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A Pre-Hispanic Restaurant In Mexico Has Been Named One Of The World’s Best

Latin America has quickly moved up the ranks when it comes to fine dining – especially as much of the world finally catches on to the many treasures across the region.

For several years, high-end dining featuring fusions from Japanese and French mixed in with typical Mexican or Colombian or Peruvian cuisines have been recognized. Case in point: a Mexican woman was recognized as the world’s top chef in 2019.

But more recently, Indigenous flavors have started to get the recognition they deserve.

A Mexican restaurant has been named among the world’s greatest thanks to its Indigenous roots.

The world’s top 20 restaurants – as selected by Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine – finally features an Indigenous restaurant, and from Mexico’s Tabasco state no less.

A culinary critic cited the mole poblano with turkey, scarlet shrimp and the ambience among the reasons the restaurant was chosen to join the rankings of the world’s best.

Cocina Chontal is an intimate restaurant situated in a small house with brick floors and wooden tables where dishes are cooked on an outdoor comal and dogs hang out waiting for scraps. It may seem out of place compared to some of the more ‘high-end’ restaurants on the list. might seem an unlikely place to find one of the world’s best foodie haunts.

Cocina Chontal sits amid the jungle and is bringing Pre-Hispanic flavors to Mexico’s foodie crowd.

Credit: Cocina Chontal / Facebook

Sitting in the middle of the San Isidro de Comalcalco jungle in Tabasco, Mexico, is a restaurant that’s heart is the wood-field comal just outside the front door. The restaurant is on he outskirts of the Zona Arqueológica de Comalcalco, a Chontal Mayan site containing the remains of the westernmost city of the Mayan civilization.

Chef Nelly Córdova Morillo is a former lawyer who grew up eating traditional Chontal cooking on her grandparents’ farm. Her restaurant celebrates the pre-Hispanic cuisine of the region, serving traditional dishes made with traditional ingredients cooked over wood harvested from the surrounding landscape. She’s in touch with her roots and aims to share them with the rest of the world.

Popular dishes include “tortilla Chontal,” a type of fresh-masa quesadilla served with a dark green salsa that tastes of the forest, alongside frothy pineapple agua fresca.

Nevertheless, chef Nelly Córdova Murillo said ending up on the travel magazine’s list was a total surprise.

“Truly it’s incredible,” she told Travel + Leisure. “I was calmly baking some cinnamon rolls with my daughter, and suddenly it occurred to me to get my telephone. I found all these people congratulating me, and I didn’t know for what.” 

Córdova is among chefs in major world cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Bogotá, and Santiago, Chile. But she hasn’t let it go to her head. The award, she said, goes to all tabasqueños.

“It’s their culture, their traditions, their customs, their men and women, their products, and their artisans,” she said. “Cocina Chontal is that. It’s Tabasco in a small place.” 

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