Buffalo Meets Mexico

To understand the Streets of Mexico restaurant, we need to know a little bit about the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo New York. That way we can begin to understand how two caucasian men (plus one for the architecture) were able to run, design, and create an authentic Mexican restaurant. Not only is the 1901 exposition known as the place where President McKinely was assassinated, but it was also designed to help strengthen the relationship between the US and Canada, Central and South America, in particular to create better commercial relations with these countries after the Spanish-American War of 1898 made Cuba and Puerto Rico into new gateways to Latin American markets. In Mexico’s eyes, the exposition was a great success and helped relations between the US by enabling. Mexico to showcase their advancements and progress within their country (as was also the goal of the exposition). But Mexico wasn’t as concerned with sharing their culinary abilities/skills, despite the presence of  a restaurant to accompany Mexico’s fair, and it was inspired by the actual streets of Mexico.


Donald C. Sweet had spent one entire summer on the actual streets of Mexico (Guadaljara, in particular) and he was inspired. Sweet was able to get a piece of land on the Midway to bring to life his Mexican inspired restaurant. It covered about 95,000 square feet and was one of the most lavish and expensive attractions of the Midway. Not only did Sweet’s dream and money get him an attraction in the Pan-American Exposition, but Sweet’s father had a mutual friend who was able to connect with William J. Buchanan, the then Minister of Mexico. With the help of his father, Buchanan, experienced showman H.F. McGarvie, and Frederick Thompson (the architect of the restaurant as well as other Midway attractions), the Streets of Mexico Restaurant was born. Although Sweet and McGarvie were in the driver’s seat with the restaurant, President Diaz of Mexico took time to help the men select bullfighters, muscianists, and artists for the restaurant. One newspaper article was excited to announce that the restaurant was going to have real Mexican women in their usual dress and Mexican men in their military uniforms. Since it was important to look authentic, it would also be important to have authentic Mexican food,  but in that the restaurant wasn’t too authentic.


Out of the 80 dishes on the menu, about four dishes had “Mexican” in front of the dish to indicate its authenticity; such as “Mexican Enchiladas” or “Mexican Tamales”. While the rest of the dishes remained to be fairly family to the people who attended the exposition and decided to at the restaurant. But there was the option of having Mexican Salsa be served with any dish if the customer liked. The Streets of Mexico Restaurant was able to give Americans the ability to eat food from their Southern neighbors comfortably, and affordably. The Mexican dishes remained fairly cheap throughout the menu, costing no more than $0.25. The most expensive item on the menu was an Extra large Porterhouse Steak for $1.50. However, everything else remained pretty cheap. The Streets of Mexico Restaurant placed 14th out of 25 most money making concessions at the exposition during its seven month operation. 


What accompanied the menu other than Mexican dishes and steaks were other simple foods, such as buttered toast, eggs and sandwiches. Some dishes did seem to stray away from the Mexican side, for instance, there was “French” thrown in front some of the dishes, like French Peas. However the menu may have bounced around from, there was plenty of meats and fish options on the menu. Meats ranged from rabbit (buck), ham, pork from pigs, steaks from cows, and so on. Most of the fish on the menu were local to the Buffalo or US Atlantic coastal area. It was clear that Sweet and McGarvie worked with what was available near them as well. Fresh Perch or Fresh Mackerel would indeed be fresh. But whatever the customers may have ordered, just how authentic were the Mexican dishes they were eager to try? There is a high chance that if they had the enchiladas or tamales, they would have some kind of meat in them. The enchiladas could have had either chorizo and potatoes, fish or chicken. The cookbook One Hundred and One Mexican Dishes published in 1906 can provide further insight on how the Mexican dishes in the restaurant were prepared to taste appealing to the American customers.

One of the ways the book says to prepare enchiladas is in a “Americano” way: Have two cupfulls of cold cooked chicken cut into small bits. Then pour lemon juice and chopped parsley on to the chicken. Next, chop two onions finely and 3 hard boiled eggs; grate a pound of good cheese, wash and dry a large cupful of raisins. Have available 3 large dozen green or ripe olives and have the chile sauce hot. Dip the tortillas in the sauce and on one half put some onion, egg, chicken, cheese, two raisins, one olive and one more spoonful of chile sauce. Fold and roll the tortilla tightly closed. Lastly, sprinkle cheese and any leftover sauce on top.

The “Mexican” way states: Boil 8 large Mexican peppers until they are tender; remove the skin and seeds so the pulp can be put through a strainer. Then add two spoonfuls of piping hot olive oil, along with two sections of garlic, a tablespoon of fine marjoram and salt. Add the pepper pulp and cook it slowly. Next, chop two onions very finely, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle some marjoram. Let stand in very little vinegar, grate a pound of edam cheese. Strain the sauce and dip a tortilla in the sauce. Place the tortilla on a plate and spread it with a tablespoon of drained onion and cheese; add two olives two large seedless raisins, and a tablespoon of chile. Roll the tortilla and sprinkle it with onion and cheese. Add any remaining chile and garnish with olives.

Although it is not directly stated that there is no meat or chicken called for in the Mexican guideline from the cookbook, but this way may not involve meat. Fish maybe. Some archeologists believe that chickens were introduced to the New World by Polynesians who arrived at the Pacific coast of South America, about a century before Colombus. Since chicken and cattle were not native to Mexico, more traditional or older dishes would not have involved meat until the arrival and colonization of Mexico from Spain.

Another dish on the restaurants menu is Mexican Chile Con Carne, this would involve either beef or pork.  

The cookbook way of preparing Chile Con Carne: Cut a pound of fresh pork into inch chunks and then parboil them. Next, soak 5 chiles in hot water. After this, remove the seeds and veins, wash them and use a mortar to pound them to a pulp (The book references how “the Mexicans” will use a molcajete and tejolote). Then add a little garlic, black pepper, two cloves and a cooked tomato. Fry this in hot lard and then add meat along with some of the liquid in which it was cooked in, adding a little salt. Cover it and let it cook until it is thick.

A more modern way of preparing these dishes can be found in the book Celebracion: Recipes & Traditions Celebrating Latino Family Life by Regina Cardova and Emma Carrasco published in 1996. 

This cookbook has more than one way of preparing Chile Con Carne based on the style of what region of Mexico someone would like to replicate. I decided to go with the Chile Con Carne San Luis Potosí style which involves beef:

This way begins with removing the husks and rinsing tomatillos under warm water. Next, place them in a small pot with water covering them, and cook over medium high heat until tender. Purée the cooked tomatillos with about ½ cups of their cooking liquid and blender the roasted tomatoes until smooth for 3 cups. For the sauce, warm oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Sauté the garlic and onion until they are soft, then stir in the chile strips and cook for 1 minute. After that, pour the blended tomatillo into the hot oil, stir it constantly for 4 minutes, until it darkens. Stir in ½ cups of water. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer until it thickens. The sauce should have the consistency of thin tomato sauce.

For puréeing the chiles, rinse them under cold running water and remove the stems and seeds. After patting them dry, place them on a heated comal and toast over medium heat until the chiles change color and release their aroma. Soak the chiles in hot water to cover for 30 minutes and when they are swollen, place them in a blender with ½ cups of the soaking liquid. Purée until smooth.

In preparation for the dough: in a bowl, combine the masa harina with the blended chile purée and salt. Then, add 2 cups of water and with both hands, combine thoroughly to make a pliable dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand for 20 minutes.

To prepare the enchiladas, divide the dough into 18 equal sized balls that are about 1 ½  inches in diameter. In a tortilla, press 1 ball of dough into a 5-inch tortilla. Next, spoon a tablespoon amount of crumbled cheese and a tablespoon of sauce in the center of the tortilla; fold over and pinch the edges to seal. Repeat this process with the remaining dough. Cook the enchiladas on a greased griddle over medium heat until they are golden (not toasted). 

For serving, place the remaining 1 cup of sauce in a skillet and stir in about 1 to 2 cups of water. Heat to boiling; lower the heat and simmer covered to 10 minutes. Place the fried enchilada in the sauce for a minute or two to heat through. Arrange the enchiladas on a serving plate; ladle sauce over them. Garnish with shredded lettuce, avocado slices, and chopped green onions. 

And lastly, for Chile Con Carne, unlike the first way of preparing the dish with pork, you can also make it with beef. Begin with a small sauce pan, combine pasilla chiles, tomatoes, and 2 cups of water. Cook covered over medium high heat for 10 minutes. Then, remove the heat and and let it seep, covered, for 5 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. In a blender, combine cooked pasilla chiles and tomatoes with the vinegar, garlic, salt, sesame seeds, oregano, cloves, cumin, and black pepper. Blend until smooth and set aside.

Cooking the beef requires it to be placed in a larger stockpot with 8 cups of water. Place bay leaves over the meat and pour in the blended chile mixture. Bring water to a boil; lower the heat and cook uncovered over medium low heat for about 1 ¾ hours or until tender. Remove meat from the pot and cut or shred into 1 ½ inch pieces. 

For the sauce, combine 2 cups of water, the tomatoes and the árbol chiles in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes uncovered. Let cool. Then place the cooked tomatoes, árbol chiles, and their cooking liquid into a blender with garlic, oregano, and salt. Purée the mixture until until it is velvety smooth. 

To serve, place portions of the meat un shallow soup bowls or rimmed plates. Ladle sauce over the meat and sprinkle with finely chopped white onion and cilantro. Place a lime wedge on each plate and serve with cooked cactus and corn tortillas.

This gives some insight as to how the Streets of Mexico Restaurant may have prepared its Mexican dishes for the exposition goers. Although some of the cooks were from Mexico, the recipes or ways they would have prepared this food for themselves may differ from the cookbook and how they were really prepared at the exposition, it helped give Americans an idea of what food their neighbors were eating. 

Reference(s): “Celebración : Recipes and Traditions Celebrating Latino Family Life.” Find in a Library with WorldCat, 11 Nov. 2018, https://www.worldcat.org/title/celebracion-recipes-and-traditions-celebrating-latino-family-life/oclc/34564940.

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