A major change in a restaurant, especially a popular, well-reviewed one, is reason for a revisit, even if that restaurant is relatively new. Reyes Mezcaleria is relatively new — it was the winner of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants as Best New Restaurant of 2017. But despite its short life, Reyes recently underwent one of those major changes that warrant a rereview, replacing its opening chef, Austin Boyd, with Wendy Lopez.
I returned with little skepticism because Lopez is a known quantity, taking the Reyes position after leading the kitchen at Tapa Toros. (Francisco Galeano is now in charge of Tapa Toros; we’ll look in on how he’s doing soon.)
Lopez’s changes to the menu have been subtle but they arise out of her Mexican heritage. I’ve never been one to suggest that cuisines of a nation or region can only be cooked by people of the same heritage. Nor does having a particular ethnic background guarantee that a cook will turn out authentic recreations of his or her homeland’s traditional dishes.
But there’s also no denying that some foods seem to have a certain depth when cooked by talented chefs familiar with the origins. That’s especially true when a cuisine is stylized or modernized. You can tell that it’s created from proper provenance. That’s how the food at Reyes Mezcaleria is under Lopez’s direction.
On a recent evening my companion and I stopped by the North Quarter restaurant and tried an array of items that Lopez has added to the menu.
We started with the Hamachi Tostada, thin slices of cured fish on a blue corn tortilla with pearls of salmon roe and dots of lime-tinged aoli. A drizzle of chile oil gave it a kick.
Charred Octopus featured a dark sauce of squid ink chimichurri and a crispy potato galette with cool cucumber slices. Not the most colorful dish, especially against the gray plate, but delicious. And the octopus was wonderfully firm.
The Tamale is vegetarian, filled with wild mushrooms and poblano rather than the traditional pork. A green tomatillo salsa and crema was draped over the masa, which sat on a husk of corn.
Roasted Squash Mole was another vegetarian option, a Lincoln Log stack of assorted squash in a moat of moody mole, dotted with pepitas. Hot blue corn tortillas were provided but the dish was better enjoyed with knife and fork.
All else remains the same at Reyes, although I think there’s been an improvement in overall service. The lighting is low but strings of bulbs lend a sort of dining-in-the-plaza effect.
It’s all very comfortable. And now there’s comfort food to go with it.
Reyes Mezcalaria is at 821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily; brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The phone number is 407-868-9007.