Restaurant Sanchez in Copenhagen The Soul of Mexican Cooking With a Nordic Twist

Rosio Sanchez was born in Chicago, USA, to Mexican parents, but have spent the last eight years of her life in Copenhagen. Initially, five years as the pastry head chef of René Redzepi at Noma. Before she decided to follow her life-long dream and opened her own chain of taquerias – Hija de Sanchez (the daughter of Sanchez) – introducing Scandinavians to authentic-style tortillas made from masa (nixtamalized corn flour) and proper Mexican variations like cochinita pibil and al pastor. Now, she has finally taken the next step and launched her first Mexican cantina called Sanchez.

Located on Istedgade 60 in the Vesterbro district, Rosio presents her take on a Mexican cantina, equivalent to a neighborhood restaurant. Whether you choose from the à l carte menu or go for the five-course tasting option, you’ll experience the best of Mexican cooking techniques, with indigenous ingredients in a delightful combination with local, Nordic produce. The place opened on November 30th 2017, but perhaps you’ve known that for a long time, if you follow my rumors of restaurant openings in Scandinavia?

Sanchez Cantina is located on Istedgade in the Vesterbro district
Sanchez Cantina is located on Istedgade in the Vesterbro district

From Hija de Sanchez to Sanchez Cantina

Ever since the original Hija de Sanchez Torvehallerne opened in 2015, Rosio Sanchez has offered a valuable contribution to re-defining Scandinavian’s idea of genuine tacos and our knowledge about real Mexican food. Being an outdoor food stall, the Torvehallerne location is only open in the spring and summer season from April till October. Luckily, you can get delicious tacos, paletas (creamsicles), churros, and Aguas Frescas all year round from the second outlet – Hija de Sanchez Kødbyen. Make sure to follow Hija de Sanchez on Instagram to get news about the regular Amigos de Sanchez-events, where Rosio invites her chef friends from far and near to cook their twist on tacos. Notable appearances, thus far, include Paco Méndez, Alex Atala, René Redzepi, and Esben Holmboe-Bang.

After leaving Copenhagen for three months to help out her old employer with the Noma Mexico pop-up in Tulum, Sanchez got renewed motivation to open a full-scale restaurant when she returned, but it wasn’t originally planned to be a cantina.

– I was always looking for a space to have a bigger taqueria, Rosio explains when I meet her for an interview.

Sanchez had her eyes on the current place for years. Istedgade 60 previously hosted a Spanish restaurant called Toro, but when they decided to shut down, Rosio saw her chance to grab it.

– The idea was to have a simple taqueria. [I was] writing the menu for it, and suddenly it’s like a five-course menu.

Starting the meal with a Pikachu cocktail (DKK 100) with sea buckthorn, lemon, vodka & thyme
Starting the meal with a Pikachu cocktail (DKK 100) with sea buckthorn, lemon, vodka & thyme
Rosio Sanchez
Rosio Sanchez

“Participating in Noma Mexico re-sparked how much fun it is to have a restaurant.” – Rosio Sanchez

Table snacks. Tortilla crisps & salsas
Table snacks. Tortilla crisps & salsas
Salmon tostada – a lovely fusion of Nordic and Mexican flavors
Salmon tostada – a lovely fusion of Nordic and Mexican flavors

A Nordic Twist on Mexican Cuisine

While the taquerias serve the more classical tacos, like carnitas, lengua, and barbacoa, Rosio allows herself more creative freedom at Sanchez.

– Here, we make the more interesting tacos. The five-course menu is a tasting of what I consider really great Mexican flavors.

Traditional Mexican food is rustic, often served in big portions meant for sharing, and can be very heavy. At Sanchez Cantina, Rosio wants to introduce her parent’s kitchen to people in a different way – in smaller and lighter servings that allows guests to taste the full range of flavors. But she’s not afraid to mix traditions with new ideas.

– We incorporate as much as we can of where we are, because […] I find it very inspirational to use local things.

Rosio mentions fjord shrimps and salmon as examples of Nordic produce she loves to include. On the current menu, Norwegian smoked salmon is the topping on a Mexican tostada – a deep-fried and crispy tortilla. Together with jalapeños, red onion, and crema, it’s a fabulous fusion of the two cuisines.

– [We’re] merging them in a way that doesn’t ruin the authenticity of it. In a way, it’s our own authentic self, Rosio concludes.

Chicharron!
Chicharron!
The largest piece of pork rind I've ever seen
The largest piece of pork rind I’ve ever seen

“The five-course menu is a tasting of what I consider really great Mexican flavors.” – Rosio Sanchez

Deep-fried pork skin & chile de árbol
Deep-fried pork skin & chile de árbol
Tortilla crisps & guacamole
Tortilla crisps & guacamole

Salsa & Sea Buckthorn

Our meal, like every meal at Sanchez, starts with a selection of salsas and tortilla crisps. That’s quickly followed up by a bowl of guacamole, which Rosio has flavored with the oil of the avocado leaf – adding a gentle licorice flavor. The single largest piece of chicharron (crispy, deep-fried pork skin) that I have ever seen, comes with a crushed raw tomato salsa with chile de árbol.

Two types of oysters are next. The first one burns in our mouths, with a mix of cucumber, jalapeño, daikon, chili oil, and black pepper. Then, one of the best oysters I’ve had, with sea buckthorn and habanero. I’m a sucker for the balanced acidity and sweetness of the sea buckthorn. Rosio gets her berries from my favorite producer on the island of Bornholm – Høstet.

– People extremely love this one, says Rosio as she serves us the first dish of panucho.

Panucho is what Mexicans call a tortilla that has been cut open in the middle and filled with something. At Sanchez, you get it with a traditional dzikilpak (pumpkin seed paste) and topped with a salad of parsley, coriander, oregano, onions, and lime zest. I can see how it’s a best-seller.

Oysters with cucumber, jalapeño, daikon & chili oil
Oysters with cucumber, jalapeño, daikon & chili oil
Oysters with sea buckthorn & habanero
Oysters with sea buckthorn & habanero
Panucho!
Panucho!
Tortillas filled with dzikilpak (pumpkin seed paste) and topped with greens
Tortillas filled with dzikilpak (pumpkin seed paste) and topped with greens
Panucho is one of Rosio's best-sellers
Panucho is one of Rosio’s best-sellers

Four of Five Dishes are Vegetarian

A spicy tomato soup has a single cured egg yolk and a topping of chapulines (grasshoppers) from Oaxaca. We get a basket of freshly made tortillas on the side. The idea is to put the egg and some of the grasshoppers into a tortilla and make a taco out of it, to be enjoyed on the side of your soup. Spice-wise, it’s spot on.

Papas Al Pastor are as delicious as they sound. Hard-roasted potatoes, soaked in the same paste used for the spit pork at the Kødbyen venue, and some ceps oil. A creamy mixture of fresh cheese and cream underneath, and shavings of three-years aged Ölands cheese on top. Rosio and her team found that it was the most similar to the Cotija cheese from Mexico.

We’re starting to see a green trend in Rosio’s food. In fact, out of the five servings, only one comes with meat –  fresh octopus in tomato salsa – the rest are vegetarian.

– I love the idea that we can harness the soul of Mexican cooking, without it being heavily meat-based, which it usually is, Roso explains.

The main dish is no exception. Rosio has managed to make a vegetarian molé, which is usually made with either pork or chicken stock. A lightly fried tortilla is filled with bitter greens and herbs, cress, kale, onion, and ramsons, and topped with the rich, chocolatey sauce and a dash of crema. A house-made crema made from fermented heavy cream, buttermilk, and salt, that is best described as a stronger crème fraîche.

Spicy tomato soup with cured egg yolk & chapulines (grasshoppers)
Spicy tomato soup with cured egg yolk & chapulines (grasshoppers)
Papas Al Pastor – roasted potatoes with aged & fresh cheese
Papas Al Pastor – roasted potatoes with aged & fresh cheese

“I love the idea that we can harness the soul of Mexican cooking, without it being heavily meat-based.” – Rosio Sanchez

Octopus with tomato salsa, mint, coriander & fried fish skin
Octopus with tomato salsa, mint, coriander & fried fish skin
Vegetarian mole with a fried tortilla filled with bitter greens and herbs, and a dash of house-made crema
Vegetarian mole with a fried tortilla filled with bitter greens and herbs, and a dash of house-made crema
The venue in Istedgade used to hos the Spanish restaurant Toro
The venue in Istedgade used to hos the Spanish restaurant Toro

Nordic Paletas & Open Churros Sandwich

Rosio’s background as a pastry chef really shows when it’s time for the desserts at Sanchez. First, a palate-cleansing paleta! Paletas are Mexican creamsicles, but, of course, Sanchez has made a Nordic twist to it once again. Flavored with sea buckthorn, still from Høstet on Bornholm, as well as lemon and habanero. The ice cream is sprinkled with freeze-dried sea buckthorn and sea salt. Acid-trip with a creamy inside.  I absolutely loved it.

We end with the highlight of the meal on my part – the open churros sandwich. A cinnamon sugar-sprinkled, deep-fried, choux-based pastry made from Rosio’s own churros recipe, is topped with a parfait of Mexican vanilla bean and mezcal, and bitter cream. Shavings of orange zest all over. It’s the perfect mix of crunchy and creamy, salty, bitter, and sweet. An instant signature dish! This combination is right up my alley when it comes to desserts, and you got to love the nod to Danish smørrebrød – open-faced sandwiches.

Seabuckthorn paleta
Seabuckthorn paleta
Ice creamsicle with sea buckthorn from Bornholm, lemon & habanero
Ice creamsicle with sea buckthorn from Bornholm, lemon & habanero
Open-faced churro sandwich
Open-faced churro sandwich
Cinnamon-sugar churros, vanilla- and mezcal parfait, bitter cream & orange zest
Cinnamon-sugar churros, vanilla- and mezcal parfait, bitter cream & orange zest
Already a signature dish, and definitely my favorite serving of the meal!
Already a signature dish, and definitely my favorite serving of the meal!
Rosio Sanchez was born in Chicago to Mexican parents
Rosio Sanchez was born in Chicago to Mexican parents
Restaurant Sanchez on Istedgade 60
Restaurant Sanchez on Istedgade 60

Have you been to Sanchez or Hija de Sanchez yet? Let me know your favorite dish in a comment below.

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