Mexican Food Is the New Fried Chicken

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor

Photo credit: James Ransom, Food52

Move over, fried chicken. Hasta luego, comfort food

There’s a new contender for the popularity crown among chefs: Mexican food. A raft of top toques nationwide are opening new restaurants featuring the fresh, bright, smoky, fiery flavors typical South of the Border.

And it’s about time!

Mexican cuisine, as is true of Chinese food, has long been saddled with consumer expectations of lower price points and mediocrity. No matter how fantastically nuanced the carnitas was at your neighborhood taqueria, it wasn’t something many Americans considered accomplished cooking. And if management dared to kick up prices, the decision was often met with howls

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The conversation began to change in 2012, with the opening of wd-50 alumnus Alex Stupak and Babbo-trained Lauren Resler’s Empellón Cocina, which debuted to raves in New York City. Stupak joined nationally acclaimed chefs Roberto Santibañez, Mary Sue Milliken, and Rick Bayless, all of whom were cooking high-end Mexican food. Last year renowned Brit chef April Bloomfield jumped into the fray with her instantly buzzy Salvation Taco, charging $15 for three steak tacos (which most locals seemed not to mind).

But this week has seen yet another wave of Mex-i-philes, as James Beard Awardwinning chef Sean Brock of Charleston, South Carolina’s Husk announced his plan to open an eatery ”inspired by the food and culture of Mexico.” Philly native and mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr adds a new jewel to his national crown. Even Taco Bell is trying to go elegant!

So while we’d never turn up our noses at the fare offered at the local taco shop (which, if we’re being transparent, here, comprises half our week’s meals), we couldn’t be more pleased to see fine Mexican food finally glimmering in the spotlight.

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