The concept and menu of Papalote Mexican Grill is based on memories of sunny Sunday afternoons spent in Chapultpec, in Mexico City, celebrating somebody’s birthday. These gatherings would bring many families together and great pot-luck meals would be organized.
The huge park of Chapultepec is divided in many sections, which include an amusement park, a castle, a lake, and lots and lots of green areas. It was in the primera sección, the first section, that on the day of your birthday (or the closest Sunday to your actual birthday) your mom and dad would set out early in the morning to claim a little area where the rest of your family and friends would meet later in the afternoon.
Ideally you wanted to find a flat spot, so that the food wouldn’t roll down the hill, and one that had at least a couple of trees nearby. The trees served a dual purpose. One was so that your parents could decorate the claimed area (set the boundaries) with balloons tied to a string, which were also supposed to make this area more visible to make it easier for your guests to find your spot. The latter was kind of a pointless task, because by one o’clock in the afternoon (después de misa), la primera sección had more balloons tied to strings than the biggest used-car lot you can imagine. Anyway, you also wanted to have at least one good tree so that eventually someone could climb up it to tie the rope to do the piñata thing.
It was neat to see my dad and my uncles laying on the grass, talking, laughing, not wearing a tie, just hanging out. And seeing my mom and the rest of the moms not telling us to do our homework and letting the kids just run around and have fun.
In addition to the balloons all of these little sectioned off areas had something in common: the smoke off the grill as the grown-ups prepared the carne asada (grilled steak). The smell of food filled the air. Eating was a big part of these birthday celebrations, but for some of the grown-ups, eating was not as important as the actual preparation of the food. Carne asada is different than a typical American BBQ in that you would never dare put anything on the meat other than salt and maybe, maybe a little bit of pepper. Plus, carne asada is always thin steak, so it really doesn’t take that much skill to cook it. Curiously enough then, even though these gatherings are often referred to as “carne asada,” the carne asada has always been the simplest, most basic item on the menu.
When it came time to display their culinary abilities everybody showed off their homemade salads and their salsas, but especially their salsas.
As far as salads go, the best, by far, was always what we called pico de gallo. Pico de gallo was a very simple salad made with jícama, cucumber, orange, lots of lime juice and some sort of chile, usually chile piquín. We just couldn’t get enough of it, and we feel that our rendition now at Papalote does justice to some of the best we’ve had (except, of course, our tía Marina’s, which is hard to top).
Now, salsa was a different thing. All of my aunts and uncles always tried to outdo each other, but nobody was ever able to make a better salsa than our dad’s salsas. Our dad always manages to delight guests, big and small, at any reunion, big or small, with his creative touch. His salsas have always been the tastiest, richest, most honest to goodness sauces the human palate has ever savored. To eat one of our dad’s salsas is to embark on a historical, cultural and spiritual journey in which your senses are awakened and stimulated, and your soul is transported up and down the majestic mountains and mysterious valleys of our beloved homeland. His creations are true masterpieces, each one of them a work of art. Nobody was ever able to make a better salsa than our dad’s.
When we set out to make our salsa at Papalote we knew that we had undertaken an especially challenging task, and that our father would be watching. So, when we finally tasted Miguel’s creation, inspired by our family’s 40-year-old restaurant legacy as well as our dad’s unsurpassable commitment to creating THE perfect salsa, we discovered that we had created something so unique that, with all due respect to our dear father, kicks our dad’s salsa’s ass up and down the majestic mountains and mysterious valleys of our beloved homeland.
The concept of Papalote then, in addition to needlessly talking jive about our dad, is to try to recreate, for your benefit and ours, the feeling we got when we found ourselves in the middle of la primera sección in Chapultepec, on a fine Sunday afternoon. Being there you knew that it simply couldn’t get much better than that: not a worry in the world, people laughing, the smell of food coming from all directions, and sometimes, if you looked up, you could even see a papalote or two, flying way way way up there in the sky.
Find it at
3409 24th Street @ Valencia – San Francisco, CA – (415) 970 8815
1777 Fulton Street @ Masonic – San Francisco, CA – (415) 776 0106
BENNY’S RESTAURANT & TEQUILA BAR (in Denver)
Benny’s is locally owned and operated, serving authentic Mexican food cooked fresh on the premises, offered at reasonable prices. Known for its fun and freindly atmosphere as much as for its food. Be sure to visit their tequila bar for the best margharitas in the Rocky Mountains. Find it at 301 East Seventh Ave, Denver, CO 80203
El Parador Cafe (in New York)
Established in 1959, it is the oldest Mexican restaurant in New York City. Respected as having the best Margaritas by The New York Press and the best Ceviche by The New York Times, Carlos Jacott launched and nurtured the original establishment, first located on 2nd Avenue and 31st Street.
While Carlos was deemed Maitre D’ par excellence, he also made his mark as an all-time great restaurateur. He sold his successful enterprise to Manuel Alejandro in 1990. The torch has been passed to Manny’s son, Alex, a 1994 graduate of The French Culinary Institute, who continues to grow the restaurants following by offering an excellent menu, world class bar & lounge and warm atmosphere.
El Parador is dedicated to culture, care, and warmth. Many of our customers met each other and have held their most intimate gatherings here.
We’re El Parador, the most accommodating restaurant in New York. The answer is yes. What’s your question?
Find it at 325 East 34th Street, phone 212 679 6812
La Veracruzana (in Philadelphia)
Being there is a lack of REAL Mexican food joints in Philly, this place is pretty good. The prices may seem rather high at first glance, but when you see what they put on your plate you’ll understand why. This is a place for the very hungry – ravenous even. Make sure to get a “doggy bag” for lunch the next day. Pay special attention to the guarache and the chilaquiles. Check it out… but book in advance on weekends! phone 215-465-1440
Benito’s Hat (in London)
London’s Tex-Mex eateries are currently ten a peso, and while there’s only one Benito’s Hat, the branded interior looks ripe for replication – no doubt something owner Ben Fordham, a former City lawyer, has considered. Lime and orange walls overlook functional wooden tables, with cactus pots sitting precariously among the condiments.
The fast-moving production line serves some of the best burritos in town. We plumped for one loaded with slow-cooked pork, and loved the soft, floury tortilla, the freshness of the fiery salsa brava (made several times daily) and the black beans, which were authentically flavoured with avocado leaves. Chicken, steak and vegetable options are also available, as are suitably merciless margaritas.
Find it at 56 Goodge Street, W1T 4NB
Border Grill Restaurant (in Los Angeles)
1445 Fourth St. (Broadway), Santa Monica, California 90401, 0-451-1655 USA
Experiencing the Latin-spiced cuisine of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, formerly Food Network’s Too Hot Tamales, has become an L.A. tradition. Like the magnetic personalities they have always displayed, their flagship spot (Ciudad is their downtown Los Angeles gem and there’s a Border Grill in Las Vegas) is raucous, funky and intensely colorful. This is no taco stand or little Mexican joint on the corner but one of the country’s top Latin restaurants. Based on the duo’s travels—and creativity—you’ll find sophisticated dinner entrées such as the adobo pork chop with an apple-tamarind sauce and grilled salmon with tomato-herb salsa.
For starters, the various ceviches, empanadas and wild mushroom quesadilla are terrific, and you can continue grazing—and saving money—on a selection of small plates: green corn tamales, black-bean-stuffed panuchos and griddled tacos filled with everything from potato and rajas to roasted lamb. It’s easy to fill up on the addictive homemade chips and salsa. But, beware, bring a pair of earplugs if you hate noisy restaurants.
Cafe Pacifico (in Sydney)
95 Riley Street, Darlinghurst/East Sydney, NSW 2010 AUSTRALIA
Tel:02 9360 3811, Fax: 02 9360 8974
It was not till the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and then Cortez, that the rest of the world was introduced to some of our most important staple foods. These included Corn, Beans, the Potato and not to forget the Avocado, the Tomato, Chillies, Peppers and cacao..
Mexican cuisine has many influences. The Mayas established a fantastic range of foods in Mexico. Later influences by the the Aztecs, then Spain and its Arab/Moorish cooking (which influenced Spain from 700 AD to 1500 AD) added variations to Mexican cooking along with French and German influences of bread and cheeses.
“Cliche though it is, mouthwatering is the only way to describe the range of traditional Californian-mexican dishes served up at Cafe Pacifico.
Cafe Pacifico provides an unforgettable authentic Meso-American flavour to any evening. When you order the amazing Fajitas, you hear your meal before you see it.
Cafe Pacifico is about atmosphere. Nowhere in Australia is it possible to have such an unique mexican experience, imbued with a sense of style, sophistication and most importantly fun.”
El Torito (in Brisbane)
While the extensive menu offers the usual enchilada/ burrito/quesadilla options, it’s the main courses – priced at about $17 to $23 – that are the star at this kitsch eatery that opened in the late ’90s on Boundary Street. Unfortunately on our visit they were out of their signature mole sauce, as well as pork, meaning several appealing dishes were unavailable. However a $19.90 pollo borracho – diced chicken in a tomato and beer sauce with rice – is delicious, served with a homemade soft corn tortilla and hot jalapeno-based sauce. Soft corn tortilla tacos with slow-cooked beef are just as good, topped with plenty of fresh coriander, tomato sauce and salsa fresca. A cooling horchata – a traditional milky drink made from rice and cinnamon – is the perfect foil to a little spice.
Food: 4.5/5 Beautifully balanced flavours and fresh ingredients, and properly spicy salsa means dishes can be as hot or as mild as diners prefer.
Menu: 4.5/5 Plenty to choose from and dishes probably rarely seen anywhere else in Brisbane. Prices are higher than at the fast-food places but still very reasonable, about $20 for a main course.
Atmosphere: 3.5/5 Brightly painted and with sombrero wall decorations, it looks like a Mexican restaurant from a climatic meet-the-parents scene in an American rom com. But it’s cosy and fun and relaxed and the Mexican and Colombian staff are eager to please.
Total: 12.5/15. You probably won’t find better Mexican-style food in Brisbane.
Opening hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday 12pm-2pm; dinner Tuesday-Sunday 5.45pm-late (kitchen closes 9pm).
Location: 146 Boundary Street, West End (Brisbane AUSTRALIA)
Hacienda del Sol (in Paris)
Located in the Montparnasse area of Paris in the 6th arrondissement, the Hacienda del Sol restaurant is a warm and welcoming establishment. The restaurant serves great Mexican food, which is full of flavour and colour. Discover the extensive menu of delicious Mexican food with dishes specific to each region. The menu is changed regularly and includes many new and innovative dishes such as the Nopale salad (cactus salad, grappe tomatoes, onion and coriander), prawn quesadillas (small pancakes filled with garlic, tomatoes and a creamy cucumber and chilli sauce) or the Cochinita Pibil (pork marinated in orange served with red onions and avocado). Enjoy new versions of traditional recipes all at more than affordable prices