I was a waiter for about twenty years. One thing waiters do is eat out.
Felipe was also a waiter and when we lived in Chicago we dined at some of the finest restaurants in the U.S.
So I believe the extensive time I have spent in restaurants as a guest and behind the scenes makes me a very qualified restaurant reviewer.
Most of my dining experiences in Mexico have been dismal, laughable, or on a good day, mediocre. I have allowed the standard to become; satisfied if I don’t feel I would actually be happier if I had burned the money spent. I have eaten in scores of small towns and many major metropolis including, Mexico City, Jojutla, Tepoztlan, Cuernavaca, Taxco and Tequesquetengo. And though I’ve had a few lovely meals shared with friends in some of these places, I have yet to enjoy a truly stellar dining experience.
Now that you know the range of my knowledge of dining in Morelos, I proclaim Tankes Botanera my favorite restaurant in Mexico.
Tankes is a tumbledown 24- hour kitchen on a gravel road next to a public water tank for livestock, thus the name. Its structure is made of sticks, tarps, scrap metal, tarpaper, chicken wire, and sundry objects stuffed into holes (the uniform feedbag siding is a recent renovation). Plastic Corona beer tables, fleeced tree posts, and various tarps comprise the dining area. For years the restroom was behind your truck.
The view from the patio is stupendous. Tankes sits at the base of Cerro Frio and offers gorgeous sunset dining. Also, there are sometimes odd entertainments such as an onslaught of cameras and crew filming a telenovela, or a goat being slaughtered as you dine.
We had particularly exceptional dinner last year for Felipe’s birthday. Spontaneity is a hallmark of Mexican culture, perfectly exemplified by this occasion. We arrived at Tankes to the sounds of traditional guitar and voices belting out cantina songs. As is the custom, we were promptly invited to join the musicians for mezcal and a place in the harmonies. Felipe loves to sing and vigorously participated with his fine baritone and appreciation of mezcal. I could not have planned a party that would have made him happier.
Tankes is run by a family that lives in a house up the hill from the restaurant shack, and on the floor of the kitchen if they’re doing the overnight shift.
Tankes has no menu, but it does have continuity. They always have fantastic tortillas de mano, molcajete salsa, and frijoles de olla. They usually offer two meats and huevos al gusto, although occasionally they only have eggs. The meat is fried very well done until the fat has caramelized. It’s not likely to be tender, but it will be tasty. The tortillas come to your table straight from the comal two or three at a time and are sometimes delivered by a darling little girl wearing an apron with a tiny pocket that reads “Yes, I take tips.”
I fell in love with Tankes because I fell in love with Flor. Flor is the proprietor’s youngest daughter and is in charge of the kitchen. She is beautiful, and it is in part why I love her, but more importantly she gives GOOD service– always. She smiles and remembers that I like a glass with my beer. She always looks great, dresses fashionably and is well kept. Her beer is always cold, she serves excellent local mezcal, and her food is absolutely consistent.
The feed bag siding is not the only upgrade Tankes has received in recent years. There is now a real live bathroom. The first time I used it it was dark. When I asked Flor about the facility she asked me to wait, scampered off and returned to the table with a flashlight, and escorted me to the tarpaper enclosure. She pulled back the blanket that constitutes a door, showed me the clothes pin used as a fastener and left me with the flashlight. Flor’s service is equal to the standards we became accustomed to dining at Blackbird, our favorite restaurant in Chicago. Also, Flor sometimes wears hot pants.