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25 Best Restaurants in Mexico 2016 (Slideshow)

The Daily Meal
May 18, 2016

25 Best Restaurants in Mexico 2016: We head south of the border to find the 25 best restaurants in Mexico, from Mérida to Monterrey to Ensenada

#4 Misión 19, Tijuana

Javier Plascencia, whose family owns everything from pizzerias to the revivified dining room at Hotel Caesar's (whose original proprietor, Cesare Cardini, invented the Caesar salad), has been instrumental in helping to turn the infamous border town of Tijuana into an increasingly serious restaurant town. Looking out on the city from the second floor of a modern office building, Misión 19 — with wraparound windows, an open latticework of wood enclosing the bar, pastel neon accents, and cactuses that look like something out of a cartoon — is Plascencia's flagship, his most innovative and original restaurant. Among the dishes with which Misión 19 tempts diners are a baby kale, avocado, and compressed cucumber salad with cured salmon trout and goat cheese dressing; risotto with heirloom beans, wild mushrooms, and huitlacoche; seared fresh local tuna with cactus, black mole caramel, and pickled shimeji mushrooms; and tablitas (crosscut beef ribs) vacuum-cooked for 48 hours and served with "cracklings" of beluga lentils, chayote, and Brussels sprouts.

#5 Manzanilla, Ensenada

You've got to love a restaurant whose front window reads "Fine Wine, Live Abalone, Rare Mezcal." The hot pink chandeliers and massive wooden back bar (like something out of an upscale cantina from a century ago) that greet you when you enter are a good sign, too. Manzanilla is a place with personality. Husband-and-wife chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris, pioneers of the so-called "Baja Med" movement, opened this Ensenada hotspot in 2000, tapping into the Baja California region’s natural ingredients and resources. “[Baja California] has the best fish, the best alcohol, the best wine, so the combination is just perfect. It's every chef's dream to live [here],” Molina said once in an interview. The menu at Manzanilla is heavily seafood-focused, offering such delights as truly memorable fish with ginger, chile serrano, and soy sauce; oysters steamed with white wine or beer; grilled clams with gorgonzola; fish of the day with chickpea purée, chayote, and seaweed; and for the non-piscatorially inclined, ribeye served with Cambray potatoes; pork loin with vanilla-scented apples and polenta; and a few other meaty specialties.

#8 Laja, Ensenada

When he's not overseeing the cooking at MeroToro in Mexico City, Jair Téllez — whose background includes stints at Daniel in New York City, La Folie in San Francisco, and the Four Seasons in Mexico City — can be found at his original restaurant, Laja, in the Mexican wine country of Valle de Guadalupe. Téllez was a pioneer of Baja Mediterranean cuisine, and is fanatical about using the freshest and best organic ingredients grown around the place — Laja has its own orchard, farm, and vineyard — and in other parts of the valley. Téllez offers a four- or eight-course menu that changes by the week, as he cooks according to the best and most seasonal ingredients available. Menu particulars can be unpredictable, but his salads are anthologies of freshness, his soups are authoritative (a cream of eggplant with jamón serrano, for instance), his seafood is first-rate (marinated yellowtail with preserved lemon), his pastas are inventive (Swiss chard ravioli with ranch egg and beef juice), his meat dishes are full of flavor and perfectly cooked (oven-roasted local lamb with shallots and mustard greens has been a standout dish), and his desserts (white chocolate royal with mascarpone cheese) are delectable. As Laja has its own vineyard, Téllez makes his own wines, and also serves a fine selection of the valley's best.

#12 Altozano, Valle de Guadalupe

Javier Plascencia (of Tijuana’s Misión 19 and Caesar’s, and San Diego’s Romesco, among other restaurants) is at the helm of Altozano, a rustic, open-air restaurant located right on the chef’s own ranch and vineyard. Before (or after) dining, guests can roam around the property and enjoy glasses of wine while sitting atop giant oak barrels or on an elevated seating area that offers breathtaking views of the surroundings. The ambiance is so enchanting that you might forget that food is the whole reason you’re there. Not for long though, as the fare will soon become front-and-center with offerings like an octopus appetizer, a lamb birria main (and Mexican standards like tacos, burritos, and tostadas that are anything but standard), and an assortment of pastas and steak.

#15 La Querencia, Tijuana

Miguel Ángel Guerrero Yaguës, the chef–proprietor of this Tijuana original, may have coined the term "BajaMed." He was certainly one of the earliest practitioners of this tantalizing hybrid cuisine. La Querencia has a hip, contemporary-industrial look: bare concrete floors, lacquered steel tables, and exposed ducts overhead. Subtle, low-tech touches abound, like mounted game trophies on the walls, a tropical fish tank at one end of the dining room, and a row of rusty old cooking implements hanging above the divider that separates the open stainless steel kitchen from the dining room. The focus here is on fresh Baja seafood — scallop carpaccio, grilled shrimp saladCajun salmon, a mixed seafood plate with red and white miso sauces, and hot chiles. Also available are dishes like fresh pasta with several sauces to choose from, like roasted tomato sauce or pesto, lamb chop in pesto sauce, and a range of tacos, tostadas, and burritos employing such uncommon fillings as smoked marlin, giant squid, manta ray, tuna fin stew, and abalone "chorizo" — all of it delicious.

#19 Corazón de Tierra, Valle de Guadalupe

Sitting in this rustic-modern dining room in the middle of Mexico's Baja California wine country, you can look outside and see the kitchen garden from which chef Diego Hernandez culls some of his herbs and vegetables, and the orchard that yields fruit for his tables. What you can't see, because it's 15 miles or so away, is the Pacific Ocean from which the chef obtains the super-fresh seafood, from oysters to octopus to rock cod or tuna, that forms a large part of his ever-changing menus. Add in homemade breads and specialties like roast quail with black beans and honey-yogurt ice cream with banana purée and chocolate crispbread, and irrigate everything with choices from the on-site Vena Cava Winery, and you have an extraordinary wine country experience.

#20 Silvestre, Valle de Guadalupe

An outdoor grill and picnic tables under a canopy hung with ceiling fans are all that chef Benito Molina, of Ensenada's Manzanilla, needs to satisfy touring wine-lovers (and indigenous winemakers) in the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country. Its name means "wild," and Silvestre — open only on weekends, and only from late spring to early autumn — indeed has an attractively unstructured, out-in-the-countryside feeling about it. The menu is fixed-price, including six courses of locally sourced foodstuffs — perfect salads, grilled organic vegetables, lightly smoky grilled oysters, great seafood from all along the Baja littoral (swordfish and tuna are regulars), maybe herb-strewn lamb or Sonoran ribeye steak with grilled scallions and tortillas, and Baja cheeses. It all tastes even better than it probably would in an indoor restaurant; that expanse of vineyard that begins just a few feet away adds real flavor.

#21 Deckman's en El Mogor, Valle de Guadalupe

Georgia-born chef Drew Deckman — who won a Michelin star at Restaurant Vitus in the northern German town of Reinstorf, was executive chef at the Raffles L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, and may or may not have cooked privately for Tom Cruise — became famous for his Deckman’s San José restaurant in Los Cabos. For several years, he'd leave the place in summertime and migrate north to Baja's Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premium wine country, to cook at an informal outdoor restaurant there at the Mogor Badán winery. Now he has moved permanently north, taking up fulltime residence at Mogor Badán, which is also an organic farm — a fact Deckman takes full advantage of. Even the olive oil comes from the property (and seafood from the nearby Baja coast). Dinner is served at picnic tables, outside with a view of the vines or under a tin roof, and the cooking is all done with live fire (no gas or electric ranges). Expect Baja Kumiai oysters, grilled local fish, grilled octopus, grilled quail, roast pork, and other straightforward but perfectly prepared specialties that enhance, and are enhanced by, the local vintages.

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