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Mexico City, or Distrito Federal/ D.F. as the locals call it is Mexico’s sprawling capital city, as well as one of the world’s top culinary destinations. Although it may seem intimidating, this city is well worth a visit, especially if you’re a foodie itching to sample local specialties like tamales or tortas. TPG contributor Lori Zaino, lover of all things food and drink, guides us through some of her favorite spots to wine and dine (or better said, tequila and dine) in Mexico City.
Mexico City is one of the most underrated yet exquisite food cities in the world. Many brush off this culinary hot spot as dangerous or overcrowded, but in reality it’s an incredible urban paradise fit for feasting on all kinds of diverse dishes. In Mexico City, you can sample a mouthwatering dish for just 70 Pesos in a street market or enjoy a high end dining experience. The expanse of local food stalls and markets also make it a top place for adventurous food lovers willing to try anything.
Many renowned Mexican chefs train in the US or Europe and bring back some of the outside influence in their dishes, but then change it by using local Mexican ingredients. In fact, Mexico’s wide range of climates makes the perfect spot for growing almost any kind of food possible as breezy mountains, wooded forests, warm tropical regions, deserts and more span the nation. Local, fresh ingredients are a large part of why food in Mexico City is so delectable. Many say organic farming actually started in Mexico, as farmers couldn’t afford fertilizers and preservatives.
Mexico’s elite have been talking for years about Pujol, where chef Enrique Olvera takes traditional Mexican dishes and adds a gourmet twist. Situated in the upscale Polanco neighborhood, for 1250 Pesos (about $97), you can get a tasting menu here which includes specialties like ceviche, mole, and fried panza or pork belly, among others. Chef Olvera believes that “Mexican food is always in movement” ensuring that Pujol always has the latest and greatest takes on their dishes. Try one of their original tacos, like the taco de barbacoa, which wraps together suckling lamb with avocado leaf adobo, string bean, cocoa and poblano chiles.
A young prodigy of Chef Olvera, Chef Eduardo Garcia, runs Maximo Bistrot in the trendy Colonial Roma neighborhood. This hot spot, having been referred to as a “gastro paradise” is popular with locals and a young, fashionable crowd.
Biko, also located in Polanco offers the highest quality ingredients with imaginative takes on all kinds of food–Mexican, Latin American and Spanish. Here you won’t find tradition, but a new style of food that’s both Mexican and universal. Their dishes combine Mexican delicacies with fine flavors, like their foie con tepache de piña y maiz (duck liver with a special Mexican pineapple juice and corn). Try the tasting menu for just under $80 or $140 with wine pairings.
If you love the fun vibe of the Colonial Roma neighborhood, try MeroToro for a stylish surf-and-turf seafood menu somewhat astounding considering Mexico City is completely landlocked). Share tapas (the ceviche is incredible) and opt for the mero (grouper fish), which the name of the restaurant suggests, bringing rave reviews.
Lunchtime and Relaxed Eats
Visit the gourmet cafe Delirio for brunch or lunch. It often has lines down the block with everyone waiting for a fresh, slow-cooked lunch special from chef Mónica Patiño. The restaurant also has a small deli shop where you can purchase homemade marmalade and Mexican wine.
For a delicious lunch spot where you can get a typical Mexican torta or sandwich, La Texocana is a no-frills joint with small and savory tortas. The interesting codfish torta is an adventurous pick, or for something more typical, try the carnitas torta, a sandwich of fresh, delicious pulled pork. You won’t find a website for this local joint, simply make your way there at Hamburgo 281 Local 2, Colonia Juárez.
Tacos and engine repair at the same time? Definitely not what first comes to mind when you think of a taco restaurant, making El Vilsito one of the quirkiest taco shops in all of Mexico City (and perhaps the world!). This family-owned taco stand doubles as an auto mechanic shop. Sample their famous tacos de pastor (a tribute to the city’s Lebanese influence) made with pork roasted on a revolving spit wrapped with onion and coriander in a tortilla.
If you really want to sample true, local Mexican food, do as the Mexicans do and visit some of the local street markets. Many visitors are scared of street food, but I think if you bring your Tums and use common sense, you can have an extremely enjoyable street food experience. Just make sure you find out the opening dates and times of the markets you’d like to visit, as many have irregular hours. There are endless markets in Mexico City, but my personal favorites are listed below.
Mercado de San Juan, Ernesto Pugibet 21, Centro, Cuauhtémoc
Perhaps one of the most famous markets, you can find pretty much any kind of food here. The seafood stalls come highly recommended and if you are in the mood for something savory try the Pambazo, which is similar to a torta, but the bread is dipped into a red guajillo chile sauce and fried.
Mercado de La Merced, Rosario 180, puerta 4 int. nave mayor, Venustiano Carranza, Merced Balbuena
This market is a favorite of Chef Olvera who loves chowing down on quesadillas with zucchini blossoms and oaxacan cheese in a blue corn tortilla.
Mercado de Coyoacán, Ignacio Allende S/n, Del Carmen, Coyoacán
Try the beef foot tostada or one of the seafood varieties at the Tostadas de Coyoacán stall at this market.
Mercado Tianguis Condesa, Calle Pachuca (Agustín Melgar), Cuautémoc
Enjoy fresh produce here or if you are hoping for a little spice in your life, dare to taste the tomatillo salsas!
If you are overwhelmed with choices and you want to sample a bit of everything, try a food tour. The Eat Mexico Culinary Tours give you options to tour street food markets, tacos or even a night tour with tequila joints included. This is a great way to get to know the local food scene, especially if you are anxious to walk around and get to know neighborhoods as well as sample the local gastronomy. Public tours start at $85 and private tours at $95 per person.
Start off your tequila drinking at the Museum of Tequila. This is a sneaky way to cover your imbibing and label it as a “cultural outing”. When you’ve heard all about the history of tequila and are ready to sample it, the entrance price also includes a tasting.
Afterwards, keep your buzz going by visiting the original boho chic Mezcal bar La Botica in the funky Colonial Roma hood. The bar sources both tequila and mezcals from several regions in Mexico. The lesser-known Mezcal, slowly growing in popularity in the US, is a spirit that can be made from many forms of agave, whereas tequila is always made from blue agave.
Due to La Botica’s wild success, owners have since opened La Nacional featuring mezcal from northern regions of the country such as Sonora. You can sample organic mezcal and vodka here.
Where To Stay
After eating to your heart’s content, you’ll need a place to crash so you can do it all over again the next day. For a cosmopolitan, boutique feel try the popular Condesa DF (from $200 per night). If you are planning on hitting the more upscale restaurant scene in Polanco, the modern Hotel Habita (from $190 per night) is a sure bet, or Los Alcobas (from $379 per night) is a sophisticated boutique hotel with two fine dining options, Anatol and Dulce Patria.
Maybe you’d prefer to use your points for a hotel so you can spend even more Pesos on indulgent eats, and if that’s the case, opt for the bright and bold W Mexico City (from $300 or 12,000 Starpoints per night) in Polanco, with vibrant decor inspired by Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera.