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Mexico City Mash-Up 

You think you know what you like at your favorite restaurant. Then, you go there with someone new, and get your mind deliciously blown by their go-to item. The burrito verde at Mexico City downtown long held a special place in my heart, but last week I discovered my true love there: the guacamole.

For starters, it's made fresh and tableside in a heavy black bowl of volcanic rock. The server blends avocados, onions, cilantro and a special seasoning and jalapeno peppers, which determines how spicy it ends up. I went for the full-on pepper treatment, and it was like a revelation of green, clean flavor.

Co-owner Agustin Garcia says that's how he and his business partner, Alberto Martinez, learned to make sauces, including guacamole, from skills passed along from mothers, grandmothers and other family members back in their respective Mexican towns of Puebla and Mexico City.

"Instead of using the blender, Grandma [would] put the ingredients out, make [the sauce] on the stone," Garcia explains. "It's time to eat!"

The restaurant's take on the classic avocado-based accompaniment doesn't use tomatoes, as some do. Like the fruit, the spices are always fresh, but don't ask what they are: "Some things I can't tell you!" Garcia says.

The heavy -- "Try to pick it up ... with both hands" -- mortar-and-pestle bowls used here are imported from Mexico but locally sourced through a friend's store in Beechview. Avocadoes come from many sources, and herbs are imported from Atlanta.

Splendidly fresh guacamole isn't the only noteworthy menu item at Mexico City. They carry horchata, a sweet vegetable-based milky drink. Garcia also explains that ever since an exhibition game a few years ago extended the Steeler Nation south into Mexico, it made perfect sense to add the Black and Gold burrito to the menu.

Since adding the fresh guacamole to the menu of both the Smithfield and Wood Street locations two years ago, it's been a huge hit, he says. Sometimes people even come in just to make a meal of the guacamole and chips. People add it to their burritos, tacos and enchiladas as well. "We are the first to have [tableside guacamole] in Pittsburgh," he says. "It's really popular in Mexico."

 

111 Smithfield St. (412-391-2591) and 411 Wood St. (412-246-2042), Downtown

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