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What's Hot in Mexican Food: 6 Trends for 2014

By Nils Bernstein
April 29, 2014

American diners are getting much smarter about their Mexican food - demanding homemade tortillas, inventive new dishes and more. Thankfully, chefs and restaurants are delivering the goods, with menus that go way beyond margaritas and tacos. Here, we round up the most interesting trends happening in the world of Mexican cuisine in the U.S.

  • Tortas Ahogadas

    Tortas, the overstuffed Mexican sandwiches that come in countless permutations, have been hot for a while, and the new star is the pride of Jalisco state, the torta ahogada. A kind of Mexican French dip, it’s usually filled with shredded pork and drenched (ahogada means “drowned”) in a smooth tomato- or chile-based salsa and garnished with pickled onions. Delicious versions can be found at La Superior in Brooklyn, Poquito’s in Seattle, Cuco’s in Columbus and Mission Taco in St. Louis, not to mention a slew of shops entirely devoted to them in parts of Chicago and East LA.


     

  • Lime Alternatives

    A perfect storm of disease, bad weather and criminality in Mexican lime country has resulted in lime prices skyrocketing; some U.S. bars have reported prices quadrupling in the last three months. With no relief in sight, bartenders are looking elsewhere for a replacement acid to balance tequila’s richness - other citrus fruits, hibiscus, tamarind, verjus, even tart tomatillos. Tallulah’s in Seattle pairs tequila with a lemongrass-chile shrub (above), and Chicago’s Violet Hour shakes it with lemon, tart cherry liqueur and an egg yolk. The lime shortage actually dovetails nicely with the rediscovery of soda-fountain-era souring agents by modern mixologists: Julian Cox from LA’s Rivera offsets strawberry-infused tequila and Cocchi vermouth di Torino with lemon and acid phosphate, and at Sage in Las Vegas, Craig Schoettler blends blanco tequila with fresno chile juice and malic acid.

  • Aguachile

    This ceviche-style dish (literally, “chile water”) from the north Pacific coast, composed of raw seafood in a thin fiery lime-and-chile marinade, has become ubiquitous throughout Mexico and is finally spreading stateside with some smart tweaks: the new El Vez in NYC serves a snapper aguachile with ginger, cucumber and toasted morita chile; Jose Andres’ scallop aguachile at Oyamel in Washington, DC, includes apple and hearts of palm, while Oakland’s Nido trades the typical green chile for russet dried chile de árbol in their aguachile rojo. At Revolver Taco Lounge in Ft. Worth, the hamachi aguachile is smoked tableside – lift the lid of the covered glass serving dish to release the smoke before eating.

  • Baja Wine

    Wines from the Baja Peninsula - where winemaking has existed since the 1700s but underwent a renaissance starting in the 1980s - have been getting much-overdue recognition in the last few years. Many U.S. restaurants are finding it a natural alternative to beer or margs, and part of educating the public about the range of Mexican gastronomy. Find some great Baja wines at Babita’s Mexicuisine in LA and Barrio Café in Phoenix, while Chicago’s Topolobampo has a separate list of wines from Valle de Guadalupe with over 20 bottles and Houston’s La Fisheria has the first all-Mexican wine list in the U.S.

  • Naturally Gluten-Free

    Most Mexican food is naturally gluten-free - a fact that is not lost on savvy restaurateurs, who are increasingly touting the fact with menu coding or entire separate gluten-free menus. While some devious restaurants thicken sauces with flour, the main gluten culprits are from northern Mexico, home of flour tortillas and battered fish tacos - the rest of the country uses various kinds of ground maize to make chips, tortillas, tamales or other starchy items. Famed chef Hugo Ortega recently told Gluten-Free Living Magazine that, without intending it, his cookbook is gluten-free except the desserts – “wheat flour is for bread and pastry.”

  • Mexican Craft Beer

    In 2012, when Anheuser-Busch InBev bought Grupo Modelo, one of two brewing conglomerates that make every Mexican beer you’ve heard of (the other being FEMSA, owned by Heineken), it put the entire mainstream Mexican brewing industry under foreign hands. This kicked Mexico's already-active microbrew scene into high gear. There are hundreds of quality craft brewers from every part of the country; many, especially from Baja, are just beginning U.S. distribution, but look for an exponential increase this coming year. Follow the scene at the blog Por La Cerveza Libre, and look for labels like Minerva, Tijuana, Rámuri, Calavera and Tempus.  Baja Brewing Co.’s Cabotella blond ale is now available throughout California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, and Romesco in Bonita, CA, has Cucapá’s Chupacabras Pale Ale on tap.

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