Porco Rosso Raises the Bar for American BBQ in Mexico
By Ulysses de la Torre, special to GFMX
The biggest challenge facing the newly-opened Porco Rosso is much like what confronts artists or athletes who display outsize talent in a professional debut: can it sustain the high quality that caught everyone’s attention to begin with?
We’ve seen this scenario before. A new restaurant opens, knocks value for money out of the park, nails everything you want to taste, smell and see in an eating experience, the word gets out, it becomes busier and harder to get a table, and then…Things go missing. One day it’s service. Another day a dish is under or overcooked. Inevitably, portions start shrinking, sooner or later you stop going, and what used to be your favorite new spot becomes just another schlock joint. Most of these we take in stride, but once in a while there’s something special enough that its downfall is all the more tragic. This is the precarious situation of Porco Rosso.
The Roma eatery seems to take its name from a 1992 Japanese animated adventure film about an Italian World War I ex-fighter pilot. In the film, the title character is on a mission to rid the skies of airborne pirates threatening peace around the Adriatic Sea. I cannot see what the restaurant might have in common with the film, but since my review last November of Pinche Gringo, I’ve noticed more places attempting to serve American barbecue. I’ve tried several of them, and before the field becomes oversaturated by what is clearly a burgeoning trend, it’s worth saying right now that the proprietors of Pinche Gringo (not to mention Condesa’s Bocagrande and Del Valle’s Los Po’ Boys) should be very concerned about Porco Rosso.
Let’s start with meats. The best value portion sizes across the board are the “1/2 orden” 400 gram platters, whose weights do not include the bone (the full order plates are 600 grams, but for some reason are more than 1.5 times the price – go figure).
Because we were a party of four and wanted to try as wide a range of items as possible, we took 1/3 orders (200 grams each) of the baby back ribs, the St. Louis ribs, the pulled pork and the brisket.
On the rib front, I preferred the St. Louis ribs over the baby back ribs, but the difference between the two at Porco Rosso is really just a question of how much smoke you want in your pig. Either one of them is still head and shoulders above the competition.
Pulled pork has never been my go-to but is something I always try mostly because I’m just waiting for someone to do something interesting with it. And Porco Rosso does exactly that. It’s still not as strong as the ribs though, so if you’re ordering it with either of the rib dishes, you’ll want to sample this first before your taste buds get coopted.
The brisket was a tad on the dry side though the barbecue sauce helped fix this. Given the effort Porco Rosso seems to put into everything else, it might have been an off day or even an off batch, but if brisket is your thing, I would recommend sticking with Pinche Gringo.
For sides, we ordered the mac & cheese, the creamed corn, the baked beans, the cole slaw and the “papas vaqueras K.C.” Every one of them delivered, but two items are worth drawing attention to: the cole slaw goes pretty heavy on the sesame, so if that’s not what you want in a slaw, you might stay away; and the papas vaqueras, saddled in cheddar cheese, chili con carne, jalapeños and onions could almost be a meal in itself.
For dessert, we had Nomada ice cream and deep-fried oreos, an invention which to me has always epitomized everything wrong with modern society, which is exactly what makes it so good.
The only thing seriously wrong with this generally pleasant venue is the layout.
The floor plan of an eating establishment should have no bearing on the quality of the food, but when the space, like a narrow railroad car, is as uncomfortably tight as it is at Porco Rosso, it’s worth mentioning. At present tables are confined to that space. One of the staff told us they’re still straightening out some technicalities over land use regulations – all the more pertinent considering they grow some of their vegetables on site – so hopefully this is resolved soon. But its proximity to Plaza Luis Cabrera makes takeout ordering a good temporary reprieve to this problem.
The bottom line: the queues now characteristic of Pinche Gringo are indicative of pent up demand for American barbecue and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same at Porco Rosso soon. Let’s hope their quality is here to stay.
Ulysses de la Torre, the Meat Guy, previously guest wrote “Pinche Gringo: So Far from God, So Close to the United States” and a 3 part series on arrachera.