459 2nd Ave (@ 26th St), 212-679-3665
Antonio and Leonor Bonilla gave birth to both their restaurant, Mexico Lindo, and their daughter, Claudia, in 1972. At the time, the palates of most Norteamericanos weren’t familiar with Mexican flavors, and the Bonillas loved the homespun cuisine of Mexico state—dishes that brought the best out of fresh corn, soft local cheeses, and hot, complex chile sauces. So the Bonillas opened shop in a roomy, exposed-brick space on Second Avenue, sporting neon signs and a Cinco de Mayo mural. Three and a half decades later, Claudia Bonilla, once a child of the restaurant, is now its matriarch. Her loyalty to her parents’ original intent, while steering the kitchen toward ever-more authentic offerings, testifies to Mexico Lindo’s longevity.
Authenticity is immediate in Lindo’s quesadilla. In the United States, most eaters are accustomed to two or three cheeses pressed to melty goo between the folds of a flour tortilla. Here, the contents are soft slabs of solid Oaxacan queso, a mild white cheese similar to mozzarella, and chopped bits of spicy chorizo sausage, all wrapped in a hand-pressed, homemade corn tortilla so toothsome, it could stand on its own as an appetizer.
Mexico Lindo’s sauces lend succulence to platters, especially the star, Mole Poblano, a rich blend of many spices, three chiles—pueblo, ancho and guajillo—and Mexican chocolate with toasted sesame seeds.
Use dessert as an opportunity to further your Mexican palate; the mud cake in particular makes good use of cajeta, a soft goat cheese beloved in Mexico, where it is commonly eaten with breakast. Here, the cajeta lends a dense, rich sweetness to the chocolate filling. Swoon, too, over the leche flan, with its caramelized, melt-in-your-mouth custard.
Most of Mexico Lindo’s interior retains a homey familiarity, with tile flooring and snapshots of celebrity fans on the walls sharing space with portraits of Frida Kahlo. Adjoining the main dining area is a smaller room with a mirrored ceiling and wide windows, good for quiet conversations or for people-watching, and a renovated bar serves generous frozen margaritas.
Wherever the seat, the restaurant is imbued with a kind of maturity, a sense that its owners have used the years well. For its loving cultivation of genuinely Mexican entrees, Mexico Lindo has earned a lot of love in return, as its many regulars can attest.