Xolo—short for Xoloitzcuintle, the national hairless dog of Mexico—is an eclectic new restaurant that brings the best flavors of Mexico City into a 102-year old building in Williamsburg.
“It’s a modern version of Mexican food,” owner and Mexico City native Jorge Boetto, who also co-owns longtime local Mexican restaurants Mesa Coyoacan and Zona Rosa, says. “I grew up eating more breaded chicken than mole,” heavily influenced by Spanish colonization, plus German colonization dating back to the 1820s.
“We wanted to have a mix of what a Mexico City menu really looks like. It was a collaborative effort to come up with items we love and remember from childhood, with a personal touch,” he says. Instead of appointing a head chef, Boetto worked with partners and staff, including Puebla native William Lopez, to create a menu reflective of Mexico’s multicultural culinary influences.
There’s a mix of cultures on the menu, from the always-popular chips and guacamole, plus potato and cheese flautas served standing in tongue-tingling salsa verde, to more unexpected items like a European-influenced crispy goat cheese with honey and a crisp chicken milanese served with a refreshing cherry tomato salad.
Dishes also reflect the regional Mexican culinary boom that’s hit North Brooklyn in particular in recent years. An ahi tuna tostada layered with thin slices of fish and half moons of avocado and topped with sesame seeds is reminiscent of a dish at the Michelin-starred Oxomoco, and a crisp chile relleno stuffed with gooey queso is beautifully blanketed in salsa roja and drizzled with crema, a perfect example of the type of elevated Mexican fare becoming ubiquitous, yet still so delicious, in the neighborhood. CDMX-style tacos are also available, in varieties such as carne asada, served in tortillas with crispy cheese, and a vegetarian option with grilled mushrooms, asparagus, poblano peppers, and onions.
In the basement, Xolo extends into Bar Milagro, a mezcal-focused bar separate from the restaurant. Here, diners can meet for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail (or both!) and have a more intimate experience with the bartenders, learning more about the artisanal mezcals Boetto curates for the bar program.
“Mezcal is the spirit of the decade,” he boldly says. “We have a lot of friends that own mezcal brands and have connections to Oaxaca, and that is the base of our program. We wanted to provoke less popular, small batch, different regional mezcals and agave spirits.”
This allows the bar to profile different flavors of mezcal. “It’s not always super smoky,” Boetto says. “It can be refined. You just have to adventure.” Those who want something more familiar can order off a menu of margaritas muddled with fresh fruit, or Xolo’s take on the espresso martini shaken with tequila reposado, mezcal, and agave syrup, plus coffee liqueur and an espresso shot. Along with a blue masa pineapple upside down cake, it’s just the boost diners need to head down to Bar Milagro and start dancing.
Opening a restaurant and bar in the ceaselessly challenging 2020s came with its own surprises, Boetto and his team discovered. The supply chain issues during 2021’s construction meant a lot of the restaurant is now made from scratch. “It was a lot of work, but it gives it a whimsical look,” Boetto says of the handmade pieces that decorate the exposed brick dining room.
Builder and artist Bruce Johanns created custom lighting, furniture, and installation pieces for both the restaurant and bar. Jorge’s wife, Gigi Boetto, created Oaxacan-style paintings for Xolo and designed the ceiling adorned with thousands of dangling milagros, small charms intended to spark miracles in Mexican folklore, for Bar Milagro.
“We didn’t have enough to decorate, so our families sent boxes and boxes,” Boetto recalls. “And they look great; we’re happy with the result.” Perhaps surprisingly, everything Xolo needed in its kitchen was sourceable in New York, including grasshoppers from Oaxaca. Nothing is obscure in a city unhesitant to chase a shot of mezcal with insects.
For now, Xolo is only open for dinner, but the restaurant plans to soon open as a morning coffee shop and cafe with a selection of pastries, tamales, and breakfast tacos.