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The Five Best Guacamoles in the United States — Plus Recipes!

July 11, 2014

(Illustration: Laura Dreyer)

Guacamole needs no introduction: The creamy, buttery avocado-based spread is beloved across the country, whether you eat it by the salted chip, on a taco, or by the spoonful. With summer in high gear, we decided to find the best guacamole recipes worth traveling for — and begged, bargained, and bribed their chefs for the recipes.

Typically flavored with onions, herbs, and chiles, guacamole is versatile. Modern variations see fillers such as blue cheese, baby shrimp, shredded crabmeat, and even chunks of sweet mango, but there’s no denying the perfection of a simple and more traditional recipe.

For that, we turned to chef Roberto Santibañez, author of Truly Mexican, in which he dedicates an entire chapter to this delectable snack, and who serves his classic recipe at New York’s celebrated Mexican restaurant Fonda. He says that making a good guacamole is simple as long as you abide by three basic rules: Use a ripe Hass avocado (banish those watery Florida specimens forever), insist on superfresh ingredients, and season it properly. Plus, it has to be made only a few minutes before serving — a refrigerated guacamole is not a happy one. There’s a reason why guac made tableside is so popular, and it’s not just the kitsch factor.

Once you have those three — OK, four — basics covered, he says to go wild; almost anything can be put in a guacamole. Some of his favorite variations include adding fresh seafood or chicharrones (fried pork skin niblets). The only thing he says not to try at home? Mixing it with granola.

While plenty of restaurants around the country, especially in the South, serve fantastic classical recipes (sombrero tip to Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas), we decided to go beyond the basics and uncover unique preparations that manage to make something great even better.

From a sweet pea-filled guacamole in Manhattan to a California-inspired recipe mixed with creamy goat cheese and crunchy pistachios, we’ve rounded up five of the best guacamole recipes around the country.

La Condesa, Austin, Texas

Guacamole four ways and salsa salsa salsa — plus plenty of chips — at La Condesa in Austin. (Photo: La Condesa)

Also from Austin, this standout recipe by chef Rick Lopez from his modern Mex joint combines spicy and flavorful chipotle peppers, adding a hint of heat and plenty of depth to the dip. To finish it off, he adds smoky roasted almonds for added crunch. Other variations here include pomegranate (with pomegranate molasses and queso fresco) and one with jumbo lump crabmeat (plus apple and coconut vinegar).

Guacamole with Chipotle Purée and Toasted Almonds

6 whole avocados
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced onions
1 cup chopped cilantro
½ cup diced jalapeños
½ cup lime juice
1 4-oz. can of La Morena chipotle peppers, puréed 
1 cup toasted almonds, sliced

Mash avocados in a mixing bowl, and mix in everything but the chipotle and almonds until blended well. Place 2 large scoops of guacamole in a 6-inch bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the puréed La Morena chipotle peppers. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sliced almonds on top. Repeat process for additional bowls until all ingredients are used. 

Related: No Taco Left Behind in Austin

ABC Cocina, New York

Chef Jean-George’s sweet pea guacamole at his ABC Cocina in New York (Photo: ABC Cocina)

Known for its emphasis on well-sourced local and seasonal produce, ABC Cocina is the Latin-inspired restaurant from acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who amps up a classic guacamole with shelled sweet peas. Both the peas and sunflower seeds add texture and bulk, making it a perfect appetizer for a dinner party.

Sweet Pea Guacamole

¾ cup shelled sweet peas
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, plus 1 tbsp. finely chopped
1 tbsp. sunflower seeds
1 jalapeño, medium-sized
1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
2 ripe avocados (halved, pitted, and peeled)
3 scallions (white parts only, thinly sliced crosswise)
2 tbsp. finely grated lime zest
¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
Tortilla chips, for serving

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. To a medium saucepan of boiling water, add the peas and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the whole cilantro leaves and cook just long enough to wilt them, about 5 seconds. Strain both the peas and cilantro into a fine-mesh sieve and plunge the sieve into the ice water to stop the cooking. Once the peas are cool, transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Place the cilantro in a few layers of paper towels and wring dry.

To a skillet set over medium-high heat, add the sunflower seeds and toast until fragrant and golden-brown, about 1 minute. Transfer the sunflower seeds to a medium plate. To the skillet, add the whole jalapeño. Cook, using tongs to turn it often, until the jalapeño is charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chile to a small bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 5 minutes. Peel the charred skin from the jalapeño, remove the stem, halve the chile lengthwise, and remove the seeds with the tip of a paring knife.

Related: The 11 Best Bar Bites in America

To the small bowl insert of a food processor (or using a small-capacity food processor), add all but 2 tablespoons of the cooled peas, the blanched cilantro, the charred jalapeño, and ½ teaspoon of the kosher salt. Pulse the mixture until it is coarsely chopped, about 20 one-second pulses. Transfer the pea mixture to a medium bowl.

To the peas, add the avocados, scallions, lime zest, lime juice, and remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mash with a fork. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds, the remaining peas, and chopped cilantro. Serve with the tortilla chips.

Tomasita’s, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe’s classic Mexican restaurant Tomasita’s serves an equally classic guacamole. (Photo: Jami Dwyer/Flickr, Chris Corrie)

This classic guacamole recipe has been served at Sante Fe’s family-owned Tomasita’s for over 30 years because, as owner George Gundrey says, “Why mess with a classic.” The recipe gains depth of flavor from the granulated garlic and onion salt as well as texture from the tomatoes and chiles. 

Classic Guacamole Salad

4 avocados
½ cup chopped tomatoes
½ cup New Mexico green chile
5 tablespoons granulated garlic
5 tablespoons onion salt
4 tablespoons salt (or less to taste)
Big pinch pepper
2 tablespoons lime juice

Mash the avocados and mix well with remaining ingredients except salt. Then salt to taste. Serve in a tostada shell with blue corn chips.

Palm House Restaurant, San Francisco

Eat your guacamole al fresco at Palm House Restaurant in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow (Photo: Palm House)  

At Palm House in San Francisco’s up-and-coming Cow Hollow neighborhood, traditional guacamole gets an island twist and is served with papadoms — a chickpea and lentil cracker, making it gluten-free. Toasted whole cumin and roasted chili oil is used as a topper.

Puerto Rican Smashed Avocado

½ avocado
Pinch of small diced habanero pepper
1 teaspoon finely diced red onion
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste 

Smash the avocado and mix all ingredients together. If you like it spicy, add more habanero to taste. Garnish with papadoms, butter lettuce hearts, toasted whole cumin, and roasted chili oil.

Related: 10 Places to Eat the Amazing Ceviche

Mattei’s Tavern, Los Olivos, CA

Mattei’s Tavern’s Bazooka Guacamole (with goat cheese) is accompanied by house made chips and roti. (Photo: Mattei’s Tavern) 

Chef Robbie Wilson substitutes crunchy pistachios for the bite typically provided from red onions, which, he notes, can often overpower the subtle flavor of avocados — guacamole is all about a balance of texture and flavor. With this Santa Barbara wine country restaurant being surrounded by pistachio farms, his recipe uses the nut in two forms: first as a pistachio oil and then as a garnish along with goat cheese, which he says adds an extra creaminess and the necessary salt for a good guacamole.

Bazooka Guacamole

4 avocados
2 limes, juiced
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
3 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
1 chipotle pepper
3 tablespoons pistachio oil
2 oz. chèvre, crumbled
¼ cup pistachios, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Halve the avocados, remove the seeds, and scoop out the pulp with a spoon, removing it from the skins. Add the avocados, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, jalapeño, and chipotle to a food processor and puree until the guacamole reaches a smooth silky texture. With the motor still running, slowly drizzle in the pistachio oil. Transfer the avocado mixture to a medium mixing bowl, and fold in the chèvre and pistachios. Season with salt and pepper to taste. *Note: Avocados will oxidize when exposed to air, so this recipe should be prepared only up to 1 hour before serving to maintain its fresh green color.

BONUS RECIPE: Fonda San Miguel, Austin, Texas

The interior of Austin’s classic Mexican restaurant, Fonda San Miguel (Photo: Matt Lankes) 

If you want to master the basics, you can’t do much better than this classic guacamole recipe from Austin’s popular Fonda San Miguel, which they’ve been serving since they opened in 1975. Their tip for home cooks is to make sure to use ripe, but not mushy, Hass avocados from Mexico or California, and try serving it alongside grilled meats or on a bed of greens.

Classic Guacamole
2 ripe avocados
1 large tomato, chopped and drained
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 serrano pepper, minced (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Cut the avocados in half. Scoop out the pulp with a spoon and mash in a molcajete or nonreactive bowl. Add tomato, onion, cilantro, chiles, and lime juice. If you want some heat, add minced serrano peppers to taste. Stir with a wooden spoon. Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Yasmin Fahr writes a weekly recipe column for Serious Eats and also has a minor (read: major) obsession with feta, tomatoes, and avocados. She’s previously written and worked for the Daily Meal, Whole Foods, and Food & Wine.

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