In December, Juan Sánchez, who was then a chef at Made Nice, Eleven Madison Park’s casual sister restaurant, started an Instagram account: @citlali_cocina. After five years in New York, Sánchez had noticed that the city’s Mexican food was mostly confined to the styles of a few regions, including Puebla, in central Mexico, and Oaxaca, in the south. Citlali Cocina would be a small way to highlight the cuisine of his home town, Guadalajara, and a place to collect ideas for the restaurant that he hoped to open someday.
The first photo he posted was a glamour shot of a quesadilla, a pale corn tortilla topped with thick, melty strands of quesillo, a stretchy cheese, and a leaf of epazote, an aromatic herb, sprinkled with tequesquite, a mineral salt used since the pre-Hispanic era. A video followed: glistening chunks of birria de res, beef marinated in chilis, spices, and herbs, covered in banana leaves, and cooked for four hours.
On Christmas Eve, there appeared a tantalizing image of a bowl piled with a poached egg, coarsely crumbled white cheese, and wispy greens, under which peeked the corners of tortilla chips coated in red salsa. Beside it was a mug containing a dark, glossy beverage. “There’s nothing like waking up to a warm hug of chilaquiles and café de olla,” the caption read. How could Sánchez have known that he was describing his future business model?