During our recent visit to Mexico City, which was Prem’s third time and my first, we ate and drank our way through the capital with a vengeance. Similar to Vietnam we found that inexpensive, but very good, food is easily accessible here, unlike in New York City, where inexpensive options include boiled hot dogs from a street cart or a slice of hit-or-miss pizza. Of course, more expensive and modern food is also available, especially in the hip barrios of Roma and Condesa, where we spent the majority of our time. There are far too many worthy spots to eat and drink at in just a few days, but here are some of our edible highlights, with a strong focus on those two neighborhoods.
Despite the abundance of street food in Mexico City it can be hard to become a regular at one vendor; enjoy a quesadilla on the corner one day and return the next to find no trace of melted cheese and grilled tortilla ever existing. Some vendors return to the same spot but only on weekends, for example. Some move around the city to various locations throughout the week. Others serve food out of mobile carts, moving up and down the streets during the day. Here are the street foods we enjoyed, with a warning that you may find an empty sidewalk at some of the locations listed.
Tlacoyos are fat blue corn tortillas freshly shaped, grilled and stuffed with different fillings; we ate one with flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and one with chicharrón (fried pork), both with melted cheese and chili peppers, plus self-serve salsa on the side. This was the very first thing we consumed when we landed and we found it being made to order by an old lady on the corner of Mérida and Guanajuato in Roma Norte. Look for the blue colored tortillas on the grill, which stand out among the more common yellow tortillas.
Barbacoa tacos are served on the corner of Mérida and Avenida Álvaro Obregón in Roma Norte on weekends only. This family owned operation runs a serious business that includes a long table dotted with bowls of salsas and lined with plastic stools, when many vendors provide no place to sit at all. The family was very sweet and were pulling the meat off the bones right in front of us. We also enjoyed a bowl of consommé, made from a clear broth with rice and chickpeas.
Another taco vendor that stands out can be found on the corner of Mérida and Colima. There are a couple of high stools, but we ate our snack of tacos al suadero off the plastic plates while standing up. Different meats are cooked on one big round grill, scooped up with a tortilla and topped with finely chopped onion and cilantro as well as salsa of your preference, all for $9 MX (about $0.50 US) each.
Prem remembers enjoying tamales from “his tamal lady” in Condesa, at Zamora and Juan Escutia. This time we enjoyed tamales for breakfast twice, once at the corner of Avenida de Los Insurgentes Sur and Avenida Álvaro Obregón and once from a woman around Plaza Luis Cabrera in Roma Norte. The second were better than the first, but both times we had one verde, made with salsa verde, and one with mole, both with pulled pork. Sweet tamales are also common, made bright pink by strawberry syrup. We’ll stick to the savory and prefer the verde. Look for a vendor with a big round vat, where the tamales are staying warm.
We shared chilaquiles one morning from the same woman who was serving tamales at the corner of Avenida de Los Insurgentes Sur and Avenida Álvaro Obregón. Heaping portions of soft tortillas that are the base of this dish are spooned out of a huge vat into styrofoam takeaway containers, topped with shredded chicken, sour cream and shredded cheese. A mushy mix of flavor with a hint of spice, this tastes like comfort food.
Freshly sliced, ripe mango served in a plastic cup and topped with chili powder, salt and fresh squeezed lime juice makes for an unexpectedly addictive snack and can be found by many vendors pulling their carts on wheels.
Esquites is a much easier to eat version of elote, which is grilled corn on the cob with mayonnaise, chili powder, cheese, salt and fresh squeezed lime juice. Esquites is a plastic cup of the fat kernels off the cob, topped with all of the above if you order con todo, which, you should. We found both outside of Mercado de Coyoaca.
Mercado Roma is a hip and gourmet version of the ubiquitous markets found throughout Mexico. The first floor and the mezzanine are a maze of vendors serving tacos, ice cream, cheese, coffee, churros, beer, wine and more out of small spaces behind their counters. Towards the back of the first floor you’ll find picnic tables where you can enjoy your food and drink. The upstairs floors house a couple different restaurants with a beer garden on the roof to top it all off. Whether during the day or night, this market is vibrating with the neighborhood’s young crowd, who are paying slightly higher prices than at a traditional mercado. We ate freshly fried fish tacos at the counter of La Ahumadora, followed by a plate of Mexican cheeses from Lactography accompanied by Mexican craft beer from El Bebian.
Mercado de Medellin is the opposite of its neighbor Mercado Roma, throwing off a much more authentic and traditional vibe. Among the grid of hundreds of vendors you will find random trinkets, herbal medicine, butchered meat strewn across the counter, sheets of chicharrón pinned up, neat piles of produce, Mexican cheeses and food stalls where you can grab a bite to eat. Many vendors in this market sell goods from other Latin American countries; we spotted Amor Perfecto, one of our favorite Colombian coffees, being served.
If you visit the neighborhood of Coyoacan, which you should to walk the picturesque streets and see the Frida Kahlo Museum, take a stroll through Mercado de Coyoacan to check out the vendors selling various produce and trinkets. Enjoy lunch at one of the food vendors, such as Tostadas de Coyoacan, whose business of over 60 years takes up multiple stalls. Tostadas are simply crispy round tortillas to be enjoyed alone or along with a soup or a dip but in Mexico they’re also made into a dish by topping them with the meat or vegetable of your choice. Grab an agua fresca, fresh juice or horchata, a cinnamon spiced rice drink, to quench your thirst.
Tacos, tacos, and more tacos. These are a staple in the Mexican diet and you can find them for less than $1 US at taquerias such as Tacos Álvaro Obregón or Taquitos Frontera, or street food vendors, mentioned above. We tried longaniza (sausage), suadero (beef) and campechano (a mix of meats), but tacos al pastor, unique to Mexico City, made with thinly sliced pork and pieces of pineapple, were our favorite. Look for the large piece of meat on the spit being thinly sliced by a man regularly sharpening his knife. All types of tacos are topped with finely chopped cilantro and onions and accompanied by salsas of different spice levels and lime wedges on the table. In Mexico most tacos are served on corn tortillas. At Tacos Álvaro Obregón try the pastor con queso for a slab of grilled cheese on top of your pork. At any of these no-frills restaurants you can also try other authentic dishes such as quesadillas, tostadas, soups or grilled meats. We really liked orden de cebollitas on the side, simply grilled spring onions.
There are several talented Mexican chefs putting a modern twist on traditional food or being influenced by other cuisines, such as French. These chefs are opening restaurants all over the city, with many in the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods. One said chef is Eduardo Garcia, whom Prem has gotten to know, along with his wife, Gabriela, during his previous visits to Mexico City. Eduardo owns Maximo Bistrot, LALO! and most recently opened Havre 77. Maximo Bistrot uses very local ingredients, which determine the daily changing menu, to create beautiful dishes with a French influence, earning it the title of one of the top 50 Latin American restaurants last year, and we can see why. We spent some time at the pass chatting with Eduardo and right away got a sense of his passion for food and ingredients as well as his down to earth personality despite his quick rise to fame. LALO!, just around the corner, is a more casual breakfast and lunch spot with a funky mural along one wall, a long communal table in the middle and an open bakery in the back.
The chef Monica Patino also has a casual bistro, Dilirio, in Roma and a slightly more upscale restaurant just upstairs, Casa Virginia. We ate a Sunday lunch at the latter and enjoyed the beautiful light filled space, which feels like someone’s home, while eating a perfectly roasted duck. We asked to see the roof garden and after climbing a precarious staircase walked through the many herbs and edible flowers, maintained by the staff, that are used in the restaurant’s dishes and cocktails.
Chef Enrique Olvera recently opened up Cosme in New York City, which serves modern Mexican food. His Mexican City restaurant Pujol has been serving inventive Mexican dishes since 2000. One of my favorite dishes was, ironically, a taco, of suckling pig, mint and chickpea purée on a smoked tortilla. Prem loves the “mole madre, mole nuevo” so much that it has made repeated appearances on his year-end memorable eats lists. This dish is a fresh mole served alongside a continuously aging mole, which was aged over 900 days as of the day we ate it, so you really taste the contrast. The meal is a splurge, but worth it as long as you go hungry; we went for lunch and didn’t need to eat dinner.
Insects deserve its own section because Mexico has the highest amount of edible creatures in the world. Whether ant eggs are atop a dish at a modern restaurant, a salt of ground worms (sal de gusano) is served with your shot of mezcal, or your taco has an extra crunch thanks to grasshoppers, you may not even know you’re eating a bug. Insects were much more commonly consumed by the Aztecs, but more and more are making their way into present day dishes.
Mexico City has a major sweet tooth. Whether it’s churros, ice cream, fruit juices, sweet tamales, chocolate drinks, candies or pastries, it’s easy to get your sugar fix here.
Bakeries seem to be as common as taquerias, with pastries and baguettes available on almost every corner. I ate a light and flaky croissant at Panaderia Rosetta one morning, a cozy bakery where you have to duck to enter, and watched freshly baked bread be brought out from the kitchen. We returned on our last day to pick up fresh ciabatta to make sandwiches for our plane ride home.
Que Bo!, in the historical center, sells truffles and bonbons, but we went for the dark chocolate drink, which was recommended to enjoy with water (instead of milk) and cold (instead of hot). The huge pot they serve you will leave you feeling jittery, so take your time sipping it. At Tout Chocolat, on the corner of the tree lined street Amsterdam in Condesa, we bought several different truffles and bonbons while chatting with the owners, who lived in New York City for many years. The salted caramel and the mezcal with salt stood out.
As an ice cream lover I was happy to see the abundance of small batch, handmade options in Mexico City. At Nómada Heladería, whose staff encouraged the trying of their unique flavors, all made with natural ingredients, I had a scoop of their cardamom flavor. Helado Obscuro is basically an ice cream shop for adults, as all but two of their flavors are made with alcohol including tequila, gin, mezcal, absinthe, brandy and vodka. I had “Alice in Wonderbra”, whose ingredients are vanilla, whiskey cream, bourbon and praline chocolate with hazelnut.
No trip to Mexico would be complete without a sweet and crunchy churro. At Churrería General de la República in Coyoacan I ordered an amazing churro stuffed with chocolate. At a churreria in Mercado Roma we discovered consuelos, ice cream sandwiches with tightly twisted churros as the bookends, but unfortunately they were sold out when we stopped by. I have no doubt they are delicious.
If that’s not enough, stop any of the many vendors walking the streets pushing carts full of jars filled with various candies.
Roma and Condesa have a handful of third wave coffee shops, where the baristas are passionate about what they’re doing and it shows in the final product. We drank a lot of coffee at Quentin, Cardinal Case de Café and Almanegra Café, all in Roma Norte. We also visited Café Avellaneda in Coyoacan. One thing that stands out about coffee shops here versus New York is that even in the tiniest of spaces there will be a restroom. This creates a comfortable experience for the customer, welcoming you to sit and stay awhile if you want.
On our first night we sat at an outdoor table at La Nacional and asked the waitress for mezcal recommendations from their intimidatingly long list of options. We ended up trying La Venia Tobala and Mezcales de Leyenda, Nauyaca. The shot glass servings, meant to be sipped, were served with orange juice, sal de gusano (ground dried worms, salt and chili), orange rinds and veggie sticks. We took turns sipping each, which were vastly different from each other. We found that mezcal is not just reserved for sipping, or even for cocktails, but is incorporated into many food dishes, both savory and sweet, such as the chocolate mentioned above.
There are plenty of cocktail bars in Roma and Condesa to choose from. Licorería Limantour has a list of very creative drinks, such as a spin off taco al pastor called Margarita al Pastor, which can be a bit overwhelming if you can’t translate all of the ingredients. Take a chance, ask for help from an English speaking employee or order something not on the menu - you can’t go wrong either way. Felix, down the street, is a little more casual with equally as well made cocktails with a greater focus on the classics. When we ate lunch at Casa Virginia we drank wine, but after visiting the roof garden and finding out the produce is used at the bar as well as in the kitchen, we would return for a cocktail.
Believe it or not, Mexico has more beer to offer than just Corona or Negra Modela, but most of it doesn’t get exported. El Bebian in Mercado Roma is a small vendor that sells beer by the bottle, such as Colimita Lager and Allende IPA. El Deposito, in Roma Norte, is both a bar and a beer shop, where you can pay a fee to drink a beer from the shop there.
A note on Hours
The timing of meals is a little behind the US and whether you want to adhere to this or not, you will be forced to due to the opening hours of most establishments. For example, many restaurants don’t open for lunch until 2PM, the normal hour for eating this meal. If they close at all between lunch and dinner, they might not reopen until 7PM, but won’t be busy until closer to 9 or 10PM. Lunch is the heaviest meal here and can last until what would be happy hour time in New York, which is why dinner is a lighter and later affair. Especially on the weekends, don’t expect to find much coffee or street food available as early as 8AM, which we learned the hard way.
Like in Vietnam, when eating street food in Mexico City we kept our eye out for high turnover and lots of customers, most likely ensuring tasty food that hasn’t been sitting out all day. Most street vendors and inexpensive restaurants offer antibacterial gel for their customers.
See all of these locations, and more, on our Mexico City Google Map