Every country has its suggestions for how to recuperate when the previous night was too much. From full English breakfasts to the heart-attack inducing Canadian specialty of poutine to—my personal cure-all—pickle juice right out of the jar, humanity worldwide looks to certain specialties to save them from crippling headaches and sideways glances after a night of poor decisions.
In the Mexican state of Jalisco, that specialty is Birria.
Birria is ideal hangover food. Like the hangover cure of choice in many places, it centers around a bowl of salty, spicy broth. The salt helps your dehydration. The spice makes you sweat out your sinful nature. Birria chefs then pile the bowl high with shredded lamb, and the waiter brings out sides of avocado, cheese, lime, and various peppers. Even if you stagger in like the village drunkard, by the end of the meal you’ll be right with the world again. Just wash the club stamp off the back of your hand and you’ll be ready for church.
Goodbye hangover. Hello clean living.
Since 1934, Mexico City’s Cantina La Polar has specialized in this particular hangover cure. Sitting in the Colonia San Rafael, a frequently overlooked neighborhood studded with colonial mansions in various states of repair (or disrepair), La Polar is easy to spot with its distinctive yellow and blue paint job and their logo of a polar bear walking away from an igloo where he may or may not have been feasting on the inhabitants.
The neighborhood of Colonia San Rafael was once the major theater district in the city, but sustained heavy damage in the 1985 earthquake. The area has been undergoing something of a rebirth of late, but a slow one, as other areas of the city seem to be gaining a lot more attention. The one business in the area that seems to never have slowed down is La Polar, whose busy valet parking lot speaks to the restaurant’s continuous business. This is one of those neighborhood joints that it is fair to call an institution.
Birria is more or less the official dish of the state of Jalisco, which contains the nation’s second largest city, Guadalajara. This region is famous for another piece of Mexican culture quickly identifiable to foreigners: Mariachi bands.
And at La Polar, you can order your very own band to serenade you while you eat.
You definitely need to hire these guys.
Listed on the walls in each of La Polar’s four large, spare rooms are prices for bands. 135 pesos for Mariachi tunes. One hundred for Norteños. Ninety pesos for photos of the band, or with the band. Often, the bands walk up to your table and offer their services, but if you don’t see them you simply tell the waiter what you want to hear, and he will retrieve the band. These guys are professionals, too. You will see them tuning up in the parking lot, checking the shine on their boots and the cut of their jackets. They make a joyful noise, which might be a bit much if you walked in with a hangover, but that’s what the birria is for anyway.
This is a classic cantina, about as old school as it gets. But its a proudly local spot, off the main tourist track, and still very much as it was a few decades ago, when the neighborhood had more movie theaters than any other in the city. Despite the changes in the neighborhood, from high to low to (hopefully) high again, La Polar remains there, a signpost of consistency in a rapidly growing, rapidly changing town. Still serving the old recipes. Still bringing in live music during the meals. Still there, whether you are arriving in the highest of spirits or trying to crawl back from the dead.
Cantina La Polar is located in Mexico City’s Colonia San Rafael neighborhood at Guillermo Prieto #129. Their number is +52 55 5546 5066. They are open at 7 a.m. every day, and stay open till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, midnight on Sunday, and 11 p.m. every other day. More information here.