A reference in its own neighbourhood, frequented by both neighbouring regulars and the nostalgic visitor and, more rarely, the curious tourist, Pastelaria Mexicana is an important example of how traditional shops can reinvent themselves and avoid being crushed by the heavy hand of time. Once the scene of much success in happier times in the Avenidas Novas district, the Mexicana fell into a period of decline, or at least neglect, that threatened its very survival. But just a few years ago, Rogério Pires, the current owner, took charge of it and immediately went about finding a response to a question that preoccupies many: how to honour the tradition of these historic spaces and still modernise them and make them more relevant for today’s needs (and speeds)? The answer he came up with, one of many possible responses, was to open up the back room as a dining room, give the shop a new visual makeover, replace equipment and promote the use of best recipes.
A visit to the shop at any time of the day tells us something about the validity of that response: full house! It was indeed the jackpot for those who play the Game of Shops. Not only did patrons return in droves, but the convivial and lively atmosphere also returned, as well as the diversity that makes urban spaces more interesting: the young student reading her lecture notes; two gentlemen discussing the newspaper headlines; the large family with children running around; the deep conversation of the couple at the back; those friends with the air of foreigners about them; in other words, a little bit of everything.
Variety is also the spice in terms of the food options. For full meals we recommend the steak or bacalhau. The shop is more renowned for its cakes and sweets, particularly the muffins with dried fruit, Garibaldi cakes (sponge cake squares filled with chocolate cream), “eskimo” cakes (iced chocolate and cream rolls), and flaky croissants. All this with an excellent view of the ample square named after London. It was originally to be called Praça do México – hence the name “Mexicana” – but the name was changed for diplomatic reasons that are difficult to figure out today. Luckily, the business did not change its name, or it would be Casa Londrina today, which would have made the installation of the magnificent Mexican sun in the form of a ceramic panel by the artist Querubim Lapa in 1962, in what is today the dining room, impossible. If for nothing else, the café is worth a visit for the panel alone.
Beside it stands a somewhat mysterious object, the original idea for which is difficult to grasp today. The servers call it the birdwatcher: a huge cage with a tree and live birds inside it. Apparently it was designed as entertainment for young children. All indications are that there is a story to be uncovered here, but whatever it is, this birdcage is a sight you will not find the likes of in any other cafe or restaurant around the country.
Patisserie, own production; restaurant