The Best Restaurant in Mexico City: An Honest Review of Pujol's Omakase Taco Tasting Menu
On our last trip to Mexico, we were lucky enough to get a reservation at Pujol, in the Polanco neighbourhood of Mexico City. Pujol is one of the best restaurants in the world, as of 2019 it's rated as #13 so getting a reservation at this place is a bit of a challenge but never give up! When we first booked our trip almost everything was booked for months and months but a few weeks before departure, one reservation at 6:30 for the Omakase tasting menu opened up and we grabbed it.
About the Restaurant
Pujol is located in the upscale neighbourhood of Polanco. Polanco isn't my favourite district in Mexico City. It feels too North American for my tastes, and a little too prim and proper. Pujol itself is hidden away on a quiet, greenery laced side street. Walking in you feel like you're entering a peaceful, modern family home. The restaurant moved into this new location recently and the owner designed the entire space to reflect the atmosphere of the food. The blend of the natural outdoor environment and the modern urban design of the interior is incredible. Chef Enrique Olvera first opened Pujol in Mexico City in 2000 and ever since it has been one of the biggest foodie draws for travellers and locals alike. Olvera draws his inspiration for his food from traditional Mexican ingredients and old culinary techniques.
There are two types of reservations you can get at Pujol. One is for the traditional, 5-course tasting menu. There are five different timed reservations available for this throughout the afternoon and evening. But the traditional menu has many more seats available per seating. The Omakase menu on the other hand takes place at the taco bar which only seats about 15 people. There are four different seating times; 1:30 pm, 4:00 pm, 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm. But be warned that the taco Omakase experience lasts around 4 HOURS! So if you book the 9:30 pm time, be prepared to stay up late!
The taco bar definitely felt a little more casual than the table service diners but nonetheless, everyone was very well dressed. There was no dress code strictly enforced but we felt totally comfortable in what we had on. But if I had had the chance to dress up a bit more I think I would have used the opportunity since it’s a nice way to celebrate a special occasion.
I wanted to discuss the cost here since we had a bit of surprise when we went. I had read online, since there are no prices on the official website, that the Omakase menu was $90 USD without alcohol and $170 including alcohol pairings. I'm not sure if this was an option at one point but when we arrived the cost was a set price of $170 USD with OR without alcohol. We had planned on just getting the meal without alcohol so adding another $80 dollars extra per person was an unexpected shock. We thought, "well, we're here and it's a once in a lifetime experience at one of the best restaurant in the world, so let's try and forget about the money and enjoy the experience!" But for a lot of people who budget TO THE DOLLAR this would be a huge problem and so I wanted to be sure to mention that in this review. I don't drink so immediately my heart sank as I felt like I would be getting less for the price I paid vs. the people who get to drink expensive liqueurs. But in this case, let me tell you, I have never in my life had a more immersive, delicious and complimentary experience with my beverages at a meal. I felt like every drink they made for me was so carefully designed and created. And while I do think that my bank account would have preferred the option to not have the drink pairings, the experience of having a drink designed specifically for the thing I was eating was an experience which made every bite taste even better.
Taco Omakase Experience
The Taco Omakase menu was inspired by the chef's love of Japanese sushi tasting menus. This tasting menu is served at the bar. You get to watch the bar staff make drinks and entertain the customers. It felt like a very informal and yet familial experience. I think some people might not have liked this but we found it to be an entertaining aspect to the entire night. The Omakase is a 10-course meal complete with snacks, tacos, desserts and your choice of beverages paired with the dishes. At the beginning of the service, your server will ask what kinda of beverage you want to have throughout your meal. They prefer you select one kind and they will then create a tasting menu of beverages as well, and while I'm sure you could have switched between options they definitely recommended you choose just one for the optimal experience. You had a choice between mixed cocktails, craft beer, wine, mezcal or non-alcoholic beverages.
After you select your beverage, you'll be asked if you have any food allergies or if there's anything you don't eat or drink. They definitely take into account preferences as well as clinical allergies! I have an allergy to fish but shellfish is perfectly fine and they easily accounted for this throughout the service. The people beside me didn't like fish and so their meals were unique to ours almost throughout the entire meal. It was so interesting to see the variety of dishes they created for them. Your server will introduce each dish to you. Our server spoke English very well and listening to her explain each creation was like being told a little short story. Each of the tacos showcased a different kind of tortilla and local ingredients were highlighted inside the variety of sauces served alongside the tortillas. It's interesting to see how different our menu was from someone who ate there a few months before. They definitely change things up for the season. The one big let down when we looked at the menu was that we were not going to get a taco with the famous 1300 day aged mole. We had seen this on previous taco omakase menus but knew it wasn't a sure thing. We were let down but I'm not the biggest mole fan anyways so it wasn't a deal breaker. But if it is for you, be sure to call ahead and ask if it will be on the menu.
As a preface to this write-up, I wanted to clarify that I'm no food critique but wanted to at least document what we ate at this historic meal service. We started our experience off with a cup of what I honestly think was the best thing I've ever drank. It was an simple cup of tea, steeped with the hair of the corn husks and elderflowers. It was sweet without being sugary. It made the flavour of corn come through in the most innovative way. The entirety of the rest of the meal is entirely built upon corn so leading us into the meal this way felt like an excellent way to begin.
Next up was a trio of street snacks. From the left to the right we ate, elote (corn) with a coffee mayo and fried chicatana ants. Before you wince at the word 'ants' don't be scared, they added an astounding flavour and texture to the dish and were fantastic! Next up was a blue corn puff with artichoke puree and caviar on top. This sometimes comes with edible larvae instead of the caviar which I would have loved to try. The corn puff was my favourite of the three for sure! The last item was a corn tofu tamale with chives, which was fresh and a perfect finale to the snacks.
My first selected cocktail was a mango and strawberry agua fresca. My husband went with the beer pairing and had a great time trying all different kinds of local craft beers, some of which were brands he'd never seen anywhere else in Mexico.
The next dish was a raw scallop tostada with sesame oil, habanero ash, chile and lemon mayo. The scallop was so thinly sliced it looked like pieces of paper. Scallops are one of my favourite things to eat and this was perhaps one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. Following this up was the long-awaited soft shell crab with plantain puree, tomato marmalade and shishito pepper. I usually don't like tomatoes but in this sweet marmalade, it was wonderful and a great compliment to the salty shellfish.
The creamy foods to come next were paid with a salty tamarind margarita with worm salt rim. Worm salt sounds pretty gross, right? Well, not only is it not gross, it's absolutely fabulous. Tamarind is very popular in Mexico and is used to flavour many foods and candies and I felt like it was so well paired with the other ingredients in this cocktail. Next, it was time for the amberjack taco with seaweed and avocado. Since I can't eat fish my selection was a portobello mushroom taco with edible herbs on top. I am obsessed with mushrooms so they really couldn't have picked a better option for me. The fresh crunch of the herbs with the creamy mushrooms was marvellous.
I LOVE horchatas and had been avoiding them all trip since none of them seemed safely made with filtered water but at Pujol I knew I would be fine. The one they served me was creamy, thick and filled with spices so rich you could smell them before your lips touched the glass.
Up next was the tetela with octopus and peanuts. A tetela is a traditional Mexico dish, made of a pocket of corn stuffed with various ingredients most popular in Oaxaca. Inside ours was the aforementioned octopus with black beans on a sweet bed of peanut sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of octopus but cooked in this way I loved it. I was then treated to a beautiful looking violet lemonade with flowers inside. Gorgeous and tasty!
Next up was the spiny lobster taco with hoja santa (Mexican pepper leaf) tortilla. The hoja santa is grown right in the backyard of the restaurant and makes for one of the most stunning images I've ever eaten. The lobster was so fresh and sweet and I wish I could have eaten six more! Changing it up a bit, we dug into a pork belly gordita with sea urchin on top. This was a close second of the fave dishes of the night, with everyone's eye rolling into the back of their heads from the complexity of flavours overwhelming their mouth.
My last drink before we changed settings was a ginger lemon margarita. It was spicy and sour and a nice change from the sweetness of the other drinks. The last dish of the main course was a crab chileatole. Chileatole is a thick soup made of corn masa or corn kernels. Ours was cooked with succulent crab chunks and as strange as it may sound to end with a soup, instead of start with one, we found it a lovely, light dish to finish with after becoming almost filled to the brim with food.
After the main course, our server which had been with us all evening bid us adieu and led us outside! Before we got up, they passed us our napkin and said that this was a gift for us to keep. A cute little keepsake of the evening. This was a total surprise and a nice one at that! The napkins design also change up constantly so you’re promised a unique souvenir. The next server walked us through a secret door at the back and gave us a tour of the garden outside where they grow various ingredient used in the restaurant. Finally, we were seated at a table near an outdoor fire-pit. This was pretty important as it was a chilly outside and they even brought me a warm blanket to help keep me warm as well.
We were brought a hot cup of cafe de olla, which is coffee made with vanilla, cinnamon, molasses and cocoa. It was so smooth, subtle and sweet. The perfect nightcap.
Our first dessert was another trio, to mirror the trio of snacks we began the night with. They served us a plate of fresh fruit (for us it was sweet cherries) served alongside a soursop with sake. Soursop is a tropical fruit which I'd never eaten before so it was really neat being able to try out something so different. Lastly, we had gaznate. Gaznate is sweet treat made of a thin layer of dough in the shape of a small tube filled with dulce de leche!
The evening wore on and after we finished the trio of desserts I thought the night was over but was surprised when they brought us out one of their famous churros. Served hot right out of the fryer, it was perfectly cooked and even the most full among us coudln’t' say no. We soaked in the last of the warm fire-pit underneath the lush greenery and finally called it a night. We said goodbye to all our wonderful servers as we walked back out onto the streets of Polanco. Bellies full and bucket list checked!
Is It Worth the Money?
The question of is it worth the big price tag is a tricky question to answer. If you love a foodie "experience" this is unmissable. The way every dish is plated, how the ingredients each compliment each other so well and seem to have this ballet like progression throughout the night was unlike any other meal I’d had. I tasted things I never could have imagined before and truly felt over the 4 hours we were there that we were a part of something very special. I do think the shock of the price (since we had originally thought we could order the meal without the drink pairings) was something which if I had been more prepared would have perhaps made me a little more at ease with the final cost. It's definitely not inexpensive but after chatting with a ton of people who have eaten at other top ten restaurants elsewhere in the world, this ranks reasonably low in comparison. Were they the best tacos I ate in Mexico City? Honestly, no. But I think that's more because they felt like they were more than just tacos. They were something altogether more elevated but inspired by those cheap street tacos which you can chow down on for little more than the cost of the Uber to Pujol. Am I glad we went? Absolutely. It was a once in a lifetime kind of meal for us and something I'd never have understood until I experienced it for myself.
Let me know if you've ever had a similar experience or eaten at Pujol yourself and let me know what your review of it was!