A taste of Huitzilin

This Mexican restaurant, at 30 rue de la Py, has been winning over customers with its authentic cuisine since 2013

A traditional Mexican restaurant was an unlikely addition to the place Edith Piaf. But in six years of business, Huitzilin has won over a clientele that has grown to appreciate the true cocina mexicana.

“Mexican cuisine has a bad reputation because it’s always confused with Tex-Mex, which is too loaded with spices, too spicy, too fatty,” says manager and part-owner, Monica Espinosa. She explains that traditional cooking uses a lot of coriander, many kinds of spicy peppers, salsa verde (a tomatillo-based sauce), as well as cheeses, crème fraîche, beans, nopal cactus and corn tortillas.

From Mexico City, Monica moved to Paris some 20 years ago to study French for one year. One year led to another, and she never left. Today, she, her French husband and daughter live in the 20th arrondissement near Jourdain, a neighborhood she says is “lively thanks to all the cultures mixing”.

In 2013, she and three associates — two women she met working at the Anahuacalli Mexican restaurant in the 5th arrondissement and one cousin — opened Huitzilin, which means “hummingbird” in the Aztec language Nahuatl. Much like this favorite bird, the restaurant is small and colorful. Bright straw placemats dot the 12 tables, multi-colored papel picado garlands hang from the blue walls to the big windows that look out onto the rue du Capitaine Ferber and the place.

Monica is the only associate to work in the restaurant; she waitresses and handles the bar. In the open kitchen, two Mexican chefs, both trained in France and Mexico, serve up traditional home cooking, such as tacos, enchiladas and fajitas, and prepare as much on-site as possible. Of course there are some exceptions: certain specialty ingredients can “unfortunately” only be bought canned (tomatillos and nopals), and others are substituted with easier to get European products (cow’s milk feta replaces crumbly queso fresco, and mozzarella replaces melty quesillo).

“We want people to appreciate real Mexican cuisine for its true worth — although we try to offer inexpensive dishes,” Monica says, noting the success of their takeout burritos.

Over the years, Huitzilin customers have grown to accept unfamiliar ingredients and tastes. “It’s a question of trust,” says Monica, “In the beginning, people didn’t know too much about the cuisine or the restaurant, they were wary. But I see they are slowly beginning to trust us.” She says customers increasingly appreciate beans, spicy sauces and corn chips. But they do not yet fully accept corn tortillas, generally preferring wheat ones.

Monica hopes to one day offer shrimp or fish tacos, and more vegetarian dishes, such as empanadas stuffed with huitlacoche (“Mexican truffles”). Two items that won’t change on the menu: the enchiladas and the taquitos de pollo, which are too dear to her.

tinga
chicken tinga, a plat du jour
Huitzilin
30 rue de la Py
Métro Porte de Bagnolet
01 43 64 98 26