To get a feel for El Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) — an exuberant fiesta that honors the dearly departed — head to Paquito’s in North Miami Beach Thursday through Sunday. Nov. 1 and 2 are the traditional days of the dead, based on ancient, indigenous beliefs about the afterlife that were merged with All Saints Day and All Souls Day after the Spanish conquest. The restaurant will have a memorial altar just like the temporary ones Mexicans erect in their homes this time of year, laid out with ofrendas (offerings) to call home the spirits of their loved ones. The deceased’s favorite foods and drinks are included along with sugar skulls, bone-shaped breads, tamales, candy, fruits, candles, papier-mache skeletons, marigolds and tequila.
Owner Luis Alonso is from Pachuca, in central Mexico, where his mother ran a restaurant. His wife, Teresa, daughter, Gabriela, and sons Antonio and Francisco pitch in with everything from hosting to running the kitchen and bar. (Paquito is a name of endearment for Francisco, the baby of the family.)
Start by ordering a margarita to enjoy with fresh, crispy tortilla chips and smoky chipotle salsa. Then sample the chicken enchilada in mole poblano — the famous chile and chocolate sauce from Puebla enriched with ground almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, cracker crumbs and spices. The pork carnitas (“small chunks”) cooked in lard are the real deal, crusty on the outside and succulent within, served with charro beans and salad. Other specialties are steak Paquito, blanketed in sour cream and jalapeño sauce, and salmon Veracruzana, in tomato sauce with capers and olives.
No Mexican celebration is complete without tequila, and there are 140 choices here, from clear, un-aged blanco with hints of citrus and pepper to golden anejo real (aged 1 to 3 years) with smoky vanilla, caramel and honey touches. Reposado is in between, “rested” just under a year in oak barrels, yielding cinnamon, honey and herbal flavors balanced with a slight smokiness and notes of dark chocolate.
Here’s to abuela — she always could drink you under the table.
Paquitos Mexican Restaurant, 16265 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach; 305-947-5027; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon-Thurs, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fri, noon-midnight Sat, noon-10 p.m. Sun. Appetizers $3.95-$12.50, soups $3.95-$5.50, entrees $7.50-$21.25
FYI: Halloween costume contest for patrons 21 and older Friday night.
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