From the skilled hand of Isabel Balderas comes a Mexican restaurant to treasure…
Sure, there have been no shortage of ill-advised catastrophes, but by in large Warsaw’s track record when it comes to Mexican food has overall been pretty strong. In recent times, that’s meant vegan miracles from Momencik, the street style capers of Senor Lucas, and the double-pronged revival of the Blue Cactus in Elektrownia and Norblin.
And aside from that motley handful, La Sirena have continued to do a good job of showcasing the more nuanced side to this addictive cuisine. So all things considered, we’ve had it pretty good here in Warsaw. Now though, things have got even better with the opening of Santa Catrina.
With so much of Powiśle rebuilt in the form of pricey, glass apartment blocks, happening upon a street like Radna is a pleasure in itself. A quiet, leafy enclave, it feels a world away from the hip happenings to be found on Dobra and Solec. Immediately identified by the flowers that have been placed on the façade, Santa Catrina’s address was formerly the home of Veg Deli, and evidence of their tenure remains inside courtesy of a neon sign that announces ‘In Food We Trust’.
Santa Catrina can be best described as ‘cheerful’. Themed on Día de Muertos, the simple design makes use of copious floral additions and jaunty skull decorations based on José Guadalupe Posada’s prints of La Calavera Catrina. Look up, and you’ll even see some skeletons whirring about around the revolving fan.
Even on the darkest of days, the tall windows allow for plenty of light to come tumbling in, and the high spirits are underscored by a multi-national crowd babbling in different tongues – sitting on the creaky mezzanine, we found ourselves surrounded by a cheerful troop of Mexican, Colombian and American expats.
Known for her long stint at Dos Tacos, chef Isabel Balderas has long been seen as Poland’s leading authority on Mexican food – since splitting with Dos Tacos to go her own way, that her restaurant has already been featured in the media of her native country says much about the hype surrounding this venture.
Raised in Puebla, her food has even come endorsed by Juan Sandoval, Mexico’s Ambassador to Poland. Jointly running Santa Catrina with her Polish husband, that this is a long-envisioned passion project is clear in all the details.
Not one thing we’ve tried missed the mark, and that goes for not just our visit but subsequent home delivery orders as well. For starters, empanadas packed with broad bean paste and chipotle chile come with a satisfying crunch, though for something a little less familiar consider the molletes – described as traditional open-faced sandwiches, these come heaped with refried beans, melted cheese and chorizo.
Non-standard for Warsaw, main courses, meanwhile, include chilaquiles – lightly friend corn chips served in an irresistible mess of grilled beef, fried egg, tomato chipotle sauce and fried egg. Of course, those wishing to tread more familiar paths can also do so via the choice of quesadillas, burritos and tacos. Marinated in oranges and a natural dye from the seeds of the Achiote fruit, the cochinita pork is the best filling of all – we would happily survive on it for the rest of the year.
If there is a weakness, then it’s the seeming lack of any fatal salsas. For sure, these are in the chef’s skill set, so we expect this issue to be corrected in the imminent future – when eating Mexican food, we’re not alone in wanting to stare death in the face after imbibing a warhead disguised as a salsa.
This, however, can be overlooked – at least for now. This is cooking of such joy and flavor, it’s impossible not to leave without your mood significantly altered. And helping that, find a range of mezcals and margaritas to aid in that journey. Serving also Piqueras organic wine and that classic staple hangover cure, the Michelada, it’s hard to see this place not becoming anything less than a legend.
ul. Radna 14, web