The chef-owners of Mixtli think nothing of time travel—they do it often. At their tiny restaurant, Rico Torres and Diego Galicia create menus that reach back centuries, even millennia. Says Galicia, “Other chefs are looking toward the future. We’re going back. It’s way more fun.” But the two aren’t doing museum pieces. Some of their culinary techniques are traditional, while others are so avant-garde they border on sci-fi.

The Mixtli time machine is a remodeled blue railroad boxcar parked at the back of a shopping center. The restaurant seats exactly twelve people. Five days a week, the chefs serve an eight-to-ten-course tasting menu. Including Torres and Galicia, there are five employees, and everybody does a little of everything, including explain the menu, which can take some doing, because Mixtli’s muse is highly impressionistic.

The inspiration for one memorable dinner was the Maya civilization’s trade routes. Another focused on the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. Galicia explains a favorite entrée, a perfect example of their old-meets-new approach: “Rico was reading about the food of Extremadura in the 1400s—that’s where [conquistador Hernán] Cortés was from—and it mentioned that smoked fish and grapes was a very common dish. So we got these big, beautiful grapes, hollowed them out, and filled them with a puree of smoked fish that we made into Dippin’ Dots.”

What’s their source material? The bookish Torres prefers the historical collection of Mexican cookbooks housed at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He has spent many happy hours there, poring over discoveries like a fragile menu from a five-day wedding feast in 1789. “It’s all written in beautiful cursive script,” he says. Galicia owns a true treasure: “My great-grandmother went to a cooking school in Mexico City, and I inherited her notebook. It’s almost a hundred years old.”

When a new menu debuts, loyal locals still claim most of the seats, but it’s getting harder for them to do so. After Torres and Galicia were named to Food & Wine’s list of best new chefs, in 2017, diners from around the country started making reservations (which are required). This year, the two chefs made the semifinals of the prestigious James Beard Awards.

But no matter how much praise has been heaped on any given menu, after exactly 45 dinners, it’s finito. Torres and Galicia haven’t repeated themselves in the five years they’ve been open, and they don’t intend to. New ideas are not in short supply. In some sort of spiritual mind meld, Mixtli draws from the soul of San Antonio, a city that honors its indigenous and Spanish roots while striding onto the modern stage. 

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