Ruta de las Picadas: Diners Sabores de México

Diners Sabores de México is that small, typical restaurant that you would imagine when you hear the word picada or dive restaurant, and it has established itself at the Mexican picada in Santiago. They’re so popular they recently expanded to a second location in el Mercado Tirso de Molina serving burritos, tortasquesadillas and other antojitos along with Dominican Food

With posters of el Chavo del 8, Mexican motifs, traditional herbs and spices, classic drinks, and an inviting menu, this place brings me back to dives I would frequent in California – nothing fancy, just good food and great service.

Before going to Diners Sabores de México, I lost hope in finding good Mexican food during my first move to Chile when I lived in Viña del Mar which made me hesitant to try anything else. My first encounter was at a locally known place called Margarita that I would describe as mediocre Tex-Mex with a Chilean touch. The food is OK, but it wouldn’t fulfill any of my Mexican food cravings. 
Thankfully, Santiago has much more to offer, and I finally found my Mexican picada! Diners Sabores de México has become my go-to Mexican restaurant anytime I have cravings for home-style meals. Everything is really flavorful, filling, and all under USD$10 (CLP$5,000). It’s one those handful of places that I’ve been to and thought, “I have to try everything on the menu!”

As I walked around el Mercado Tirso de Molina looking for a good place to have lunch, there were a couple signs at first sight that pushed me in the right direction to try this picada:

Agua de fresa con albahaca – strawberry and basil // Agua de tamarindo – tamarind 
  • They had aguas frescas de tamaridno, fresa y albahaca, and limon y menta. 

  • Lengua (beef tongue) and mole (chili based sauce with chocolate) are on the menu. Lengua isn’t just on any Mexican menu abroad, especially in Chile where lengua is most popular among older generations and likely produces squeamish reactions among the rest of the population. Mole can also be an acquired taste, but most importantly it’s difficult to master and required a skilled hand since the sauce is very complex.

  • They have tortillas de maiz; pretty basic, right? You’ll have no problem finding flour tortillas in Chile, however corn tortillas will take you on a mission. Later, the chef he told me that the tortillas are flown in from a Santa Cruz. After going through a couple different tortilla distributors, he found the perfect consistency and taste that complements his food. To make your life easier, another good Mexican restaurant, Los Cuates, makes and sells them in house.
  • I had a peek of the huge fajita dishes other customers had at their tables, and their tasty image and aroma were calling my name.  
  • The chef, Juan Carlos Villarroel, is Mexican with over 30 years of experience bringing authentic recipes to Chile. As soon as I heard his booming accent as I surveyed the adjacent dives, it was a deal breaker. I had to give it a shot!
Grant it, all of these signs aren’t fail-proof, but Diners Sabores de México gets everything right. As we took a seat, instead of disappointment, I felt right at home as if we were invited into Juan’s own kitchen to have lunch.

More often than not, you encounter foreign food restaurants that adapt their food to the local palate. Even large franchises like McDonald’s does this around the globe. I feel that Diners Sabores de Mexico is a pioneering non-conformist with minor recipe adjustments serving authentic food to a Chilean public challenging their habitually change-resistant taste buds.

One of the Chilean adaptations is with the salsa roja – both spicy and delicious! Salsa roja, traditionally made with chile arbol, serrano or other choice chilies native to Mexico, is instead made with the rocoto/locoto chili putting a local twist to a Mexican favorite. Mexico also as a variety or rocoto called manzano, but this salsa was something new to me!
I’ve visited the restaurant a couple times so far, and had the opportunity to try the following:
Flautas de Pollo con Lechuguita y Crema
Crisp-fried, rolled tortilla filled with chicken on a bed of lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and sour cream.

Lengua Nogada
Beef tongue covered in a walnut based cream sauce.

I asked for this dish the first time I visited, and Juan noticed my Mexican accent. He pointed out that this is one of the few dishes that Mexicans and people previously exposed to Mexican food order this dish. If you haven’t tried lengua, don’t miss out! The consistency and taste isn’t weird or gross as you might think. If you had this in a taco, you might not even realize that it was lengua!  
Enchiladas Suizas 
Anything suiza/suizo means that it’s smothered in sour cream, a bechamel type sauce, and/or cheese like Swiss cheese.

Grilled steak

Tacos de Barbacoa 
Tacos with tender, slow cooked meat that is either barbecued or steamed. In more traditional settings, the meat is wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked underground for hours.

If you think these dishes are large, keep in mind it also comes with a small soup and tortillas! Be prepared to chow down or order a couple appetizers to share with friends.

Since it’s chilly in Santiago, I can’t wait to try a big bowl of posole the next time I visit! I’m sure it will hit the spot and be just as tasty as the rest of their dishes. 

More Info

Diner Sabores De Mexico

Mercado Tirso de Molina, Artesanos 700, Local 234, Segundo Piso 
Recoleta, Santiago de ChileMetropolitana de Santiago de Chile

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One comment

  • Hello. Really enjoyed your article. I do have a question for you, though, regarding what you wrote at the end of your article. I mean, if Santiago is in Chile, then how can it be chilly in Santiago? Thanks. Martin.

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