Friday, June 21, 2024

Dining out in Mazatlán: breakfast and brunch by day, Thai by night

Let’s start with the cinnamon rolls: Fat and fluffy, with a just-thick-enough drizzle of creamy icing on top that’s not too sweet. They’re irresistible all the way to that last tight twist of sugary cinnamon goodness tucked deep inside — a perfect storm of all the right elements.

Nonetheless, it’s surprising to me that these are what La Olivia is known for when the menu holds so many intriguing, delicious and consistently well-prepared items to choose from. If you’re a breakfast or brunch fan like me, this is a place worth visiting — more than once.

Although you’ll find some traditional Mexican dishes, often with a healthy twist, more notable are the vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. There’s an exciting wave of eateries opening in Mazatlán run by a new generation of locals who dare to look beyond the traditional, and La Olivia is definitely one of them.

Being the breakfast fan that I am, I’m always torn between my favorites or something new. Usually, I order the Cazuela — a bowl of black beans, salsa tatemada, velvety jocoque cheese, fresh spinach, avocado and pickled onions topped with two eggs on a crispy tostada — or the breakfast sandwich: house-made whole wheat brioche grilled with a trio of goat, Gouda and American cheeses; or sometimes the Chia Pudding, made with Greek yogurt, house-made granola, fresh fruit and coconut cream.

Then there’s the Toast with Beet Hummus — chef and owner Bárbara Gutiérrez’s personal favorite — which sounds basic yet is anything but. Pretty and satisfying, its super-fresh ingredients and creative flavors are perfectly balanced in a way that’s, well, hard for us home cooks to duplicate.

La Olivia restaurant Mazatlan
La Olivia sits in a renovated turn-of-the-century building and features floor-to-ceiling windows.

“I want to share the food I love,” said Gutiérrez, who uses all her own recipes. “I love the feeling of pleasing people.”

Drawing on an extensive culinary education (including an immersive cooking school in Thailand and a degree from New York’s International Culinary Center), she has filled the menus with foods she likes to eat, sourcing locally and organically whenever possible. La Olivia is her dream realized, and with her husband Kurt Heimpel, they’ve turned one of the Centro Histórico’s iconic colonial buildings into an oasis of good taste in every sense of the word.

The charming restaurant attracts the eye first as you come upon the beautifully renovated turn-of-the-century building, painted an elegant soft grey. Floor-to-ceiling windows are filled with plants and gauzy curtains; a sandwich board on the cobbled sidewalk announces the day’s specials or that there’s fresh bread.

Three small dining rooms (one in a cozy courtyard) are delightfully decorated in what I’d call French country meets Old Mazatlán. Original tile floors, mismatched white-painted wood chairs and a variety of table sizes are welcoming, and the friendly staff is fluently bilingual and familiar with the menu.

Bárbara trained as a chef but then segued into baking after discovering she loved the chemistry of bread and the science of baking. That means rolls, breads, pastries are all made in-house. They formed the foundation of the restaurant, which originally opened three years ago.

Then the pandemic happened, and after months of closure and restrictions, the couple finally reopened for breakfast to an overwhelming response.

Banh Mi sandwich, Olibong restaurant
Olibong uses La Olivia’s kitchen to offer Thai and Vietnamese-inspired cuisine like this Banh Mi sandwich.

“Customers are equally locals and expats, and now, more and more, there are tourists coming to Centro Histórico, walking the streets and looking for a culinary experience,” Gutiérrez said. “I think Mazatlán is at a point that it’s growing, and it’s a good time to do new things.”

Another result of the pandemic was that longtime friends Lis Maíz and Luis Rochín — who ran a Thai restaurant in Mexico City for more than 20 years — decided to move to Mazatlán. It didn’t take long for the two chefs to start Olibong, offering Thai and Vietnamese-inspired cuisine, first from a to-go window a few nights a week, and now with evening dinner service as well.

Using her suppliers from Mexico City, Lis creates what Gutiérrez calls, “Really good, simple street food.” Fascinated by the many similarities between Mexican and Thai cooking — things like the abundant but different use of chiles, spices and fresh herbs, and the reliance on grains and flours other than wheat — she is excited by the new partnership.

Olibong’s menu offers about a dozen Thai classics like Banh Mi (with chicken or shiitake mushrooms) and Pad Thai, as well as drinks and desserts.

La Olivia is named after the couple’s dog Olivia, an adorable black-and-white shih tzu who pre-pandemic could often be found in the café.

“We didn’t want the restaurant name to reflect any specific type of food,” explained Gutiérrez. “But to put la or el in front of someone’s name is a very Sinaloa thing, and that reflects who we are and where we are.”

La Olivia Mazatlan
La Olivia is part of a new wave of locals opening eateries in Mazatlán who look beyond traditional menu offerings.

What: La Olivia

Where: Belisario Domínguez 1216, Centro Histórico, Mazatlán

When: 8 a.m.–1:30 p.m., Thursday–Tuesday (closed Wednesday)

How: 669.985.0642 / Facebook @laoliviamzt

And: breakfast and brunch menu daily. Wine, cocktails. Salsas, kombucha, hummus, organic eggs and peanut butter, breads and baked goods available for purchase.

What: Olibong

When: Dine-in or takeout, Thursday–Sunday, 3–10 p.m. (Sunday till 9 p.m.), Monday and Tuesday takeout only, 3–9:30 p.m. Closed Wednesday.

Where: inside La Olivia

How: 669.240.5232 / Facebook @Olibong

And: Free delivery all over Mazatlán. Catering available.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006. Janet also writes The Tropical Table, a food column that appears every Monday on Mexico News Daily.

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