Imagine a fine dining experience where you mostly only eat with your hands. That’s the Omakase Taco Bar at Pujol. An elegant, refined meal where you barely touch cutlery.
Chef Enrique Olvera put Mexico on the map in the culinary world. With Pujol, he began his culinary empire that made diners and critics look at Mexican cuisine with new eyes. Pujol holds the #9 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is considered the top restaurant in North America.
Olvera’s food teaches us that Mexican cuisine is more than rice and beans and tasteless tortillas. It’s rich, complex, and beautiful, just like the country and culture from which it comes.
The Omakase Taco Bar is a unique dining experience within the stunning restaurant, Pujol. With four seatings throughout the day, diners are taken on a 3-hour journey, similarly to how one might enjoy a meal at a sushi bar – letting the chef lead the way.
This 10-course meal is unlike any dining experience I’ve had. Tacos, tostadas, and mole were typical meals growing up. So to experience fine dining with these dishes and flavors was emotional and felt quite personal. It was a new yet familiar experience that left an impression – one I’m still thinking of days later.
Once seated, you’re greeted by animated bartenders that will serve as the guides of the experience. You’re given a choice of pairing the meal with artisan beers, Mexican wines, or mezcal.
Unlike with most fine dining restaurants, the alcohol pairing is included in the price of the meal. For those that don’t drink, non-alcoholic pairings are available as well.
We opted for the wine and mezcal pairings, sharing both throughout. The wines (all whites and rosés) ranged from a Sauvignon Blanc from Valle de Guadalupe to a rosé made of Grenache. Carefully selected, the wines showcased Mexican winemaking, an industry not commonly associated with the country. All were delicious, and the bartenders were generous, never leaving glasses empty.
The variety of mezcal served was also excellent. Although relatively new to the spirit myself, it was fun to try those made by some of the best producers in Mexico. A particular favorite being a selection by Lalocura, a small producer from Oaxaca that only sells from the palenque (or distillery) and to a few select venues throughout Mexico, one of which is Pujol.
The meal begins by paying homage to street food – a staple of Mexican cuisine. Three “street snacks” are brought out and laid in a perfect diagonal in front of each of the 11 seats at the taco bar.
First, a corn tamale that has a consistency similar to a thick pudding. Then, my favorite, a blue corn tostada with escamoles, ant larvae that the server referred to as Mexican caviar. Last, one of Pujol’s famous dishes – baby corn with coffee mayonnaise and Chicatana ants.
Chicatana ants are flying ants that come out at the first rain. Seeing as you can only get them 4 or 5 days of the year, Olvera calls them the ultimate luxury and fell in love with them while in Oaxaca.
The street snacks are a wonderful introduction of what’s to come. Delicious bites that introduce traditional dishes and ingredients in distinguished ways.
Serving as my initiation into the world of insect-eating (a practice that is quite normal in Mexico) my palate was both excited and intrigued. Not only did the street snacks taste great, they also established my newfound love of escamoles. I didn’t expect to walk away with a taste for ant larvae, but well, that’s Pujol for you.
Next came the scallop tostada. A crispy corn tostada topped with thinly sliced raw scallops, charred avocado, cilantro, red onion, chile de arbol, and sesame oil. Reminiscent of ceviche, this dish was a standout. It was so fresh and tasty – I could have easily eaten another.
The first taco of the evening starred a beautifully crispy soft shell crab. Nestled in a yellow corn tortilla with shishito pepper, shiso leaf, tomato marmalade, and plantain puree, each bite got even better. It came served with a deliciously fresh zucchini and chili poblano salsa. The tomato marmalade added a hint of sweetness that complemented the fried crab and aromatics of the shiso leaf perfectly.
Honoring the roots of the Omakase experience, the next taco was a wonderful blend of Japanese and Mexican cuisine. Kampachi, or Amberjack, sashimi came layered with avocado, creating a beautiful mosaic on a pink corn tortilla. The fish came topped with seaweed and yuzu adding nice citrus and salt to the almost too pretty to eat “Mexicanese” dish.
Next, was a dish called a tatela. A triangular deep-fried dumpling of masa that was filled with octopus, longaniza sausage, and hoja santa leaf. The hoja santa leaf added refreshing aromatics, making the dish feel much lighter than it actually was. A creamy yellow puree made of chiles and peanuts came alongside the tatela, adding a rich nuttiness and spice.
Flakey black cod then took center stage on a yellow corn and hoja santa leaf tortilla. Accompanied by black bean puree, longaniza, and pico de gallo with habanero, the taco was full of flavor. It was the skin of the cod, however, that stole the show. Crisped like a fish version of chicharron, it was truly mouthwatering.
As a departure from the tacos, we were treated to a chicharron gordita. The fried ball of pork belly had a secret talent of somehow not being too rich or heavy. There was a lightness to it that was only enhanced by the complementing lettuce chiffonade and fresh pico de gallo that topped it.
While the gordita was delicious, it was the tomatillo salsa that really made the dish. The green sauce was full of citrus and flavor, but not spicy at all.
Being a lover of spice, it took me by surprise. I’m partial to red and spicy salsas – the two things that this salsa was not – but nonetheless, this one had me craving more. It was the epitome of what a mild salsa should be.
In a meal like this, there are no losers. With that said, what came next was my least favorite. While still tasty, it was just the lowest on the totem pole of amazing dishes that made up the experience.
King crab chileatole – a corn soup with sweet morsels of king crab and chayote squash that came topped with chives and chile manzano, or apple chile, a chile aptly named for its appearance that resembles an apple. The soup was silky like a corn milk, yet lighter than the richness would suggest.
You know the scene in Pixar’s Ratatouille where the infamously harsh restaurant critic tastes a bite of the ratatouille made by Remy the rat? Then he’s brought to tears with flashbacks of his childhood. Well, Olvera’s famous mole was my ratatouille moment. There were no tears (that i’ll admit to), but at first bite, I was instantly transported to my youth, enjoying one of my favorite dishes. Although so emotionally familiar, the taste was unlike any mole I have ever had and by far the best – no offense, Mom!
The mole dish served at the taco bar is perfection. While quite simple in appearance, this dish is anything but. A tortilla covered in a reddish mole comes served atop a perfect circle of a dark mole. Finished with toasted sesame seeds, the colors and minimalism make you wonder, “Is this really it?”. A taste is all it takes to make any question wash away.
This dish is far from simple. In fact, it’s so intricate that it puts most French sauces to shame. Pujol’s mole is made of about 100 ingredients. The dark mole, known as Mole Madre or Mother Mole continues to cook over time. Similar to the solera method of aging wine or vinegar, Olvera has been adding fresh mole to the old batch for over 5 years. At the time of our dinner, the Mole Madre was 1,890 days old,
As with most sauces, nothing builds flavor quite like time. Intensely colored, the mole was rich in toasty flavors and complex spices. It also had a wonderfully profound sweetness. In comparison, the new mole was lighter in color and a bit spicier. While equally delicious, it lacked equal depth. A depth that only comes with age.
Accompanied by a tortilla with hoja santa leaf and sesame seeds, the dish was taken to the next level. The aromatics from the leaf, the earthiness from the corn of the tortilla, and the extra toasted flavors from the sesame seeds paired so beautifully with the mole. It was the first time I had mole without a protein, and it wasn’t missed at all.
Chef Olvera admits to liking change. He doesn’t select his menu based on seasonality or trendy ingredients. He creates dishes based on what he likes eating. If he gets bored with a dish, he makes a new one. Pujol’s renowned mole, however, is a staple.
To end the meal, we were invited to the serene patio in the back of the restaurant. Lit by candles and fire-pits and surrounded with greenery, it was both relaxing and beautiful.
We were then treated to three variations of mango – a refreshing mango sorbet, a subtly sweet mango tamale, and slices of fresh mango.
Just as we thought the meal had come to an end, two cups of coffee and a spiraled disc of a churro were brought to the table.
The coffee was a traditional preparation called café de olla, or pot coffee. It’s made in a clay pot with sugar and cinnamon, resulting in a sweet and aromatic caffeine kick.
As a lover of churros, I was very excited to taste Pujol’s version. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. It had a nice crispiness to it and the inside was airy, resulting in a churro that was light, sweet, and addictive. So addictive in fact, the server even brought us a second one. Indulging like the gluttons we are, we polished off the second churro and were left feeling totally and completely satisfied.
Fifteen dishes and three hours later, I was actually sad to leave. The restaurant itself is absolutely gorgeous. Both sleek and modern, it’s quite the setting to enjoy such a meal. Finishing off in the patio is a nice touch as well. It almost made it feel as if we were in a friend’s home rather than one of the best restaurants in the world.
The experience as a whole pushes boundaries, yet in a comfortable way. I mean, we ate bugs and nobody batted an eye! Enrique Olvera has redefined Mexican cuisine for the world, and to experience that firsthand was a memory to cherish.
Things to Know:
Mexico City is generally a bit more formal than other cities, but business casual or smart casual is fine. Look neat and put together, and you’ll be fine.
$3332 pesos or about $175 USD per person. This includes the set food menu and your choice of drink pairing. Both alcoholic and nonalcoholic options are available.
It is customary to tip 10-20% in Mexico at a restaurant where tip (propina in Spanish) isn’t included.
Reservations are required and can be made on OpenTable. Plan ahead as the restaurant does fill up. Lunches tend to be easier to book than dinners. There are separate bookings for the regular restaurant and the Omakase Taco Bar, so make sure you’re booking for the experience you want.
The 10-course Omakase experience lasted about 3 hours. You could spend a bit longer in the patio after the meal if you wanted, but allot 3-4 hours to be safe.
Pujol is in Polanco, a ritzy neighborhood of Mexico City. It’s easily accessible by metro or Uber. Ubers are readily available and they’re very affordable, so we usually opt for an Uber Black. On Pujol’s website, they recommend that if taking an Uber you input the address manually (Tennyson 133, Polanco) because a glitch in the driver app sometimes takes people to the old location.
When you sit down, you’ll be asked if you have any allergies or if there is anything you don’t eat. Let them know of any dietary restrictions, and they’ll be sure to accommodate. If your requirements are very particular or uncommon, I’d recommend letting them know ahead of time just to be safe. For the most part, you should be fine just letting them know once you’re seated.
>> Have you dined at Pujol’s Omakase Taco Bar?? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought!