One great thing about our capital is the proliferation of restaurants specializing in regional cooking from all over the country. Almost every state is represented. While some, like Yucatan and Oaxaca are popular and easy to find, others are hidden away. So when a friend told me about the only place specializing in the regional cuisine of Chihuahua, I had to try it.
The largest state in Mexico is bordered on its northern edge by Texas and New Mexico and on the south east and west by Sonora, Sinaloa, Coahuila and Durango. It has more going for it than those pocket-size pooches and the uzi-toting drug lords reported on in the press lately. A cattle ranching state, it is home to a sizeable population of Dutch dialect speaking Mennonites. The recent film Luz Silenciosa takes place in their isolated community. Chow-wise, the arid land doesn’t produce a whole lot of fresh vegetables, so, naturally, meat’s the thing: beef and lots of it.
Wheat tortillas are as common as corn here, and tacos are often made with wheat and referred to as burritos. They have little to do with those mega-burritos from across the border, as they are simple affairs, just a tortilla holding some filling like their corn cousins. Cheese is another important product here. The Mennonites produce fresh and aged cheeses sold all over the country – their queso Chihuahuacomes in several forms including the well known mild white, good for melting.
La Toma de Tequila is a homey place specializing in the cooking of Chihuahua. Owner Raul Vargas is a native chihuahuense. His wife, however, is from Jalisco, which explains the incongruous use of “Tequila” in the restaurant’s name (they really drink more beer up there).
Vargas, a gregarious gentleman who looks like a Texas cattle rancher, explained that he and his family are on a mission-- to rescue the cuisine of their home state and present it to the world. Because it is so near the American border, local traditions are disappearing faster in Chihuahua than in other parts of Mexico. Many recipes come from the Vargas’ family archives. Ingredients such as special chilies, cheese, tortillas and even mescal are imported for their authentic flavors.
Located on the second floor of an old house, the cheerful tablecloths, yellow walls, old wood floors and Norteño-themed prints are warm and comforting. The small menu features meaty dishes such as two asados, meats (beef or pork), prepared in a red “colorado” or green “pasado” sauce, each featuring chilies of the same names flavored with herbs, and cumin. They’re served either as a main dish or as burritos, the filling wrapped in a long wheat tortilla. Caldillo Norteño is a revitalizing beef broth stocked with shreds of both machaca (air-dried beef) and fresh meat, and cubes of potatoes. The sopa de tortilla is fragrant with cumin and served with chicharrón (fried pork skin), avocado slices, and roast chili strips. The owner insisted I try his frijoles norteñas, warning me that they take time to prepare. They’re worth the wait; saucy dark beans are garnished with chunks of pungent warm Chihuahua cheese, and dried toasted chilies. This could be eaten alone as a hearty soup course. Pechuga de pollo Norteña is a generous slab of grilled chicken breast, slathered with a delightfully complex roasted chili sauce and topped with grilled Chihuahua cheese. If this all sounds too carnivorous, there are several salads on the menu as well, and cheese burritos can be prepared – you still get to sample the excellent salsas (watch out for the green one – it’s not as harmless as it appears).
The lemonade is worth mentioning as it’s particularly rich and not too sweet. The desserts, not on the menu, are exceptional – try the flan baked in a mezcal sauce, or a thin slab of ate de membrillo (quince jelly). Be sure to ask for a sample of their house mezcal – one special bottle contains an entire rattlesnake, for those on a dare. Prices are reasonable here, but be aware that credit cards are not accepted.
La Toma de Tequila
Toluca 28-C (at Baja California) Colonia Roma; view map
Metro Centro Médico (use the “Toluca” exit)
Tel. 5584 5250
Open 1PM – 8PM Daily
Prices range from $150-250 pesos per person including a drink.
This article was previously printed in part in The News Mexico City