Our Readers Declared This Mexico City Hotspot the Best International Restaurant

Global Tastemakers is our first-ever reader's choice awards, celebrating the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. F&W readers voted based on travel completed within the past three years, on categories including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. Due to the limitations of pandemic travel, this year's Global Tastemakers winners reflect a smaller portion of the globe. In many categories, we're including an editor's pick to shout out some more culinary destinations in places you can't miss. See all the winners at foodandwine.com/globaltastemakers.

The design of Máximo Bistrot, the Mexico City restaurant by Eduardo "Lalo" García that's been feverishly adored by locals, out-of-towners, and food media since 2011, might initially perplex you with its seemingly disparate elements. 

Maximo Bistro interior
Huge, colorful tapestries depicting mountains billow from the walls. Tiny candles illuminate the spindly branches of a "tree of life" bas-relief. The stark wooden chairs and tables are all clean lines and hard angles, contrasted against the flooring, a bold check pattern of green and white tiles. Though not visible to the naked eye, every detail, down to the hand-woven napkins, is Mexican-made. 

The menu also honors García's home country by sourcing as many native ingredients as possible to flex Mexico's lesser-known biodiversity. (Mushrooms get the chef especially excited during the rainy season.) Prepared with classic French techniques, the imaginative and ever-changing dishes include plenty of twists, like a crunchy Caesar salad draped with silky headcheese slices and dribbled with peppery basil oil.

Kampachi con Vinagreta de Soya, Jengibre y Coco from Maximo Bistro
“We are a European-style restaurant with a Mexican feel,” says García of his approach. Though he’s a vocal advocate for Mexico and owns one of the world’s most revered establishments today, his journey to get to this point was fraught with challenges. To fully appreciate eating at Máximo Bistrot, you need to understand García’s story.

As with many other chefs, his childhood was shaped by family and food. But instead of cooking and eating with his family from the safety and comfort of home, García could be found, even as a very young boy, picking fruits and vegetables outside. This was not a leisurely activity but one born of necessity — something García grew up doing in central Mexico’s Guanajuato for survival. He and his family continued this way of life as undocumented migrant farm workers in the States — like countless others, they clung to the hope of better opportunities — roving from Florida to Michigan and back, until the age of 14. In 1991, his father decided to stop migrating and settle down in the Atlanta area. 

Eduardo García
García sought out restaurant work, in part, because of his love of food. “I’d dream about food and would even wake up thinking about it,” he recalls. His options, however, were limited. But he had a fake green card, making it easy for him to slip behind the scenes in an industry flush with back-of-house jobs. 

From this point on, García’s life reads like a page-turner. Within six months of his first restaurant job washing dishes, he was promoted to garde manger. He later found employment at Brasserie Le Coze by Eric Ripert. He landed at another area spot as an aspiring sous chef to support his ailing father — reflecting back, García blames the pesticides in the fields they worked — sold drugs to supplement his personal income, got convicted for assisting in a robbery, and spent several years in a maximum security prison. 

A dish from Maximo Bistro
Despite the bleak conditions, García says, “This was my university. I realized life puts you where you need to be. I learned to love and miss my family and everything I had.” Only two weeks after his release and deportation to Mexico, his mother called: His father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Aware of the risks, García crossed back over to the States with another round of forged documents. He carried on his culinary pursuits and caring for his family as an executive chef before he was caught, jailed for a few months, and deported again in 2007. 

Permanently banned from the U.S., García had to scrap the American dream and reconsider his aspirations in Mexico — a country that felt peculiarly foreign, since he spent so many years trying to make a name for himself in the States. After hearing about how Enrique Olvera was attracting diners from all over the world with his imaginative takes on regional and traditional Mexican food at Pujol, García connected with him over the phone, and got hired to head up the kitchen. 

Bacalao Negro al Miso y Pico de Gallo from Maximo Bistro
During his time there, he met Gabriela López, his current partner in work and life. It didn’t take long before they tossed around the idea of opening a casual bistro like the ones Olvera introduced them to on work trips to Argentina, Spain, and France. So, in 2011, with some money they cobbled together, the couple quietly opened Máximo Bistrot in La Roma with no fanfare or pushy press. 

Though buzz and awards quickly rolled in, and continue to after all these years, it’s García’s compassion for his staff and staunch pride for his home country that sets Máximo Bistrot apart from other accolade-heavy restaurants not just in Mexico City but all over the world. Soon after opening, he noticed how employees were donating their wages to family members, many of them undocumented immigrants, across the border. These were people who sought success in a country that offered opportunities but, at the same time, could be unjust and unkind. Their anecdotes hauntingly mirrored his own.

After a few years, to ensure Máximo Bistrot was running smoothly, García started helping employees launch their own restaurants and securing their futures in the industry by splitting ownership 50-50. (To date, he co-owns seven spots.) After all the hard lessons he learned and obstacles he overcame to open his own, he was in a unique position to show them that they, too, could accomplish their dreams right where they were — without having to cross borders.
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