It all started with tears in a basement at Fuencarral 82. 26 years later, ‘Las Mañanitas’ has won the ‘Taco de Oro’ (Golden Taco) in Dubai for being a genuine Mexican restaurant abroad.
The ‘Taco de Oro’ is more than an award. It is a statuette covered with 24-carat gold sheets and black diamonds, representing a Mexican bean taco. Additionally, it is awarded by the platform “Cocineros MX por el Mundo” (Mexican Chefs around the World) in their “Guía Taco de Oro” (Golden Taco Guide), a ‘tourist manual’ of restaurants outside Mexico, which could be likened to the Michelin Guide of the Latin American country.
This restaurant is now among the top 10 best Mexican restaurants in the world. Among the list of winners, there are two more Spanish restaurants: ‘El Mexicano y Mucho Más’ in Vitoria-Gasteiz and ‘Corazón de Agave’ in Sitges, Barcelona.
But it hasn’t been all recognition and prosperity for Las Mañanitas. In February 1997, Ernesto Díaz (Mexico City, 1964) opened the restaurant next to Plaza de Barceló.
Díaz is a lawyer, and he pursued his postgraduate studies in Spain thanks to the Reina Sofía Scholarship, aimed at the children of Spanish migrants in Mexico. He set foot in Madrid 31 years ago and never wanted to leave. At the age of 28, instead of pursuing a legal career, he decided to make a 180-degree turn in his life and create this Mexican restaurant.
The beginnings were tough: “The Chueca and Malasaña areas were intimidating. When I opened, I was married with a young child, highly educated… I would walk out onto the street and ask myself, ‘What am I doing here?'” Díaz recalls.
The frustration grew. Customers were scarce. “I would cry and cry. I’d say to myself, ‘Why do I need to be here as a waiter when I could be giving lectures at a university or working in a law firm in Mexico right now?'”
His luck changed one Friday when the Telemadrid program ‘Madrid Directo’ visited the restaurant, and at the same time, El Mundo published a positive review of it. “From that night on, the restaurant’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing until today. I always say that I owe everything to Pedro J. and the media,” says the entrepreneur.
Years later, they moved from Fuencarral a kilometer north in a straight line. They are now on Bavo Murillo. “Thank you, Malasaña, but Chamberí also deserves a chance,” they declared from the restaurant.
Ernesto Díaz has other restaurants like Las Mañanitas in Boadilla del Monte and the flamenco tablao Las Carboneras, next to the Plaza Mayor, which he runs with his wife, Manuela Vega, a flamenco dancer with whom he lives and has three children.
“Once the customer enters through the door, they are mine,” says the owner of Las Mañanitas. Their extensive and flavorful homemade food, vibrant decor, and atmosphere make Las Mañanitas restaurants authentic Mexican establishments. To maintain their authenticity, 99% of the staff are originally from Mexico.
Appetizers like the squash blossom quesadilla wrapped in a black corn tortilla or their nachos are highly demanded dishes: more than 400,000 have been sold since their opening.
Their main dishes are Mexican stews and tacos commonly eaten in Mexico, such as cochinita pibil, chipotle meatballs, or pressed pork tacos. For dessert, the house specialty is a delicious passion fruit and mango cheesecake.
On the other hand, the restaurant in Boadilla del Monte is celebrating, and this is reflected in its menu. In 2023, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the first opening license for Mexican cantinas, typical taverns from Mexico are paying homage to the most famous ones by recreating a legendary dish from each of them.
Ernesto Díaz already has his ticket to Dubai for April 14th. The award ceremony will be attended by over 250 guests from around the world, including chefs, Mexican product producers, and distributors. The gala will feature high-ranking officials from the Mexican government, famous journalists, culinary researchers from Mexican universities, host Marco Antonio Regil, and renowned Mexican chefs Karime López, Cosme Aguilar, and Roberto Ruiz.