Last summer, on my annual trek to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, I met Chefs Rico Torres and Diego Galicia who had been named to Food & Wine’s list of best new chefs in 2017. Since October of 2013, Chefs Torres and Galicia have been enchanting diners in San Antonio with their celebration of Mexican gastronomy at their restaurant, Mixtli. I was so excited for my hometown to have received some national recognition for culinary talent, and determined to buy a “ticket” to a meal at Mixtli the first chance I could get.
To clarify, making a reservation at Mixtli requires that you buy a ticket on their website through the restaurant reservation software company, Tock. Tickets can be booked up to two months out. I knowingly added one extra night while I was attending Fiesta week, and enlisted the company of one of my three siblings who live in San Antonio. Shortly after having purchased our tickets, I received a text from her: “Do you realize the restaurant is in a boxcar?” I replied, “Yes, have faith…this will be an experience!” (To be fair, not all the culinary experiences that I rope friends and family into end up well, but I had a really good feeling about this one.)
Mixtli is located on McCullough Road near the railroad tracks in a refurbished blue railroad car, and seats twelve people at one long table (so be prepared with some good BS). The 8-course tasting menu is prix fixe, costs around $125 with paired wine and cocktails, gratuity included. Everything is prepared a few feet from the table in the kitchen which comprises only about 1/2 of the space within the boxcar. The staff, which included Chef Torres that evening, totaled 4 people, who plated, presented and washed as the night progressed.
We were greeted by Chef Torres, who explained that Mixtli means cloud in Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecs. Like a cloud, the menu changes, traveling every 45 days to a different region or following a different idea. From the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, to the street food of Mexico, there is no end to the creativity and the menu has never been repeated.
The menu the evening of our dinner, Rediscovering the Mayan Gastronomy, was inspired by the Maya, a Pre-Colombian civilization dating as far back as 1800 B.C. Chef Torres set the mood by explaining that the Mayan civilization stretched throughout present-day Central American, from El Salvador, up through Belize, to the Yucatan peninsula. To envision the Maya is to imagine a civilization thriving off the jungle. They were farmers, fishermen, astrologists, mathematicians, writers, architects, and developed a complex calendar system based on 365 days. The Maya were the only pre-Colombian civilization that mined salt and seasoned their food with salt. They also revered corn, believing that man was made out of maize.
Our dinner commenced with a shot of mezcal. We were encouraged to take a sliced orange and dredge it in salt with ground gusanos (worms) before sipping to enhance the flavor of the mezcal, which was presented in a ceramic bowl made to look and feel like an oyster shell. As we were seated with 10 others, these photos are taken with my iPhone instead of my Canon, but enjoy nonetheless. We loved our evening at Mixtli, so much so that we are trying to find another time to go. To experience Mixtli is to experience another side of San Antonio, one that elevates the Hispanic culture that so defines it as a city to an art form. Salut! xoM
5251 McCullough Ave, San Antonio, TX 78212
All photos by Marci Symington and Liza Lewis for texAZtaste.com.