of fresh mole sauce encased in an outer layer of mole that has been aged for more than 1,000 days. Olvera now has a New York city outpost too, Cosme.
At Biko, Mexican-Spanish fusion is the order of the day. Biko has become one of Mexico City’s best high-end restaurants under chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso. The menu changes according to season and availability of fresh ingredients and the cuisine is refined, simple and a perfect match for the restaurant’s minimalist decor. The signature appetizer, Foie 100% Algodon (liver 100% cotton), is a stylish plate of whipped foie gras served with different accompaniments depending on the season, including a version that has iceberg lettuce, cheese, and cotton candy.
Fusion Flavors: Baja California
Its no surprise that this Mexican state, that starts just south of San Diego and makes its way along the rugged Pacific coastline, has become a culinary mecca. With an abundance of fresh seafood, a strong cultural identity and a steady stream of tourists looking for their next meal, this whole area, from the border town of Tijuana right to the tip of Cabo San Lucas, is packed with restaurants you’ll want to add to your culinary bucket list.
The term Baja Med—traditional Mexican cuisine combined with ingredients and flavours that flourish in Baja California’s Mediterranean-like climate—is said to have been coined by Tijuana chef Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagues, who was one of the first to adopt this style at his restaurant La Querencia. With a very cool, contemporary-meets-industrial feel (complete with concrete floors, steel tables and exposed overhead ducts), the blackboard-style menu focuses on local seafood. Scallop or marlin carpaccio, grilled shrimp, octopus or a mixed seafood plate are featured, as well as a range of tacos, tostadas, and burritos with surprising ingredients like tuna fin stew and abalone chorizo.
Tijuana native Javier Plascencia, whose family has a long history in the culinary scene, has also been instrumental in helping to turn this border town into a fine dining destination with Mision 19. Located on the second floor of a modern office building, the dining room wows with wraparound windows and sleek wood tables and chairs accented by bright red. Like Yagues, Plascencia considers his style Baja Med, sourcing his food from a 120-mile radius, including not only Tijuana markets and local Baja farms and vineyards, but also farmer’s markets in San Diego.
Further south, in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains in San Jose del Cabo, lies Flora’s Field Kitchen. This 10-acre organic farm offers the ultimate in local farm-to-table dining. All ingredients come from the farm owned by Gloria and Patrick Greene; breads are made in a wood-fired oven and the free-range meat comes from their nearby 150-acre ranch. Everything is served family style and in the evenings (and on Sundays), the wood oven is used to craft Neapolitan-style pizzas with toppings like homade lemon ricotta and thyme.
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