Nov 22

The only Mexican food in Rio

My introduction to Mexican food in South America was disappointing. I had been in Argentina for 3 weeks and was starting to feel that I should eat something other than those bife de chorizo wonder-steaks for which the Argentines are rightly famous. There was a nice looking Mexican restaurant nearby so we decided to go along and get some spice in our lives.

The waiter approached with a fearful look in his eye, nervously holding a plate of nachos as if they might explode at any moment. His eyes widened further as he warned us that the sauces were muy picante. We approached the sauces with caution – I put tiny morsel on the point of a nacho and touched it to my tongue and waited. …and waited. Nothing!

To cut a long story short, the entire meal was utterly bland. I went on to find out that the people of many (though not all) South American countries are not particularly enamoured with the spicy heat and strong flavours associated with Mexican cuisine.

The next time I had Mexican food I was in Mexico and it was a revelation!


Crossing the border into Mexico in 2010. Exciting times lay ahead.


I was blown away by the mind-blowing flavours – salt, spice and sour in almost every bite!


Real Mexican food – full of punchy flavours that brighten your day. Nothing like the bland imitations I had tasted in England and Argentina.


The six weeks I spent in Mexico was enough to make me a fan of their food for life. Sadly, when I arrived in Rio I found that there were very few Mexican options and none were very good. Hector, a Mexican friend living in Rio, confirmed my suspicions – he had tried the Mexican food in Rio and was not impressed.

Then, in September, Hector’s wife Morvyn contacted me to say they had made a discovery. Two guys were making authentic Mexican food at a hostel in Cantagalo and I needed to try it!


Fiesta Mexicana Autêntica Comida Caseira

Morvyn was right! Every Friday night, Daniel Xavez and Luis Suarez put on a Mexican feast to bring tears of joy to homesick Mexicans and enthusiastic gringos alike!


So. Much. Flavour.


I was lucky enough to not only taste their delicious food, but also the meet the guys and learn a little more about their story. Here are some of the highlights of a chat I had with Daniel.



Tom: Hello! Can you tell me a little about yourselves?

Daniel: Hey Tom, we are Daniel Xavez and Luis Suarez – both 25 years of age. We grew up in Los Angeles, California and met at UC Berkeley in 2010.


Danny and Luis enjoying their work.


TDid you enjoy cooking from an early age? 

D: Yes! By age eight I was already cooking full meals, rice, beans and meat, all typical Mexican dishes. Funny to point out that, I started cooking behind my parents backs, since I was dealing with the kitchen which was my mom’s sanctuary and was afraid to tell them. Since both of my parents worked, when I was home alone after school I would practice what I had learnt in the kitchen from simply watching my mom cook on weekends when all my extended family would come over and praise my mother’s food. That is what inspired me to cook, my mom’s delicious food.


T: So your mother was your main inspiration?

D: Yes, but it is important to point out that many of my mom’s recipes come from my grandmother on my father’s side. She was a chef in Mexico, and when my father married my mother in Los Angeles, my father was not satisfied with my mother’s original cooking, so he brought my grandmother from Mexico to live with them for a year and teach my mother her secrets.


T: When did you first come to Rio? What were your first impressions?

D: I came to Rio for a year and a half ‘Study Abroad’ program at PUC-RIO back in 2008. My first day here was December the 28th and it was a hot, humid, cloudy day. I didn’t think much at first until the following day when the sun was out and the Cariocas were doing their thing. I saw the colors of the city, the sounds, the people and fell in love on the spot. What I love most about Rio is that it has a small beach town vibe when it’s actually a huge city of 6 million people. I love how you always seem to run into people you know.


Mouthwatering stuff!


T: Did you miss Mexican food while you were in Rio?

D: Yes! During that time I had fallen in love with the ‘Marvellous City’ but I really missed good Mexican food, as did many other of my US and Mexican friends also studying in PUC. After seven months in the exchange program I went back to California for a visit and brought back corn tortillas, chill peppers and hot sauce. When I returned to Rio, I loved cooking Mexican food for my friends since I now had all the proper ingredients. They all loved the food, and that is when I first got the idea of selling authentic Mexican food.


T: What do you think of Brazilian food? Do you have any favourite dishes?

D: Finding good affordable food is probably the most difficult part of living in Rio for me since I love to eat. There is plenty of delicious Brazilian food, but in my opinion none of it is from Rio, I love food from the north east region of the country and Minas Gerais. My favorite dishes are Baião de Dois and Moqueca de Camarão.


Enmoladas – Chicken enchiladas with mole sauce


T: Where are you going from here? Would you like to open a restaurant one day?

D: Luis and I have been working on this project for a little over two years and I’m happy to say that it has been growing a lot. It started in our apartment in Jardim Botânico, then moved to a restaurant in Ipanema, and then on to hostels all over Rio. I would love to start my own restaurant one day, but would like to keep the relaxed, friendly vibe that our current events have. I love to personally meet and greet my guests and tell them about the food


Feira Gastronômica Chef Mix.


T: Where can people taste your food? Are you attending any of the upcoming culinary events in Rio?

D: Currently we have our events every Friday from 7pm-11pm at Ralé Chateau Hostel in Cantagalo – we only cancel if its pouring rain during that time. You can also find us on November 30th, in what is considered Rio´s First Food Fair by the organizers. It’s called Chef Mix Gourmet in Barra da Tijuca. We will be serving Red Enchiladas, Flautas and Agua de Jamaica. Also we provide a catering service for parties and other events.



I had the pleasure of eating the amazing food that Danny and Luis create and take it from me, it’s really delicious! Finding your way up to the Ralé Chateau Hostel might be a challenge if you’re new to Rio, but the food (and the views!) make it worth the effort. To find more information or to contact them about their catering service, find them at their Facebook page: Fiesta Mexicana Autêntica Comida Caseira


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  1. Rachel's rantings

    This is awesome! Can you please invite me to join you on adventures like this?? I swear I won’t blog about it, i’ll just stuff my face ;)

    1. tomlemes

      Ha ha! Definitely! :D The Mexican food has attracted a great bunch of Mexicans and other gringos so Friday nights at Ralé Chateau are a lot of fun! Next time we’re going, I’ll give you a shout!

  2. Stacy

    I loved the food in Brazil, and have enjoyed experiencing all the cuisine of Europe. I do crave American food when I travel, though, and because I live on the west coast, by “American Food” I mean MEXICAN FOOD! I can’t wait to eat tacos when I return home! It is nearly impossible to find Mexican food abroad, except, of course, if you travel to Mexico. Then you get to eat it at every meal. There’s really nothing quite like it!

    1. tomlemes

      Yes! Mexican food (when it’s good) is amazing isn’t it? It wasn’t until I got to Mexico that I realised just how good it could be. After that, the pale imitations just weren’t good enough.

  3. Jim

    THANK YOU! I’m going to put this on our calender every Friday until we make it happen. I’m gonna get there. So what’s an 80 minute bus ride for some good Mexican food? Gonna make it happen.

    1. tomlemes

      Excellent news Jim! :) I think you will not be disappointed! And if you get there before dark, the views are spectacular (actually they’re pretty nice after dark too!).

  4. Mauricio

    I KNOW! I was Luis’ exchange classmate at PUC and went to his meals once with another friend (we’re both mexican). They helped us lay off all the saudade from the food.
    I loved it.

    1. tomlemes

      Ah brilliant! What better stamp of approval can we have than that? Thanks Mauricio :D

  5. Luciana Lage

    I am so glad to see this post! Luis was my student at UC Berkeley. I am proud of his business in Brazil :)

    1. tomlemes

      Ah, this is so sweet! :D What a happy story!

  6. carlos eduardo

    I too have been disappointed by the Mexican food in Brazil. Recently, I went to a place in Floripa, that supposedly serves authentic comida Mexicana. It was not authentic Mexican at all. It was a Brazilled up style of Mexican. For example, in the dishes I tried, both the rice and beans were just like you’d eat on a plate in a Brazilian place. How is that authentic Mexican? Also, I noticed that many of the offerings came with farofa. Now, I like farofa, but, again, is farofa an authentic ingredient of Mexican food? And, everything I ate was very bland. For me, it was like eating cardboard with some barely flavorful ketchup on it. And surprisingly, it is owned and run by a gringo, also from Los Angeles. The owner happened to be there, and I asked him why not serve really authentic Mexican food. His answer was “Brazilians don’t like spicy food”. Even though I knew different, I did not challenge his assertion. As Forrest Gump’s commander Lieutenant Dan was fond of saying, “Stupid is a s stupid does”.

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Carlos – I have heard that line before “Brazilians don’t like spicy food” and although I don’t fully believe it (just try the spicy malagueta oil that is served with most petiscos), I have found a lot of Brazilians are a little more sensitive to spice (i.e. chilli pepper) than say the average Briton. Certainly when I make Indian curries for a party, I usually have to tone down the chilli a bit otherwise I get complaints.

      BUT, that doesn’t mean the food has to be bland at all!

      Anyway, I’m very happy to say that Danny and Luis are great ambassadors for Mexican food – blandness doesn’t come into it! :)

  7. Daniel F

    Good job guys! I am happy that I can find mexican food in Rio! I’ll see you guys in the summer time in Rio! ;)

    1. tomlemes

      Hey Daniel – they’ll be waiting for you! :)

  8. The Gritty Poet

    Good of you to let people know about these gems since it encourages those who are talented in the kitchen,
    yet not so great at getting the word out – just don´t guilt the lads into creating a marmite taco como agradecimento.
    Oh, I see you´ve been to Tijuana as well (dude I enjoyed many shots and watched many fools ride mechanical bulls during my brief stay in that town). Loads of laughs.

    1. tomlemes

      Woah, Marmite Taco? You’ve just planted a seed Gritty, just planted a seed… ;)

      Ah, the border was in the south, with Guatemala. Sadly I didn’t make it to Tijuana, but your description makes it sound like a culturally rich environment :D

  9. The Gritty Poet

    The most amusing aspect of said cultural experience is the continous change in the facial expression of the mechanical bull operator from the point he starts increasing the intensity of the machine up until when the poor rider is thrown off the device (talk about being and looking sadistic . . .).
    In fairness to Tijuana what else could the city be when their main source of income derives from American teenagers looking to bypass the under 21 drinking age back home and thus use the town to get wasted. I must say though that I was quite impressed with the quality of the paved roads inside Tijuana which is much higher that what I’ve found so far in Brazilian towns of similar size. I haven’t been further south into Mexico so I can’t attest to the quality of roads in less developed areas of the region. Perhaps I should explore Mexico beyond Tijuana one day. I’m sure the Mexicanos would love me (just like the people of Belfast which still holds fond memories of my stay in their lovely city and my corlorful and laid back conversations regarding Catholics and Protestants). Humm, maybe I should be a tour guide.

    1. tomlemes

      As I haven’t been to Tijuana I had better not knock the place, but the idea of a town full of under-age drinkers ‘letting loose’ doesn’t appeal too much… Southern and Central Mexico were the areas I visited and I loved it. During my trip I spent a day with the Zapatistas (EZLN) in the Chiapas Autonomous Zone – for me it was a fascinating day and they had something very interesting going on, but I have a feeling you would have hated it! ;)

      1. The Gritty Poet

        Sorry to carry on but I just can´t keep from imagining you spending an afternoon chatting with Zapatista fighters about the herb garden and then suddenly, the next day, a mass surrender of said revolutionaries to government forces. :-)
        Oh, and viva Tijuana!

  10. Paolo Garcia

    Hey man, I really appreciate you posting this up.. I read it and it gave me the chills to know that my uncle (Daniel) is doing what he’s been wanting to do for a long time. And you’re correct, THEIR FOOD IS AMAZING!

    1. tomlemes

      Hey Paolo! What a nice message! You can see from the other comments (here and on Facebook) how happy Daniel and Luis are making people with their awesome food and friendly style. Getting paid to do something you love is not possible for everyone, but it’s great to see these guys doing such a great job of it! :)

  11. Rachel's rantings in rio

    I’m in! You know where to find me. If you give me a couple days in advance, I will get a babysitter and mr rant and I will make a date night out of it!

    1. tomlemes

      Nice! :D I saw your post on Facebook – I’m about ready for some more Mexican goodness, so hopefully we’ll see you there!

  12. Daniel Xavez (Fiesta Mexicana)

    Tom! Thanks again for the amazing post. Thank you everyone for all the great comments. Paolo miss you homie, hope to see you in Rio soon.

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