Juan Cabrera was born in Mexico City and earned his cooking chops at the world-renowned Pujol restaurant in the capital, while Mario Peralta, a native of Tijuana, worked up north under award-winning chef, Javier Plascencia at Misión 19 and at Fuego Cocina del Valle in Valle de Guadalupe.
The pair met in 2017 on the second season of Top Chef Mexico. A year later, in July 2018, they opened Los Compas in Tijuana.
The restaurant’s name loosely translates to “buddies” or “compadres”, but as they explained, it implies a mission-oriented connection closer than friendship. Their bond was forged over a shared passion for celebrating traditional Mexican cuisine and elevating indigenous ingredients.
At their small, stylish restaurant, heirloom corn varieties are nixtamalized each day and ground for use in everything from tortillas to dessert tamales, which retain the corn’s vibrant pink and blue hues even after being cooked
At Los Compas, marlín tlacoyos (pre-Hispanic masa ovals, thicker than a tortilla) are made using pink heirloom corn and come topped with locally-caught, smoked marlin, house-pickled güeros chiles, and wedges of avocado. Tostadas de ceviche verde (green ceviche tostadas) feature a citrus marinated local catch served on crisp tostadas alongside smoked cauliflower and draped in a cilantro pesto.Though corn has been cultivated in Mexico for over 10,000 years, with an amazing diversity of regional variations, this essential ingredient is in danger of being lost to a monocrop of industrialized yellow corn. According to Rafael Mier, the founder of the Fundación de Tortilla Maíz Mexicana, at least 59 varieties of native corn are on the verge of extinction.
The reintroduction of heritage corn varieties by innovative restaurateurs and chefs, like Peralta and Cabrera, is a vital part of efforts to raise awareness and promote farming of this indigenous crop.
At Los Compas, marlín tlacoyos (pre-Hispanic masa ovals, thicker than a tortilla) are made using pink heirloom corn and come topped with locally-caught, smoked marlin, house-pickled güeros chiles, and wedges of avocado.
Tostadas de ceviche verde (green ceviche tostadas) feature a citrus marinated local catch served on crisp tostadas alongside smoked cauliflower and draped in a cilantro pesto.
In addition to their focus on corn, many of the menu items are built around seasonal ingredients that reflect the pair’s close relationship with local farmers. The romanesco asado dish stars grilled romanesco and mustard greens from Wulf Ruiz’s Cengrow Organic Farm in Ensenada. The tender, smokey vegetable is served over what they describe as a “Mayan romesco” sauce made with roasted onions, chiles, garlic, and toasted sunflower seeds.
This, and pretty much everything on the menu, benefits from a drizzle of earthy housemade hot sauce made with chile de arbol, peanuts, garlic and dried shrimp heads still bobbing in the spiced oil and emparting their salty complexity. Other dishes take inspiration from international influences that have informed the borderland cuisine of Baja Norte.