Those who know me well know I’m a creature of habit. Once I like a spot, I tend to fixate on it and ignore everything else within a ten-mile radius. Closing in on a much-needed (we’re talking dire straights, people) three-week European food odyssey, I’ve had my share of mediocre food, so every place I patron is heavily researched and every menu, inspected. There’s also the issue of price, as I’ve passed a few Michelin-starred spots, whose menus are pretty exorbitant.
Naturally, my preferred spots are far from French (cue the shame chorus), but it’s been interesting to see the Basque influence on Italian + Mexican cooking.
Possibly my favorite of the lot is Taco Mex. Located down a steep alleyway, you wouldn’t think much of the place at first glance. You’re greeted with a large billboard of a menu outlined with a glowing cactus, but inside, INSIDE, the food is spectacular and the service, personalized.
The owner not only prepares your dishes in front of you, but guides you to the “taco bar” and explains the magic: sauce pairings, accoutrements and the like. To say that I didn’t dream of the potatoes cooked in chorizo fat dressed with crème fraîche would be a vast understatement. The sauces are extraordinary, the guacamole homemade, and even the CHIPS (homemade) are stellar. I’ve been hitting this place every night and it fails to disappoint.
If you adore Italian food just as much as I do, you will want to check out Al Dente and Il Giardino — a block separates the two. Both have been my go-to lunch spots, as they have a stellar prix-fixe ($13-$16 for a three-course meal), and the homemade pasta is spot-on. Il Giardino won my heart with its gnocchi, puffed pillows covered in a delicate four-cheese sauce and its tender miniature meatballs.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve traveled to capitals and small towns, and never did I think that my memories would be rooted in Tuscany, Biarritz and San Sebastian. Places where I thought I’d pass through, not remain, settle and completely relax.