Hacienda Viva Margarita, an honest Mexican restaurant, recently opened in Chipilo. Now, I imagine most people reading this are thinking, “So what?” because Chipilo is located in Puebla which as everyone knows is in Mexico, and a Mexican restaurant opening there shouldn’t be so surprising.
But Chipilo is a pueblo colonized by the Italians in 1882, and its cuisine is strongly influenced by it. Of course the pueblo on its part of founded (small Mexican restaurants) and taquerias (informal taco joints) serving typical Mexican dishes like quesadillas, tortas, and gorditas, but the restaurants in town are all Italian, where much of the food combines traditional Italian dishes with Mexican flavors.
Hacienda Viva Margarita brings something different to the area.
The restaurant opened in mid-July and is located on Highway 190 on the outskirts of Chipilo.
“We liked the location,” said Juvenal Martínez who, in addition to being one of the three owners, sometimes fulfills the function of chef.
Martínez was born and raised in Atlixco, a town about 30 minutes from Chipilo. He studied at the Instituto Culinario de Puebla before moving to New York, where he lived for 18 years as a chef in Mexican restaurants. He returned to Mexico in 2018 because he hadn’t seen his parents in years.
When he and his partners heard about an old restaurant building that had been abandoned for a few years, they decided it was a good place for a restaurant, “good for a big project”.
And it’s a big project.
The restaurant has two floors, with outdoor seating on the first and patio seating on the second. A small gallery occupies a front room on the first floor.
In addition to the restaurant, there is a salon for events; an 18-room boutique hotel is also under construction. And tucked away in a corner is a little mezcaleria, where a special mezcal is made (more on that later).
Although definitely Mexican, Hacienda Viva Margarita is not your typical Mexican restaurant.
“The idea of the type of food is that of Fernando, another owner,” explained Martínez. “He lived in Arizona for a few years, and Arizona, as you know, was originally part of Mexico. The food there is a mix of what you find in the United States – especially in Arizona – and Mexico Food in Arizona is different from Mexican, but it’s still Mexican.
The partners opened five Hacienda Viva Margarita restaurants in New Jersey. The menu and cuisine they developed there is what they brought to Mexico.
The restaurant’s offering and flavors are quite different from what you can find in most Mexican restaurants.
“The difference here is that we use local products,” said chef Marco Antonio Gayetano Fernández. “It’s very fresh. The bases are Mexican, but we use different herbs – for example, piper, which is very aromatic and not usually used. We are using chile guajillo in about 80% of the food we make.
They give food a sweet, smoky flavor.
Another big difference is the number of vegetarian dishes offered.
“In 2021, people are taking better care of their health,” Martínez said. “More and more people are avoiding meat. We have a vegetarian chorizo made with soy. We have tofu tacos.
There are four vegetarian burritos on the menu. “The burritos are filled with beans and rice,” Gayetano said, “and we steam them, to make them softer. We serve them with crafts cream.”
Martha Cabrera dined at the restaurant right after it opened, and she was suitably impressed.
“I tried the burrito,” she said, noting several differences from other Mexican restaurants. “The burritos are very big and enough for two meals. I have never eaten a burrito with rice and beans inside, and I liked it.
“The flavors are different, not traditional but very good,” she added.
Being a vegetarian, she was surprised with the menu. “In most Mexican restaurants there are usually no vegetarian options, but here there are several.” In addition to burritos, there are also vegetarian enchiladas, tostadas, alambres and what they call chimichingadas.
Now about that mezcalaria and the special mezcal produced there.
It produces around 900 liters of mezcal per month from January to the end of August. In addition to a typical, white mezcal (white mezcal), they make negro mezcal (black mezcal), something very rare.
“I learned how to make mezcal from my father, who learned from my grandfather,” said Martínez, himself a master mezcal. “It goes back 50, 60, 70 years. My father learned to do negro mezcal of friends who are also maestros mezcaleros. They taught him, and he taught me. Only two, maybe three, people know how to do it negro mezcal.”
Martinez buys pins — agave hearts used to make mezcal — from a small pueblo near the border with Oaxaca. He only uses pins from papolometl agave, which is considered the best for making mezcal.
The agave hearts are first cooked for several days using heated volcanic stones. They are then chopped and mixed with water in large tubs, where they are left for about a week to allow fermentation. The resulting liquid is then distilled twice.
This is how artisan mezcal is usually made. What is unusual is what Martínez does to make black mezcal.
“When we cook the piñas, we have a basin to collect…the juice that drips from the outside of the pina“, Martínez explained. “It’s like honey. It’s very sweet. Two liters of this liquid, called negro agave, is then mixed with 10 liters of mezcal to make negro mezcal.”
The result is a mezcal that is surprisingly smooth and much sweeter than typical mezcal.
The grounds the restaurant sits on are quite large and a pleasant place to walk around, especially after a hearty meal. The hotel is due to open in September and could be a good place to crash after tasting a bit too much negro mezcal.
Cholula residents will be happy to hear that another Hacienda Viva Margarita will open there, near the pyramid, in September.
• The restaurant is open from 1 am to 10 am from Monday to Friday and from 9 am to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. A brunch is served from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Hacienda Viva Margarita is located at Carretera Federal Atlixco #104, Km. 14.5, Chipilo, Puebla. Telephone number: 222 283 0788.
Joseph Sorrentino, writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmovisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico Daily News. More examples of his photographs and links to other articles can be found at www.sorrentinophotography.com He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.