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Time to Rethink Your Understanding of Mexican Cuisine

To eat at Mi Tocaya Antojería is to amend your most ingrained assumptions about Mexican gastronomy

The following excerpt is taken from Today’s Special, published by Phaidon (out now, £39.95)

“Rethink your understanding of Mexican cuisine.” That is the message displayed front and centre on the homepage of the website for Diana Dávila’s Chicago restaurant. It is not quite a mandate, but she makes her point of view clear—to eat at Mi Tocaya Antojería is to amend your most ingrained assumptions, the lofty goal of a chef in full command of her vision. Though Dávila was born and raised in Illinois, her family hails from San Luis Potosí, and she travelled throughout Mexico frequently as a child. Her grandmother, aunts, and uncles shaped her culinary worldview from an early age, as did her parents, who owned and operated Mexican restaurants in the Chicago suburbs. Dávila was in fifth grade when she began working for them; by the age of twenty-one, she had become the head chef of their Hacienda Jalapeños in Oak Forest, where her edgy, unconventional cooking stood out in an otherwise traditional setting.

Formative stints alongside well-regarded Chicago chefs, including Ryan Poli and Giuseppe Tentori, as well as training in Oaxaca and a successful run in Washington, DC, built Dávila’s resume, but returning to Chicago and opening a place of her own was always the goal. In 2017, she realized the dream with Mi Tocaya—a term of endearment meaning “my namesake”—in Logan Square. There, the small plates typical of an antojería explode with big ideas, subtle musings, and audacious risks that honour her heritage while challenging the often myopic view of Mexican cuisine outside Mexico.

Dávila’s restaurant is unequivocally hers, a canvas for a school of culinary expression she defines as “Midwest Mexican.” She plates decadent croquettes of pig’s-tail carnitas with cauliflower and lentils, and blankets fish in a complex green mole just as rich and vibrant as the more common dark-hued rendition. Stalwarts of the Mexican pantry, like hoja santa, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, and dried chiles, come together with unexpected ingredients, like arugula, sweetbreads, or romanesco. Dávila is truly fearless when it comes to pushing boundaries—and this boldness has put her on the map, in Chicago and beyond.

Today’s Special profiles 100 of the best emerging chefs from around the world as chosen by a panel of 20 leading names from the world of international gastronomy. With choices from food & drink luminaries like José Andrés, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Daniela Soto-Innes, the book serves as both an authoritative overview of contemporary gastronomic culture and an invaluable compendium of inspired recipes.

Check it out here.