Tequila, tacos… and tiramisu? From coast to coast, Mexican cuisine is getting an over-the-top makeover, with south of the border-themed eateries cooking up some seriously innovative takes on the spicy staples we’ve come to love and devour.
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’ve tracked down 10 of the most inventive Mexican dishes you can eat today—from a taco full of sautéed grasshoppers to a bacon-wrapped hot dog (yes, really). Buen provecho!
—By Jennifer M. Wood
Where to Get it: Rosa Mexicano
With 15 locations across the country—plus one in Panama—chances are good that there’s a Rosa Mexicano near you. This upscale Mexican eatery gets the eating started early, with a traditional breakfast menu offered at many of its locales. One popular dish is the Nopales con Huevo, soft scrambled eggs and cactus paddle, spiced up with fried pasilla chile and roasted peppers and served with a side of refried beans.
“Our Nopales con Huevo is inspired by a popular breakfast dish in Mexico City,” says executive regional chef Joe Quintana. “It's a wholesome, flavorful dish, inspired by some of Mexico City's finest ingredients.”
Where to Get it: Oyamel
Location: Washington, DC
It takes just $5 and a serious sense of gastronomic adventure to sink your teeth into a chapulines taco—the legendary Oaxacan specialty made of sautéed grasshoppers, shallots, tequila and guacamole. Yep, you read that right: sautéed grasshoppers.
“The chapulines taco is one of our signature menu items,” says executive chef Joe Raffa. “But what most people may not realize is that chapulines are a very traditional element of Oaxacan cuisine, so we wanted to feature them on the menu to enhance the authenticity of Oyamel and people love them! They always come back for more.”
Where to Get it: Border Grill
Locations: Santa Monica, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Las Vegas, NV
When it comes to modern Mexican food, few chefs are better known for the cuisine than Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, co-owners of Border Grill, which boasts three locations on the west coast plus a food truck. When these ladies find a flavor that works, they stick with it. A prime example is their Yucatan pork, an Achiote-spiced pork, slow-roasted in banana leaves with caramelized onions, orange and cinnamon.
“It’s a knockout flavor combination that can’t be beat,” say Milliken and Feniger, which would explain why the pork serves as the foundation for a variety of dishes across locations and meals: at brunch, it’s used in the eggs benedict, which is served with a Manchego cheese biscuit; at lunch and dinner it comes alongside honey lime yams, caramelized Brussels sprouts and pineapple jicama salsa.
Where to Get it: Distrito
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Mexico City comes to the City of Brotherly Love by way of Distrito, chef Jose Garces’ ode to the culture and flavors of Mexico’s capital city. In addition to a vast selection of more than 100 tequilas and mezcals, the small plate-focused menu features innovative twists on classic dishes. The District Chicken is a house specialty, prepared with a chipotle-orange-chile glaze and served with crispy yuca fries and a tomato herb salad.
Where to Get it: My Ceviche
Location: Miami, FL
Given its proximity to the ocean, it only makes sense that the focus at My Ceviche—which has one location on South Beach, and another in Miami’s bustling Brickell neighborhood—is on the freshest seafood the chefs can get their hands on. Enter the octopus burrito, which mixes flavors of Mexico with the Caribbean.
“I wanted to create a unique seafood burrito that would represent the Caribbean as much as it did Mexico,” says chef/owner Sam Gorenstein. “I love octopus, both in ceviches and grilled, and this octopus comes from the waters off Mexico. The contrast of textures and flavors from the crispy and savory char on the octopus against the soft sweetness of the coconut-jasmine rice makes the dish very unique. We top it with our lime-roasted jalapeño mayo and everything comes together just right.”
Where to Get it: Marble Lane
Location: New York, NY
With the launch of The Beach at Dream Downtown, the Côte d'Azur-inspired “beach club” on the second floor of Manhattan’s Dream Downtown hotel, guests have three on-site chances to indulge in executive chef Manuel Trevino’s roots-inspired menu: Marble Lane, Marble Lounge and outside at The Beach.
“I really love this time of year at Marble Lane,” says Trevino, “[as] I get to go back to my old favorites. These lobster tacos were inspired by my time living in Ensenada, Mexico, which is considered by many to be the Lobster Taco Capital of the World. The lobster is tempura battered and topped with a housemade slaw, chipotle mayo and slices of avocado. I like to think of these tacos as a kicked-up version of what you’d find on the beach in Baja, served right here on our ‘beach’ at Dream Downtown.”
Where to Get it: Topolobampo
Location: Chicago, IL
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless—who hosts the PBS show Mexico: One Plate at a Time and won the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters—has got Mexican cuisine covered in the Windy City, where he founded two award-winning restaurants in 1987. At Topolobampo (sister eatery to Frontera Grill, which you probably know from its line of gourmet foods, available nationwide), the menu changes monthly and includes a regularly-rotating roundup of Mexican festival food and regional specialties. One standout is the Mogo Mogo, a beef short rib “wedding stew” wrapped in a golden sweet plantain with housemade cheese and whey, sprinkled with a spiced pineapple dust.
Where to Get it: El Güero Canelo
Location: Tucson, AZ
Hot dogs may be considered an American tradition, but they’re a staple of the Mexican culinary scene in Tucson, too. Usually referred to as Sonoran dogs, these bacon-wrapped frankfurters—served in a soft roll and topped with tomato, onion, pinto beans, jalapeño, cheese and mayo—are the specialty of El Güero Canelo. The proprietors promise that, “Once you have it, you’ll love it.”
Where to Get it: Mexicue
Location: New York, NY
Southern cooking goes south of the border at this New York City eatery, which boasts two permanent locations (one of which is their test kitchen) and a food truck. In addition to the customizable menu of rice bowls, burritos, tacos and sliders (where proteins include burnt ends beef chili and pulled pork), there’s an array of sides, including this cheddar, jack and Cotija mac and cheese. “Our Green Chili Mac & Cheese is a Mexican spin on the classic southern BBQ side dish,” says co-founder Thomas Kelly. “Our salsa verde and roasted green chilies give this creamy comfort food some added flavor and heat.”
Where to Get it: Lolita
Location: Philadelphia, PA
The classic Italian trifle gets a Mexican makeover in this sweet twist on dessert. Diners at this innovative Philadelphia eatery make sure to save room for dessert, which here means Kahlua- and espresso-soaked lady fingers layered with a canela (a.k.a. cinnamon) and praline mascarpone cheese, toasted hazelnuts and fresh whipped cream.
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