While in Mexico’s capital, indulging in a high-quality meal is one of my must-do Mexico City activities., but with so many choices, where should you go? I highly recommend PEHUA, one of Mexico City’s newest spots for haute Mexican cuisine. Like other fine restaurants in Mexico City, PEHUA’s quality and creativity rivals Michelin-starred establishments. However, the menu prices rival those of an ordinary, upscale eatery in the States.
PEHUA opened in January 2017 and currently has chefs Raul Valencia and Monica Lezama (alum of Pujol and Astrid & Gaston in Lima) at the helm. As you’ll see in the tasting menu, I enjoyed their vegetable-forward dishes with complex yet classic Mexican flavors, reminiscent of something you would find at Pujol. The restaurant has a prime location in walkable La Condesa.
PEHUA is open for lunch and dinner, from 1 to 5:30pm and from 7 to 10:45pm, every day except Sunday. Reservations are encouraged, which you can book on OpenTable.
The dining space is one open room, with about 15 tables. We estimated the restaurant could accommodate about 40 people inside, with another 10 or so seats outside. When you enter the dining room, you step down a few stairs from the street, which lends a cozy, homey vibe. The decor is minimal, just a few colorful pillows on the bench seats on the perimeter of the dining room, which allows you to focus on the food. We dined alongside a mix of business people and tourists.
The Food at PEHUA
Since I dined at Quintonil previously, I had an inkling of what the presentation and flavors might be like. But, the food at PEHUA, which is vegetable-forward and arranged with meticulous precision, blew me away. The dinner menu contains a la carte options and a tasting menu. However, when we saw the tasting menu was only $1000MXN (roughly $55 USD), there was no going back. Tasting menu it is!
After placing our order, we chose two cocktails from the drink menu – both with mezcal, of course! We tried a mezcal margarita with pineapple and an herbaceous, smoky mezcal cocktail made with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur. The pineapple drink was too sweet for me, but I really enjoyed the Ancho Reyes-mezcal combo.
After tasting our drinks, the server presented the amuse: A sweet potato paper cone with vegetables and avocado. The blend of veggies and avocado had a mousse-like texture. I ate it in one bite, and the contrast of the crunchy “paper” and smooth avocado was exquisite.
Once we finished the amuse, our server brought a bread “basket” (actually a knitted purple pouch which you can see above) with two varieties of Mexican-style bread. The accompanying tamarind sauce was tasty.
Tasting Menu at PEHUA – First Course: Pulque, Strawberry, Pink Pepper
The tasting menu began with a sorbet made from pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave sap. Some flavorful edible flowers, pink pepper, and frozen strawberries topped the dish. It was served cold, and it was not sweet, just a little earthy and salty from the pulque. With our palettes cleansed, we were ready for the next one!
Second Course: Mussel, Tomatillo, Coriander, Ginger
The second course was a seafood gazpacho of sorts. The server presented the bowl containing diced mussel and tomatillo in a coriander-ginger brother. He instructed us to stir the dish so we could enjoy bites with a combination of every flavor. The flavor didn’t taste as fishy as I expected, and the coriander and ginger made the dish bright and fresh. Plus, the finely diced tomatillo enchanced the dish’s mouthfeel with a little crunch.
Third Course: Broad Beans Soup, Nopal, Chile Ancho
Next up was another soup-style dish, this time with a finely diced nopal (cactus) and some dried ancho chiles. Our server poured a broad bean broth on top and instructed us to stir everything together. The broth was earthy and warm which contrasted the crunchy cactus and smoky chiles. It was delicious!
Fourth Course: Local Corn Esquites
Our server was also involved in the presentation of the next dish, which was a mixture of several types of indigenous Mexican corn. To complete the dish, he poured another broth, this time corn-based, on one side of the dish, which made for a beautiful plate.
The corn’s garnish of watercress and herbs made the dish bright while allowing us to taste the unique corn flavor. This corn didn’t taste like any corn on the cob I’ve had in the US, it was more like Peru’s choclo with its starchy texture. I was skeptical that this corn combination could be flavorful, but it really was!
Fifth Course: Beetroot, Jamaica, Muicle, Pitahaya
Probably the most memorable presentation of the night, our fifth course was a bright magenta combination of fresh vegetables and herbs. The dish’s theme color changes seasonally, and we lucked out with the autumnal fuchsia dish. The color came from a beetroot puree and hibiscus (jamaica in Spanish), which was poured over purple carrots and tomatoes, and garnished with some edible herbs and flowers. The light, fresh flavor, almost like a salad, added variety to the rest of the menu’s earthy flavors.
Sixth Course: Braised Beef Cheek Taco
A journey through Mexican cuisine is not complete without a taco! And PEHUA’s take on a classic street taco was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Starting with the homemade tortilla, which was perfectly warm and soft, a braised beef cheek was the centerpiece of this dish. The meat’s texture was not chewy or stringy at all, making it easy to bite. In addition, three strategically placed dollops of avocado mousse gave each bite some freshness, and the coriander and lime brightened the dish.
Our server also brought some fresh habanero-based salsa which wasn’t very spicy, but quite flavorful. We both put some on our tacos. Since most tacos are not crafted with such care as this one, I usually struggle to keep a them intact after the first bite. But because this meat was tender and the tortilla was soft, it stayed together nicely. I could have eaten several more!
Seventh Course: Catch of the Day (Sea Bass)
Although it was presented beautifully, the “catch of the day” was the only dish that I wasn’t absolutely in love with. I could tell that the sea bass was quite fresh, and the chef cooked it perfectly. And the corn, radishes, and sauce were all very good too, but this dish didn’t seem as outstanding or unique as the others.
Eighth Course: Pork Jowl al Pastor
Another dish featuring a twist on a street taco – this time, al pastor. PEHUA saved one of the best for last, as this was another standout dish. Unlike the beef cheek taco, this one was do-it-yourself, and the pork jowl was served with a cute knitted envelope of homemade tortillas. Some small pineapple chunks accompanied the meat, which provided some welcome sweetness to the otherwise savory dish.
Ninth Course: Lemon Sorbet, Chicatana Ant
An adventurous meal in Mexico is not complete without some edible insects! At Quintonil earlier in the week, we enjoyed escamoles, so it was only fitting that we would try another delicacy from the ant family. However, this time, the ants were part of a dessert, a palette-cleansing lemon sorbet, atop which was a dust of chicatana ants. To give us a further understanding of this particular species, our server brought us some whole, dried ones to try. They were a little peppery but didn’t have an overwhelming flavor.
Tenth Course: Germinate, Cotton Sugar, Herb Biscuit
And finally, the conclusion to our gastronomic journey – a cotton candy and cookie dessert. We were so full by this point, I was glad the dessert was light and fluffy; a rich chocolate cake or something would have been overkill! The biscuit was surprisingly good, and it was a little salty and savory from the herbs. Therefore, it was a nice complement to the sugary cotton candy. Some seasonal fruit sat at the bottom of the bowl, which added freshness to the dish and was delicious in a bit with all three components.
Throughout our meal, the waitstaff were attentive and unobtrusive. Also, our server and the restaurant manager both spoke proficient English, and they explained the menu in detail to us non-Spanish speakers. PEHUA’s front of house team took care to serve our dishes promptly, but to not rush us. The timing of each dish was perfect. Also, we loved the special touches like the homemade marshmallows that accompanied our check and the comfy pillows on the seats.
In conclusion, the tasting menu was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Not to mention, with a $55 USD price tag, it’s a value that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. When comparing PEHUA to other Mexico City greats like Pujol, Quintonil, and Biko, this new restaurant holds its own and will soon join their ranks. We enjoyed trying PEHUA while it’s still a bit under the radar, a hidden gem, and before it’s difficult to make a reservation. However, I hope that more and more people will dine at PEHUA and enjoy the incredible culinary experience that we had.
Where have you enjoyed an exceptional meal? What is your most memorable dish? If you’re visiting or living in Mexico City, definitely try PEHUA’s modern take on classic Mexican cuisine.