Talavera Cocina Mexicana, named for the beautiful blue and white pottery that decorates its restaurant, offers authentic and delicious Mexican food in the heart of Coral Gables. The open dining room, with its burnt orange walls and portraits of famous Mexicans hanging around the bar area, convey a relaxed, fun atmosphere.
Unfortunately in the land of Chili’s and Taco Bell, Mexican food (really Tex-Mex) gets a bad rap as being fat-laden and cheese-covered, but in reality Mexican food doesn’t have to be a one note calorie bomb. The fresh herbs, ingredients, salsas and sauces utilized in Mexican cooking make this cuisine, when done right, one of the small wonders of the world.
This diner has been to Talavera since it opened in 2009 and it’s one of her go-to restaurants in Miami. Authentic Mexican food is hard to come by in the 305, but Talavera does it right. All the meals eaten here have consistently good, with fresh ingredients, artful presentation and efficient service.
Talavera was one of the first local restaurants to offer tap water in a glass carafe at your table. Now, this is typical at many restaurants. The waiter pours the first glass and the diners take it from there. While some diners don’t like this method, the Miami Dining Examiner loves it. It’s conservation minded and there’s nothing worse than being thirsty and waiting for water.
Next up, blue corn tortilla chips are served in a woven silver tray, with a hot green salsa and a not-so-hot red salsa presented on a Talavera caddy. These salty blue chips are to be enjoyed while diners check out the menu; they are addictive and perfect with a mixture of both homemade salsas.
Pretty blue and white Talavera pottery plates adorn the tables (they’re available for purchase), which are replaced as dishes arrive. In the appetizer section, the queso fundido is a big fan favorite of diners. The melted cheese dish is available with chorizo, mushrooms or poblano chilies and comes with fresh flour tortillas. It ranges from $12 to $15.
The ceviches, a crossover from related restaurant Jaguar, are also a big hit, with fresh fish, marinated in citrus juices and served in a clear glass, as a healthy option to start. The portions come in two sizes- an appetizer portion ($12), the other meal-size for $18. Tostadas, with shrimp or fish, are $5.
Talavara’s guacamole is smooth and buttery and comes adorned with crumbed queso fresco and crunchy chicharrones for $13. It arrives with hot flour tortillas.
The soups at Talavera are also very good. The tortilla is not the one typically seen, but made with a guajillo chile broth and packed with goodies like fried pasilla chilies, chopped avocado, queso fresco and chopped cilantro. It’s $5 for a cup, $8 for a bowl. The cilantro soup is a puree of cilantro in chicken stock and is garnished with chopped zucchini, goat cheese and tortilla strips for $4 (cup) to $6 (bowl).
There’s also another soup sometimes offered with huitlacoche, a corn fungus considered a delicacy in Mexico, that is delicious. It’s thick, black and topped with white crema. It sounds gross, but tastes yummy and supposedly huitlacoche (also known as black gold) is akin to a Mexican version of truffles.
Talavera also offers posole, the Mexican hominy stew, on Thursdays, for $13 for lunch and $16 for dinner. There are different types offered and this hearty stew, made with dried corn, is a meal, not an appetizer.
While the huaraches are Talavera’s signature dish, and ordered often by the Miami Dining Examiner’s dining companion, it’s not her favorite dish here. Huaraches are corn masa cakes, shaped into a sandal form, spread with black bean puree and topped with a variety of options including beef, chicken, pork, fish or veggies. Shredded lettuce, salsa verde and crumbled goat cheese are piled on top of that. Prices range from $15 to $17, according to topping.
While the Miami Dining Examiner has eaten at Talavera for dinner, the best deal is the lunch special. For thirteen dollars, many of the favorites are available, as well as mix and matching soups and salads.
Talavera even has a “lighter options” portion of the menu, where items like cactus salad are offered. Cactus salad, with long strips of light green cactus, comes with grilled Portobello mushrooms, spinach, tomato, red onion, Serrano chilies, cilantro, crumbled feta and topped with a lime vinaigrette. It’s $11, or $15 with grilled chicken.
Caesar salad, now an American lunch staple, was actually invented in Tijuana, Mexico. Talavera’s version of this ubiquitous dish is a worthy representation, with crisp romaine, parmesan cheese, croutons and creamy dressing for $8. Grilled chicken can be added for an extra $2.
The moles here are sublime. They are not cheap, and not low calorie, but they are really good. The mole coloradito on short ribs comes with string beans and house rice for $24. The mole Don Vicente for $20 is served over a crispy skin chicken breast with rice, poached peaches and watercress. Both moles blend of spices is rich, complex and delicious; they pair perfectly with their proteins.
This diner’s go-to for lunch is often the enchiladas. Pulled chicken breast is stuffed into corn tortillas, rolled up and topped with either red or green sauce, then topped with sliced lettuce and crumbled goat cheese. Getting half red and half green is the best of both sauces and this dish is always fresh and tasty. The pork tacos that were tried recently came three to a serving and were accompanied by guacamole, salsa, onion and cilantro. They were very good.
When calories don’t count, the pulled pork sandwich ($16) with guacamole, black bean puree, pickled red onions on a soft bun, served with homemade potato chips, is awesome. Ditto on the chili relleno ($17), a roasted poblano chile filled with Oaxan cheese and topped with red sauce. It’s a monster size meal.
The mole enchiladas ($18) were recently enjoyed at Talavera. Pulled chicken breast is stuffed in corn tortillas, which is then smothered in dark, rich mole, drizzled with white crema and topped with sliced onions and crumbled goat cheese.
The drinks here, especially the Margaritas, are very good. There are interesting flavors like hibiscus, passion fruit and prickly pear. While this diner has never left room for dessert, apparently she’s missing out as diners on online review sites raved about the mamey guava cheesecake, chocolate cake and flan.
The service at Talavera is normally very good, with friendly, helpful waiters. At lunchtime, it’s easy to get in and out quickly. There is also some seating available outside.
The restaurant, not one to relax with its already full dining room, keeps it fresh by occasionally mixing up the menu (while keeping the favorites) and offering their Margarita Lab for Happy Hour and Posole Thursdays. They also participate in Giralda Under the Stars and Miami Spice.
Talavera is part of the Jaguar Hospitality Group, along with Jaguar and Peacock Café. It’s concept of bringing upscale Mexican cuisine with fresh ingredients and featuring old and new world Mexican dishes, is a welcome one to Miami. This group, helmed by executive chef Oscar del Rivero and other Mexican natives, has also been helpful to the community in donating food and time to many local charities.
This diner certainly hopes to keep returning to this little taste of Mexico in the Gables (aka Talavera) for many years to come.
2299 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
Coral Gables, FL 33134
M-F 11:30 a.m.- 11 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m.- 11:30 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.- 11 p.m.