Smoking Haute

Divisadero's La Urbana is no taqueria, that's for sure

Not many Mexican restaurants serve smoking ceviche.

No joke: When the waiters at La Urbana bring you a blue mason jar of citrus-marinated sea bass ($12), they unscrew the lid and mesquite smoke trickles out.

From the black walls and carnival-esque cabinetry to seared snapper with corn foam and huitlacoche purée ($24), La Urbana is an attention grabber.

Chef de cuisine Julio Aguilera, who has worked at Leopold's and Saison, was inspired to romp on the same playground as AQ or Sons & Daughters after his research trips to Mexico. "I ate at restaurants there that were taking grandma's cooking, using sous-vide or a Combi oven, but still being loyal to the taste," he says.

La Urbana's beet, carrot and chayote salad with puffed wild rice

That smoke? Flavorwise, it's a subtle–and masterful–touch. So is the nutty popped wild rice sprinkled over a salad of carrots, beets and chayote ($11), inspired by fried insects Aguilera ate in Oaxaca.

Some tricks come off as precious instead of inspired–say no to oily cactus quesadillas, for example. The fearful can take refuge in braised-to-submission short ribs ($24) with a tomatillo sauce and brussels sprouts, which are tradition-minded yet not traditional.

You need no sense of adventure to fall for an airy chocolate crémeux with a mezcal gélée ($9).

Some pleasures need no translation.