The Magic of Mexico City’s Legendary Mayoras
One of Mexico City’s oldest restaurants continues to make its meals like it first did when it opened its doors—in 1912.
Mexico City has no shortage of eating options. For the diner on a budget, it is easy to stop at any of the many food vendors lining the sidewalks. Travelers would be doing themselves a disservice, however, if they did not make time to experience a proper sit-down meal for a sense of the capital’s rhythm of life.
Though the city lays claim to some of the world’s best restaurants, it is Café Tacuba, which opened in 1912, that is most emblematic of the people and its culture. Perhaps because the restaurant is a seed from which the city sprung up, and continues to do so.
Located in Mexico City’s historical district, just a few steps from where Daniel Craig kicked off the start of “Spectre,” the 2015 installment in the James Bond series, sits the third oldest restaurant in the city.
“The key ingredient and secret have been to keep it the same,” says Juan Pablo Ballesteros, the current owner and great-grandson of Dionisio Mollinedo Hernández, who originally opened Café Tacuba.
“Keeping it the way each generation remembers it has created a certain ambiance. While other people focus on trends, we just try to respect the way we did things in the past and try to replicate them as close as possible.”
Ballesteros credits mayoras—the title given to the women who run his kitchen—with keeping things almost as they were when the restaurant was established. He explains how centuries ago nuns named madre mayor, were tasked with feeding everyone in a monastery or church.
“[The nuns] needed to supply everyone with food, and they spent most of their time in the kitchen making Mexican food with devotion,” explains Ballesteros. “They were cooking for the people. They were cooking for Mexico. Many of Mexico’s recipes were made in churches and monitories.”
There isn’t proof to dispel or confirm Ballesteros’ claims. Patricia Trejo Lozano, who currently runs his kitchen, nevertheless is the third-generation mayora to helm Café Tacuba’s kitchen. Her recipes are original, handed down by her grandmother and made in the exact same way, which often result in longer than anticipated wait times.
And those looking to employ their own mayora should know this: “You don’t find them,” says Ballesteros. “You don’t look for them. There is no mayora school.
“There are only a few who are named this for their specialty in Mexican cuisine and ability to command traditional technique. They share their technique with an apprentice and bestow them the title when they have mastered all the skills.” And Café Tacuba is one place to experience their expertise up close.
If you are walking fast, it is possible to miss the restaurant’s entrance. The exterior is soot covered from the cars rumbling a mere arms-length distance away. Two glass-stained windows book-end a tall, wooden door in which you enter. No one would blame a person for having low expectations based on its outward appearance. But, once inside, it feels as if a secret has been passed on, and only those deemed worthy enough to receive it, have.
One dining room covered in oil paintings and talavera, or Mexican pottery, leads into the next, which leads to a winding staircase, which leads into another massive dining area.
“It’s a bit like the scene in ‘Mary Poppins’ when things keep coming out of a seemingly bottomless purse,” describes Ben Sabel, a tourist from Austin, Texas.
Once in your seat, the magic begins.