Café palReal occupies a special place within the Guadalajara culinary arts scene. More than just a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar, palReal is a community. It goes well beyond the partners to include employees, purveyors, customers, contractors, and even friends from out of town who come to cook and throw parties. Everyone loves to hang out because the concept is unique, gourmet, and local.
I’m really not sure where to start; the kitchen or the coffee.
There is a reason why they are consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in Mexico by Culinaria Mexicana Guía México Gastronomico Los 120 Restaurantes. Each of the partners is a world-class specialist in their own discipline. Jorge Sotomayor was crowned the best coffee roaster in Mexico in 2019. Fabrizio was the second-best barista in the world in 2012. Fabian Delgado is a celebrity chef and part-time cultural anthropologist looking for unique ingredients and regional recipes. Redman (Isaac Padilla) is a designer who knows how to build beautiful restaurants with local carpenters, furniture makers, tile makers, potters, and artists to create a uniquely Guadalajara style. The combination of all of these extremely talented individuals is much more than the sum of the parts.
The partnership has turned a bunch of talented kids into local celebrities.
The restaurant opened in 2013 and it almost didn’t make it through the first six months. There were problems with the permits which meant there were no checks and people just left what they thought the experience was worth. And more often than not people paid well and tipped well. But at about the six-month mark, the concept hit an inflection point and all of a sudden it was absolutely packed all the time, and important culinary figures were traveling to visit.
The Kitchen at Café palReal
Chef Fabian Delgado has grown up to be one of the best chefs in Guadalajara. He loves Mexico, knows Jalisco very well, but has also traveled extensively which has inspired his menus. After a recent trip to Oaxaca, he brought back two big suitcases filled with exotic chiles, cacao beans, and other spices that were featured on the menu for months.
Many of the specials are constantly updated to include hard-to-find ingredients from small producers that change seasonally. The rainy season coincides with mushroom season and a forager brings in wild mushrooms as soon as they are available.
You will not find beverages supplied by a multinational conglomerate. A lot of care has been taken in selecting purveyors that are a part of the local community. They throw parties at the nearby microbreweries and the local microbreweries throw parties at their place.
I think palReal has the best salads in the city. While everyone else is overdressing their salads to hide questionable greens, Fabian is a minimalist who is trying to show off the spectacular lettuces and bitter greens that he has found.
There is a really beautiful class of greens called quelites that include things like watercress, verdolagas, and seepweed that find their way into salads and garnishes. Quelites are special because of their taste, nutritional value, and cultural significance.
palReal is famous for breakfast but it would be a shame to only eat there once and miss the lunch. If you can get tickets to a special event you will not be disappointed.
Working with other talented chefs from across Mexico, Chef Fabian has picked up a few ideas that have added depth to his dishes. There is a who’s who of famous Mexican chefs coming through that place with some coming in as customers like Enrique Olvera or Javier Plascencia and others coming in to throw parties like Nico Mejia and Paco Ruano.
I like to think that I have learned a lot about Mexico from these people. They are bringing country-style ingredients into the city like few people are doing.
Breakfast at Café palReal
Breakfast is what put palReal on the map. Chef Fabian Delgado cut his teeth cooking and designing the menu at Caligari, the classic Guadalajara breakfast spot. It is the combination of breakfast and coffee that convinces people to wait hours for a table on Saturday morning.
There are a couple of staples on the menu at palReal that everyone needs to try on their first couple of visits. The encacahuatadas with pork belly are spectacular. They are lightly fried tortillas filled with requeson cheese and bathed in a peanut and chile sauce, essentially a taco bañado. Second is the lonche de pancita. It is basically a pork belly sandwich with green sauce, but the best damn pork belly sandwich you will find within a 500-mile radius and possibly the most Instagrammed dish in Guadalajara.
I have the tendency to order the same dishes time and again. It isn’t until the fourth of fifth time that I have to remind myself to try something new. The huevos rancheros were a staple for almost two years. The secret is to order the with both the red sauce and the green sauce and add a protein like a chorizo or pork belly.
The tapioca dish sells out rather early most Saturdays. That is my son’s favorite because it always comes with perfect fruit and the shaved hazelnut really brings it all together.
Try to switch it up or share plates if you are eating with company.
Lunch at Café palReal
In my humble opinion, 12 noon to 1 o’clock pm is the best hour to eat at palReal. You can choose from the breakfast menu or the lunch menu. If it is really busy, a few of the breakfast items may be sold out like bread or tapioca. I think the tacos make up for that but to each their own.
There is a perfectly made Tijuana-style Caesar Salad. The burnt chile ash gives the dish a lingering smokey flavor and highlights unique chiles that not many people are aware of.
To begin with, the tortillas are made from heirloom varietal blue corn nixtamal from Xokol. These are some of the best tortillas that you will taste in this lifetime. Next comes the diversity of the tacos. Recipes from Jalisco and all over the country.
I always start with a molleja taco. The molleja is a gizzard also known as sweetbreads. It is a fatty cut of meat that crisps up nicely. The lengua in salsa verde is probably a good place to jump into eating exotic cuts of meat. The beef tongue is incredibly tender and the green tomatillo sauce is better than most.
There are usually two vegetarian tacos. Oyster mushrooms in a chile sauce with guacamole and verdolagas are as meaty as mushrooms get. The quelite tacos is something that everyone should try. There is an important synergy between the quelites and the cornfield. They are as natural compliments as can be while growing and while cooking.
Chef Fabian has family from Oaxaca so his portfolio of moles is ample. There are usually a couple different mole sauces on the menu paired with different proteins. Each chile tastes a little different and has a different level of spiciness. Try to taste them all.
Currently, I try to order the specials. I have tasted everything on the menu and love it all. The specials feel like Chef Fabian is trying to teach a class. Let’s take the ceviche for example. First and foremost the fish changes but the preparation and ingredients change as well. It’s like he’s teaching a class: coconut ceviche, lenguado (white flatfish like a halibut), totoaba, tuna, or shrimp.
On the last couple of trips, I have found a couple of different shrimp specials. One time it was a chile butter sauce and the other it was a hollandaise sauce. They are served with the head and the tail and it takes a little getting used to eating the head and chewing the shells. It is totally worth it because the head is the best bite. It is where all the juice mixes with the sauce. Chew carefully and enjoy.
Special Events at palReal
You will rub shoulders with celebrity chefs, epicureans, and hipsters from all over. A really unique crowd shows up for the events. Many of the attendees are food service professionals from other local restaurants who want to get to know chefs that they admire. You get a little more time to chat with a group of people who really know what good food is.
The Coffee at Café palReal
palReal is the pinnacle of the Guadalajara coffee experience.
First of all, palReal would not be what it is today without the incredible coffee program. The combination of master barista and master roaster working in-house means that every employee has a solid understanding of what makes great coffee. Everyone is able to chat you up about where the coffee comes from, what methods the farmers use at this particular farm, and recommend some great coffee drinks.
Expect well-educated baristas, a variety of coffees to try from all across Mexico, and a spectacular menu in a beautiful setting.
I recommend starting with a shot of espresso, moving on to a V60 pour-over with your breakfast, and having a Mexican mocha or a flat white for dessert.
These are the pioneers who are changing the direction of the local coffee scene.
The best part of the coffee program is the variety of beans to choose from. You can easily take a class and learn about the different processes from one farm or taste different brewing methods of the same bean. Tasting a couple of different coffees next to each other is one of the best possible ways to train your palette.
While I have never worked as a barista in a third-wave coffee shop before, I have learned to be an educated consumer from Café palReal. Knowing how to describe what you like and dislike to a barista means that you get to drink more of the good stuff and skip the mediocre stuff.
Café palReal is really the full experience. Besides drinking coffee you can buy coffee and they will teach you how to make that coffee in whatever method that you choose. A lot of science goes into brewing great coffee and a few tweaks here and there can really improve the final result.
The dessert menu at palReal isn´t huge. There is a lime meringue pie, a flan with aged requesón cheese but the real show stopper is the affogato. Getting a real shot of espresso and a scoop of agavatte flavored ice cream makes all the difference. And the same goes for the Carajillo after-dinner coffee drink. A great shot of espresso makes all the difference.
Next time you are in Jalisco you should eat at palReal. You won´t be disappointed.