The heat is punishing. It’s unseasonably hot for early May and I’m finding it difficult not to connect this discomfort with climate change and the city’s known issues with pollution — leading to various driving restrictions in the city. But rather than ponder the fate of the planet (or rather the people suffering its changes), I’m desperately looking for shade — taking in my surroundings from the relative comfort of a store awning while my wife and her friend window shop.
This isn’t how I imagined my first time here. The movies make it seem enchanting, a paradise for pedestrians. I imagined myself in a nice jacket, taking a slow stroll around the city with nowhere to be. But now, in this moment, all I want to do is hide from the sun. I feel like I’m an ant underneath a bully’s magnifying glass.
I’m also getting anxious. We’re in this neighborhood specifically for a restaurant I read about — Luz Verde. All I’m craving in the world is a respite from the sun, tacos, and a cold, alcoholic drink. I understand shopping is a thing you do here, but I look at the time and see it’s very much the lunch hour. Shopping can be flexible and isn’t a biological requirement that keeps me from getting stabby.
Finally, control of our itinerary is returned to me. I’m leaning forward in my walk slightly uphill, following the little blue dot of Google Maps on my phone to make sure I don’t miss the restaurant. I’m in no mood to have tacos withheld from me for a moment longer.
There it is, blending in with the neighborhood’s dense collection of business, bars, and restaurants. But the modern-looking sign with a simple yet sleek “Luz Verde” logo catch my eye.
Inside it’s busy. But unless I’m told there’s no space and we must leave, I’m determined to find something. Fortunately, our small group is able to find seats at the bar and order there. I quickly settle on splitting two different orders of tacos with my wife and getting a margarita (no salt), quenching both my desires for tacos and a cold, alcoholic beverage in one fell swoop.
It’s only then — with the promise of food and booze imminent — that I’m able to have a quick look around Luz Verde. Like a good Mexican bar, the shelves are stacked with anything and everything you could possibly imagine asking for to accompany the cuisine. Certainly, a margarita doesn’t rank too highly on the creativity scale, but I’m happy to be simple for the sake of lowering my body temperature.
In case you couldn’t tell this is a Mexican establishment — and you’d have to be culturally ignorant to miss it — skeleton art most associated with Día de los Muertos decorates the interior from the entrance through to the back where the bar turns into something of a cave. That’s the sweet spot in this heat, I imagine.
The staff starts to intrigue me. Since moving to Europe, I’ve made a point to find good Mexican wherever I travel. I’ve been mostly successful. But what interests me beyond the cuisine is who works there. Sometimes I hear Mexican-Spanish rattling in the kitchen, other times whatever the native language is. The young woman serving us behind the bar looked like she could be Latina with her olive skin and dark hair. I feel like I’ve met someone who looks just like her in Mexico. The same goes for the man assisting her behind the bar, grabbing drink orders and hurrying them out to tables.
They’re speaking normally to each other, but it’s hard for me to hear over the rumble of the busy lunch crowd and it’s not like they’re amplifying their voices for the sake of a linguistically-curious eater. I decide that the only way to find out is to ask her something. She had been speaking to us in English, presumably having heard us conversing and doing what servers at big city European restaurants do — switch before you have a chance to try.
Catching her a bit off guard, I ask her where the bathroom is.
“En bas,” she responds, before quickly switching back to English. “Downstairs.”
That still didn’t answer definitively for me the story behind Luz Verde’s kitchen, but it is how I learned to say “downstairs” in French.
Whether there are Mexicans in the kitchen or French replicators, I can’t tell based on the food. The tacos came and went right down my gullet faster than what is probably good table manners. Rather than presenting myself as some sort of awkward eater, I hope it instead serves as a compliment to the chef.
Leaving Luz Verde, I feel like I just had a local experience. There aren’t any tour buses working their way through the narrow streets of the neighborhood and all the clicking cameras of tourist groups are over in the city center. This has the feel of a neighborhood where I would live if we ever moved here. And based on the proximity to good Mexican, quite possibly my favorite cuisine, I’d be happy to call the 9th Arrondissement home if I ever move to Paris.
All images courtesy of Luz Verde except the cover image