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5 Restaurants Nail Mexico City’s Latest Culinary Trend

Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.

In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican Cooking. Using international culinary techniques but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them. These five restaurants represent the best of this trend.

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Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation: Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limn — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.

An earlier generation of chefs paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head of New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained and even autodidact chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. They are taking advantage of the amazing wealth of products that Mexico produces: vegetables and fruits both known and exotic, “pre-Hispanic” ingredients such as insects and flowers. They are working with indigenous and international organizations like Slow Food to save disappearing varieties of corn and beans. They are supporting the production of artisan wines, beers, olive oils and cheeses. And they are doing their best to buy local, sustainable foods — amazingly, a lot of produce is grown within the limits of Mexico City.

The capital and its environs have become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions that are being forged every day.

Zester Daily contributor Nicholas Gilman is a founding member of a Mexican chapter of Slow Food International, the author of "Good Food in Mexico City: Food Stalls, Fondas and Fine Dining" and served as editor and photographer for the book "Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler." He has a website,, and has appeared extensively on radio and TV in the U.S. and Mexico. He lives in Mexico City.