On a hot August evening in 2013, on the top floor of Zona Rosa on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, I cooled down with a vegan ceviche, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. It stayed with me like few other dishes. I would daydream about it and kept going back, hoping for a repeat, but the bowl of deliciously acidic avocado, onion and other vegetables was never again on the menu. The brilliant tacos kept me happy, but—like a food-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw—I had to wonder: Would I ever again know the joy of that ceviche?
Blessedly, the answer is yes. At chef Ivan Garcia’s newest restaurant, Guadalupe Inn, he is serving a delicious ceviche de coliflor (along with trompito al pastor, aguachile de pulpo y camarón, and much more). Since 2009, he’s been making some of Williamsburg’s best Mexican food at Mesa Coyoacán—named for the Mexico City neighborhood where he grew up—on Graham Avenue, opened taqueria Zona Rosa in 2013, and now, with his third restaurant, he’s bringing a casual yet refined vibe to Bushwick. We talked about his start in the business and how he makes it a point to welcome gluten-free and vegan diners.
Edible Brooklyn: When did you start cooking?
Ivan Garcia: Oh, that was a long time ago. [Laughs.] I started cooking when I was like, 9, 10, 11 years old watching my grandmother cooking for our family in Mexico. She was cooking for the holidays; the tradition in Mexico is that the grandma cooked for the whole family when it’s Christmas or Mexican Independence Day—celebrations like that. Usually, in Mexico, we’d cook together as a family on Sundays. I started watching and thinking about how amazing it is to put together the ingredients.
EB: How did you end up in New York and opening your own restaurants?
IG: I moved to New York 15 years ago just looking for a better life, looking for a different type of city. I started working in a Swedish restaurant as a busboy. When you move from Mexico to here, you have to start working as fast as you can. I asked for a job in the restaurant, they told me, “You can start as a busboy,” and then two weeks later I moved into the kitchen. After that, I worked at an Italian restaurant, an American restaurant. Then I worked at Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side. I made the Mexican menu for the restaurant, which is still open today. That was my place before I opened my restaurants, where I was saving money and met my two business partners—that’s how I opened Mesa Coyoacán.
EB: What makes Guadalupe Inn different from Mesa Coyoacán?
IG: Guadalupe Inn is a concept based on the supper clubs in Mexico in the ’40s—you know, having dinner and watching a show. More sophisticated, but we’re trying to do it in a casual way. We’re trying to do traditional, authentic flavors from different parts of Mexico while adapting to local ingredients. I have really good companies importing ingredients from Mexico, and I’m using the local vegetables and organic meats from New York.
The important thing is the whole menu is gluten-free, including the desserts. I have churros rellenos de cajeta, gluten-free. Chocolate cake, gluten-free. The pancakes at brunch, too. There are also a lot of vegan options, vegetarian options. Mexican cuisine is very traditionally open to these.