Juan Pablo Ballesteros comes from a family of entrepreneurs. In 1912, his great-grandfather, Rafael Ballesteros, opened Café Tacuba, which is today a food landmark in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. Not far from this culinary treasure is Los Limosneros, which Juan Pablo opened more than a year ago, seeking to continue his family’s legacy while building a reputation of his own.
Juan Pablo designed the stunning restaurant himself. Using the framework of the colonial-era building’s thick mortar-and-rock walls, he meticulously put together the place piece by piece, often using recycled materials. A lovely example is found on the second floor, where black volcanic rock pestles – the kind used to make guacamole – have been hollowed out and made into pendant lights that hang from the high ceilings. To spice up the rock and wood finishes, Juan Pablo added splashes of brilliant color by adorning the walls with indigenous artwork, a nod to the menu’s pre-Hispanic influences. The result is warm, inviting and a work of art in itself.
Basking in the ambiance of the place, we ordered a round of appetizers. We started with the venado flautas, crispy corn tortilla tubes filled with tender shredded venison and served with guacamole and salsa. Venison is not particularly common in Mexican cuisine, although it has been eaten since pre-Hispanic times, so we were especially pleased to catch a rare appearance. Our second appetizer proved even better, a true pre-Hispanic treat: escamole, or ant eggs. The white eggs, each about the size of a grain of rice, were served in a small bowl over a bed of ayocotes, or scarlet runner beans. We spread the delicious mixture over the small corn tortillas that came with the dish.
Our appetites merely whetted, we moved on to the main courses. First up was a traditional favorite: cochinita pibil, slow-cooked pulled pork in a sauce made from achiote, the deep-red, peppery spice also called annatto. In a twist, the pork had been placed into a bowl with a thin layer of corn dough on top and baked like a pie, but it tasted nevertheless like the classic – and delicious – preparation. Up next was the conejitas, a rabbit dish bathed in salsa borracha, or “drunk” sauce. Typically served whole, the juicy rabbit instead came off the bone and, along with a side of tortillas, was more like carnitas in style. Accompanying the meal were glasses of two aguas frescas, chia and strawberry-mint.
Finally, after hearing a long recitation of dessert choices, our table settled on a crème brûlée. This one, however, was flavored with mamey, a soft, sweet fruit native to the region and often used in desserts and drinks. The brittle crust over the custard was layered over a bed of white chocolate, eliciting a war of spoons at our table.
Juan Pablo Ballesteros set out to make something special in a city full of special places, and he had a century of success behind the endeavor. Will Los Limosneros stand the test of time and become the next family culinary fixture in the Centro Histórico? Only time will tell, but for now, the passion of Juan Pablo is obvious everywhere you look. Great-grandfather Rafael would be proud.