With Viva Mexico, the Magic City got a taste of authentic Mexican tacos and incomparable carnitas, but what about upscale Mexican food that still has a touch of homestyle cooking? And no, Rosa Mexicano doesn't count.
Enter Porfirio's, SoFi's newest addition from Grupo Anderson, the guys behind the popular fiesta chain Señor Frog's. The first U.S outpost of the successful Mexican restaurant opened last week, and Short Order was invited for a bite of the home-cooked but upscale Mexican fare.
Porfirio's opened in Mexico City in 2012. The name was chosen because it's one of the most common names in Mexico, along with Vicente, Juan, and Josefina. You'll find Josefina in the menu at Porfirio's, and she's been reincarnated into a libation. "Las Josefinas" are the names given to all the mezcal cocktails offered. And speaking of mezcal, Porfirio's has a mezcal concierge to help your palate find the perfect agave pairing.
If you choose to splurge on an entire bottle of the spirit, Porfirio's will store it for you in your very own mezcal locker. The focal point of the restaurant's interior, a wall of glass is lined with a staircase and, rather than books, bottles of mezcal or whatever other bottle you purchase and don't finish. But that's not the only pretty thing to look at -- Porfirio's interior is reminiscent of a Mexican church, with cathedral ceilings and teardrop lighting that changes colors nightly depending upon the restaurant's mood.
With 200 seats, this is no small operation. Skylights strategically placed in the wooden roof bring light onto the modern terrace, which has retractable screens and an abstract ceramic fountain.
Porfirio's serves lunch and dinner, with a dinner menu larger than life. Expect Mexican starters -- a section for quesos, soups, salads, tacos, tortas, chiles rellenos, and enchiladas -- and full and intricate plates of meats, chicken, and gems from the sea. Tortillas are corn only and house-made, as are the hot sauces. You can watch the action in the "open" kitchen, which is really divided via a glass window and visible only from the middle ground between the restaurant's interior and exterior areas.
The lunch menu is a quarter the size of dinner and consists of a three-course prix fixe for $25. Every meal is started with a centerpiece of four plain-baked tostadas paired with a nopal salad, special bean sauce, and three house sauces (green tomatillo, chipotle, and morita).
Wondering what a nopal salad is? It's made with nopal -- a Mexican cactus -- tomato, onions, cilantro, white vinegar, sea salt, and pepper and dusted with a bit of cheese. The special bean sauce is addictive, probably because it's got bacon in it, along with sour cream and chipotle.
First-course options include tortilla soup, crisp pork salad, and cranberry and mango salad. Leave the salad and soup for another visit and try the tuna carnitas ($16) -- crisply fried tuna bits cooked to a light char and served with avocado. Tip: Order the special "maldita" sauce (raw or black). The word "maldita" translates to "damn." Damn hot is damn right.
Crunchy deep-fried corn taquitos ($12) are stuffed with crab and served with red sauce and sour cream. Another tip: Dip the taquitos into your bean sauce.
Queso Maria Sabina ($12) is another appetizer choice and the right one if you're feeling cheesy. It's a blend of goat and Oaxaca cheeses wrapped up like a tamale with mushrooms and submerged in a morita pepper sauce.
Mains are filling and saucy. Enchiladas are a quintessential Mexican dish. Porfirio's stuffs its house-made corn tortillas with chicken and slathers them with your choice of green tomatillo sauce or red tomato sauce.
Chipotle meatballs ($17) pack a surprise, and it's not the chipotle. These balls looks regular on the outside, but a slice of the knife reveals a hard-boiled egg. It's the way Grandma makes them (in Mexico) and what Porfirio's is all about.
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For dessert, house-made flan ($9) is a sweet treat. Even sweeter is the nest of sugar served next to it.
Or you can go for manchego cheesecake with membrillo ($12). Manchego. Cheesecake. Nuff said.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha