I just spent a week and a half in the state of Chiapas in Mexico and kicked off my too-few days in San Cristobal de las Casas at Tierro y Cielo hotel’s restaurant. I can’t say for sure that this is the best restaurant in the city after my limited time there, but it would certainly be a hard one to top. Through two meals, from start to finish, it was “Wow!” over and over.
Chef Chef Marta Zepeda has been doing great enough work to be recognized by the national government for promoting regional cuisine and you can see her pictured with the Mexican president on the hotel’s home page. It’s what’s on the plate that matters most to diners though, of course, and in my experience what’s on the plate is amazing. “This shows you what Mexican food can be like” exclaimed a European diner near me and the international crowd in my group seemed to agree. It was a reaction of surprise, joy, and enjoyment through breakfast and a tasting menu lunch. (In between, we visited the local market in San Cristobal.)
The opening note was sublime Mexican hot chocolate in a bowl shaped like a cacao bean, setting the tone for recognizing the origin of the ingredients. Throughout the experience the drinks were as key as the food, each time making use of something local, like chia seeds, fermented ginger, or—at the end—mezcal.
Breakfast was a play off local dishes enjoyed for thousands of years, with two kinds of tamales based on corn and filled with pork or beans, but presented with more flair and a mole sauce. Marmalade for the kitchen-baked bread was made from local fruits.
Lunch was a tasting menu of nine items that were a delight from start to finish. I’m never a fan of raw meat in any form, but I had to admit the citrus-cured beef tartar was quite good. That photo at the top is actually the main dish—not dessert. It’s a stack of plantains and tender chicken breasts with a multi-flavored mole sauce. Fantastic.
Everything was a delight for the taste buds at Tierra y Cielo (“Ground and Sky”), but none of it was a desperate attempt to be edgy or international. Sure, the presentation was sophisticated and on par with what you would expect from a gourmet restaurant, but it was all about what grows or can be harvested in Chipas.
To top it off, dessert made use of chocolate, sugar cane, mezcal, and coffee. Sure, three of these are common dessert ingredients around the world, but here they grown in abundance.
You can stay at Tierro y Cielo for around $120 per night and not have to walk very far to eat there, but it’s also a short walk from the main plaza if you’re elsewhere. See more at TierrayCielo.com.mx.