North America’s Best Restaurant Remains Open in AMLO’s Mexico

By Andrea Navarro | March 24, 2020

Finding a table at Mexico City’s exclusive Pujol restaurant has never been easier.

Chef Enrique Olvera’s famous restaurant is still open for business amid the coronavirus pandemic, mainly because the Mexican government hasn’t said it should close. Usually booked for months on end, online reservations website Open Table offers several time slots for every day this week.

Pujol ranked 12th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and was the top dining spot in North America in 2019. Olvera, who was profiled in Netflix’s Chef’s Table, also co-owns New York City’s Cosme restaurant.

In a bid to support the already struggling Mexican economy, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has shied away from enforcing strict social distancing measures. The wishes of the president known as AMLO, who just this weekend encouraged Mexicans to go out and enjoy meals with their families, are clashing with instructions by some Mexican cities and states, which were left to act on their own, coming up with measures that are at times baffling. Mexico City, for example, shut bars and cinemas but not restaurants.

“What we are seeing here is a schism,” said Gladys McCormick, an associate history professor who specializes in Mexico-U.S. relations at Syracuse University in New York. “As communities take matters into their own hands, implementing their own safety protocols and taking the helm of how they each prepare for the coming pandemic, we see a further erosion of the federal government’s authority.”

Pujol is putting in place all recommendations from health authorities to prevent contagion in its environment, head of communications Patricia Guerrero said in an email. The restaurant will immediately comply with an eventual decision by authorities ordering restaurants to close, she said.

Mexico has 367 confirmed coronavirus cases with four deaths linked to the illness so far.

Tourism plays a big role in the Mexican economy and is already suffering effects from the virus. Airlines have had to cut capacity as demand wanes and governments around the world impose strict travel restrictions. Hotel occupancies across the country are expected to plummet during the spring break and Easter vacation period.

Mexico’s Already Weak Economy Vulnerable to Virus Shock

With some economists warning activity this year may contract as much as during the Tequila crisis in the mid-90s, Mexico’s central bank cut rates in an unannounced meeting on Friday. The peso has lost 23% of its value in the past month, hit by a combination of slumping oil prices and the likelihood of a recession in the U.S., Mexico’s main trading partner.

Empty Streets

While Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said the decision to leave restaurants open could change in the coming days, locals and visitors aren’t waiting for government orders and have drastically reduced activity in the upscale neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma Norte.

Alsea SAB, an operator of several restaurant brands throughout Latin America and Europe has already cut corporate jobs and has set up a program for employees to take unpaid leaves of absence for 30 days, among other measures.

As demand wanes, restaurants across the country have set up “Gastronomic Certificates,” where clients give 500 to 1,000 pesos ($20 to $40) to their favorite restaurants to help them weather the crisis and pay staff a little while longer. Other restaurants, including Pujol, are helping their suppliers connect directly with clients through social media, giving them an extra source of income.

For those still walking through the door, at least the revered tasting menu at Pujol will cost just $92.50 before drinks, down from $120.60 when the virus-fueled devaluation began.

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