Troy Hightower

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Oaxaca-born chef Luis Arellano worked under Enrique Olvera at Pujol in Mexico City, where, among other things, he was tasked with perfecting the tortillas. In a partnership with Olvera and architect Javier Sanchez, he opened Criollo in 2017.

Set in an old colonial mansion, the entrance is through the kitchen and into a tranquil triangular courtyard dining room, at the point of which is a large clay comal where all the house tortillas are made, and adjacent, a mesh grill where some are toasted crisp for totopos.

White stucco, simple wood and straw furniture, a garden of cactus and agave—the atmosphere is simple and minimalist, with no color. The white minimalism reverses in the kitchen and prep area, which includes a dining bar, to Oaxaca-pottery black stucco and dark concrete counters, lit by skylights.

Back past the agave garden is an outdoor kitchen area, with rustic charcoal grills sending curls of smoke skyward, a huge pot of black beans being stirred on an open fire, and an area which will become a large vegetable garden, in time.

The 7-course set menu is seasonal, changing frequently, making best use of local ingredients. The Pujol influence rings through clearly, but the atmosphere and food are more relaxed. All courses are served in local rustic pottery bowls, rather than plates. Tables are rough wood, glassware is slumped glass, flatware, napkins all straightforward.

There is an incredibly well curated beverage list: boutique Mexican wines, local craft beers, and a long listing of Oaxacan artisan mezcals.

With a cocktail of mezcal, tamarind and passion fruits—brown and ugly but delicious, come small blue-corn tortillas, crisped on the decorated ceramic comal in the entrance, served with salsa verde and salsa of chile de arbol....the latter a little deeper in flavor.

The appetizer course—first bowl—brings a crispy herb “chiccharon” with salsa verde and tiny basil leaves, and a squid-ink tortilla with tiny half soft-shell crab, perched on a swipe of crema.




The soup course is chile and corn, poured over roasted eggplant and crumbly cotija cheese on a base of strawberry puré interesting contrast.



Next up is a “Tamale” of black bean purée and quesilla cheese in a leaf of oja Santa, on chichilo mole, topped with huitlacoche, the exotic corn fungus, and purslane leaves. The beans have an almost custard-like quality.


A perfect diamond of Sierra fish—a type of pacific mackerel with tiny orange-gold spots on the crisp skin is served on avocado cream, topped with a mix of chopped tiny green beans, peas and fava, and sprinkled with tiny dried shrimp. Really spectacular. The kitchen also serves a lot of a fish known locally as Lisa, a type of striped mullet.



The following bowl presents slow cooked pork, tomatillo sauce, capers, raw almonds, green olives and pickled onion along with fresh pale purple corn tortillas to make the most perfect, succulent tacos.



Pre-dessert is a fig-sized jicama, with long stem to grasp, glazed with a syrup of palm sugar, chile and pomegranate. Dessert is a sort of coffee gelatin, vanilla ice cream, chocolate cookie crumbles and cajeta sauce....tasty, but not quite a stellar finish.

We variously sample a Cabernet rose from Santo Tomas, a Syrah blend from a small winery called 2km/hr—presumably the max speed you should drive after drinking a bottle, and a big, jammy cab from Pinar de 3 Mujeres.

A wonderful almost three-hour lunch experience, with great service in a beautiful setting. On the way out through the kitchen, we pause to ask chef Arellano a question about the preparation of the pork dish, and he answers with attentive friendliness.

The prix fixe menu is 890 pesos per person, for a total bill with tip of 3300 pesos or about 170 bucks

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