October 1, 2022

Mixtli is still good after the move from Southtown, but it’s no longer the best restaurant in San Antonio


Change is inevitable. When this happens, all that is gained must be weighed against what is lost. Progress hangs in the balance.

This idea holds true for Mixtli, the modernist Mexican restaurant that started as a boxcar experiment near Olmos Park eight years ago. With 12 seats and a dream, chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres set out to create multi-course tasting menus that delve deeply into the regions, styles, folklore and inspirations that drive Mexican cuisine. By all accounts, they have succeeded.

For two consecutive years, Express-News’ Top 100 Dining & Drinks Guide has named Mixtli the best restaurant in San Antonio. In 2017, Torres and Galicia joined the elite of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs.

Closed last year by the pandemic, Mixtli briefly went into take-out taquería mode. But the time had come to move beyond the 40-by-10-foot wagon, and Mixtli announced plans to move into a larger space in Southtown, a move that finally happened in June.

Let’s take stock of what they’ve gained from leaving the cramped, dark, all-in-one all-in-one kitchen and dining space of their old home.

Windows, for example. Opening high into the courtyard of the resort they share with Pharm Table, they diffuse light into an interior in cool gray and blonde wood tones with modern art on the walls.

The dining room and the kitchen work side by side at the Mixtli.

Mike Sutter / Staff

And space. Now there is room to almost triple the number of people, with tables for two, four or more, as well as a separate room for private parties. Now there’s a full cocktail bar and a smart, well-assorted wine list to replace the sporadic pairings of free alcohol from the old location in a unlicensed space. Now diners can choose their own pace – and their own company – rather than scratching their plates to follow strangers to the old communal table.

Food always connects, served in 10-course tasting menus constructed with varying degrees of tweezer complexity by Galicia, Torres and a team led by Sous Chef Alexana Cabrera and complemented by Pastry Chef Sofia Tejeda, all working in a space that always brings the kitchen and dines together in the same room.

The menu changes thematically every few months. A summer menu focused on the Mexican state of Oaxaca, moving through this surf and turf wonderland from scratch, producing several edible works of art with flavors worthy of be framed.

An invigorating calabacitas ceviche delivered color, texture and taste with summer squash, peas, charred cucumber and hoja santa vinaigrette, enhanced with pea and serrano granita and the unexpected crunch of flying ants called chicatanas.

A mushroom tostada incorporating mashed white beans, pickled mushrooms and a mild cheese called Oaxaca quesillo for a satisfying taste like beans and cheese with a turbocharged center. This is pretty much where all notion of simplicity ended, as the Oaxacan tour included a maritime reveal of a squid ink masa cake with chopped mussels and trout roe that looked like an edible Bitcoin symbol rendered in matte black.

Oaxacan's menu features scallops poached in chili garlic butter with green apple and coconut mousse served over seaweed with dry ice for a dramatic Mixtli twist.

Oaxacan’s menu features scallops poached in chili garlic butter with green apple and coconut mousse served over seaweed with dry ice for a dramatic Mixtli twist.

Mike Sutter / Staff

But Oaxacan’s flagship moment came on dry ice, a fog machine bowl of seaweed topped with a seashell with a scallop poached in Chilean garlic butter with apple. green and coconut mousse, a dish with a euphoric one-bite “whoa” to accompany the show.

The current menu focuses on Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican state known for its coffee, jungles, cheese, corn, seafood, and sweeter peppers – all I know from the preamble by Torres.

Throughout the menu, these elements played out like children in a bouncy castle where it’s everyone’s birthday: aromatic coffee butter for the bread; a tangy swordfish ceviche made scarlet red by hibiscus; a resilient globe shaped tamal with a shiny shrimp mole; and a mild picadillo with grape vegetables contrasting with queso de bola, a Chiapas cheese with a double rind and a creamy center.

The Chiapas Mixtli menu features pork chops smothered in a Chiapas-style mole topped with candied mangoes, papaya and pineapple, served under a cherry smoke dome that is lifted to the table.

The Chiapas Mixtli menu features pork chops smothered in a Chiapas-style mole topped with candied mangoes, papaya and pineapple, served under a table-lifted cherry smoke dome.

Mike Sutter / Staff

There is always a moment of ovation at the Mixtli, where the spectacle and the food behind it bow together. The Chiapas menu has two. The first was a smoked pork chop sprinkled with dried tropical fruits. He came wrapped under a glass dome filled with cherry smoke, raised up next to the table for a smoke-shrouded entree that Prince would have appreciated.

Then came a satisfying crayfish huarache with mashed black beans and plantains, a roadside snack served in a wooden box that played sounds of the jungle when it opened, like a Hallmark card. by Anthony Bourdain.

Sometimes the show can’t save the performer, and it has happened a few times at the Mixtli. The seafood barbacoa turned into an even, pungent stack like a mixed seafood grill in a taquería – and not one of the good ones. The chili crab soup didn’t stand a chance even with the same style of seaweed litter as the scallop because the seaweed smelled like the sad part of the beach.

And a pair of protein missed Mixtli’s high flavor and flash bar, one a rubbery, smooth pork disc on a peanut mole and another just a bunch of aggressively smoked rib eye slices dominoes. camped next to mole and sweet potato porridge.

Now let’s take a look at what Mixtli has lost in going from bohemian bootstrap bangs to the glow of a formal restaurant space.

Mixtli’s privacy was his superpower. A captive audience at a 12-person table meant that the stories behind the dishes – the distillation of weeks of history and food research – could unfold in a longer narrative form, as they only had to be told in one. one time. Now that they’re told a dozen or more times a night, the stories have boiled down to ingredient recitations with a few regional footnotes.

In the boxcar, the logistics of moving 10 dishes on and off the table in close quarters meant the performance was wrapped up in under 90 minutes. My dinners in the new space lasted much longer. Ask anyone who feels like they’ve aged another year watching the new James Bond movie if the weather is sometimes an unhappy passenger in the car.

The bar menu includes suadero tacos with Mixtli.

The bar menu includes suadero tacos with Mixtli.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The heart of Mixtli is always guided by the tasting menu. When the new bar program was announced, the idea of ​​a Mixtli a la carte bar menu was intriguing. But those are just a few things – the evening service bread, suadero tacos, cheese – not a plate-by-plate glimpse of the big show. Still, the bar is a separate and intimate pre-game space for a paloma or Oaxacan Old Fashioned with mezcal and a massive single ice cube stamped with the Mixtli brand.

****

812 S. Alamo Street, Suite 103, 210-338-0746, restaurantmixtli.com

Quick bite: Progressive Mexican restaurant serving a multi-course menu from chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres

Hit: Shrimp tamal, calabacitas ceviche, chopped mussels on masa with squid ink

To lack: Seafood barbacoa, chileatole crab soup

Hours: 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday by reservation only. Dining room only. The bar is open.

Price range: Multiservice fixed price menu, $ 125 per person plus taxes and 20% service charge; $ 50 food and wine pairing available; à la carte dishes at the bar, around $ 8- $ 18

Alcohol: Cocktails, wines and beers

***** Excellent, an almost perfect experience

**** Good, among the best in town

*** Average, with some notable points

** Poor, with a buyout factor or two

* Bad, nothing to recommend

Food critics on Express-News pay for all meals.


So what is at stake?

I liked the old Mixtli more. Not because I’m a die-hard nostalgic, but because there was nothing like it, a self-contained food library on the move examining a country’s history through food, chapter by chapter, without distraction.

But I also like the new Mixtli. It’s a similar story, told in the age of distraction. An internet café instead of a library, satisfying our appetites and our curiosity in small bites. Progress, recalibrated to adapt to a new space and a new time.

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