10 Things Every Tourist Must Eat (and Drink) in Mexico City
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When you travel to a new place, there are some essential foods that you simply must try. Mexico City has so many iconic foods and drinks that it’s easy for a visitor to be overwhelmed. Get your visit off to a good start with this must-eat and must-drink list, plus recommendations on where to try them.
The first time that I drank pulque, a beer-like fermented beverage made from agave sap and flavored with fruits, grains or nuts, it was in a small town outside of Mexico City and I fell in love with it. Until recently, it was difficult to find fresh-flavored pulque like I had in that little pueblo. But now, the Museo del Pulque y las Pulquerias — which doubles as both bar and museum — has the best pulque in the city and you can learn about the history of this unique drink while enjoying it. My favorite is the oatmeal-flavored pulque.
One of the most common breakfasts in Mexico is Chilaquiles: crisp corn tortilla chips typically bathed in a red or green salsa. There are endless variations and you can enjoy them all or create your own at Chilpa, the Colonia Condesa shrine to this breakfast of the people. Don’t be afraid to try my favorite Habanero Chilaquiles. They are not nearly as spicy as you might imagine.
Esquites, street stand outside of the Krispy Kreme
More a snack than a meal, esquites — cooked corn kernels in a cup — are a beloved Mexican comfort food. The kernels are usually dressed with mayonnaise, lime, salt, cheese, and powdered chile. This little street stand has a unique version, spiking the esquites with a “macha” salsa made with peanuts and dried chiles. The combination is addicting but very spicy.
Tamales, Tamales Madre
I used to tell everyone to never order a tamal in a restaurant — the best tamales are found on the streets — but this Colonia Juarez restaurant changed my mind. The tamales here have the essential flavors usually found only in the country towns — richer, more intense and aromatic — but are presented with urban flair. If you’re not sure what to order, try ordering the seasonal tamal.
Mezcal, Casa Azteca México
Located in the basement of a beautiful red brick building in Colonia San Rafael, where some scenes in the movie “Frida” were filmed, this tiny shop specializes in boutique mezcals that come directly from the producers. Owner Lala Noquera will wow you with one-of-a-kind mezcals — think flavors of sherry wood chips, cochinille (insects), and mezcal de pechuga with green mole and rabbit — you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Tacos de Pastor, Los Gueros de Boturini
Pastor — marinated pork cooked shawarma-style on a vertical grill — is the most emblematic taco style of Mexico City and this place in the neighborhood where I grew up, El Parque, has a special place in my stomach. I’ve been eating there since I was a baby. It’s only open in the evening and no tourists come here, so speak Spanish. It will be worth the effort. My favorite is the “gringa”, which comes with pastor meat, quesillo, pineapple, salsa, onion and cilantro.
A Local Microbrewery, La Metropolitana
Mexicans’ love of beer is undeniable but for decades the only beers produced in Mexico were from the big breweries such as Corona and Modelo. No more. Craft breweries can be found all over the city and the quality is excellent. La Metropolitana, a Narvarte neighborhood craft brewery, makes the best craft beer in the city. Its beautiful minimalist interior design makes La Metropolitana a fantastic place to take a break from the urban rush.
Pambazo, El Pambazo Boturini
The pambazo is a signature sandwich of Mexico City, yet it’s sometimes hard to find a really good one, especially in the tourist areas. The classic pambazo has is a soft white bread bun dipped in red chile sauce, fried and stuffed, classically with chorizo and potatoes, but there are many variations. This is another restaurant that is open only at night and you might hear only Spanish spoken, but if you’re looking for an authentic pambazo, this is THE place.
Chocolate, La Rifa
Traditional chocolate in Mexico is not a candy bar but a thin, intense and aromatic beverage that we have enjoyed since pre-Columbian times. This chocolateria serves old recipes of cacao beans mixed with chiles and spices. My favorite is the bitter chocolate with cardamom.
Antojitos, Expendio de Maíz sin Nombre
Antojitos means snacks, usually corn-based bites. This rustic Roma neighborhood restaurant makes unusual and one-of-a-kind corn antojitos in a photogenic open kitchen. There is no menu and the offerings change daily, so tell the staff your preferences and trust them to deliver something unforgettable to your table.
Bring your appetite to Mexico City, one of the most exciting culinary destinations in today’s world.
Ubish Yaren is a chef, Mexico City native, and owner of Mexico Underground, a food tour company in Mexico City. To learn more about Mexican food and where to find the good stuff, check out his podcast, Culinaria Nacional, follow him on Instagram @ubishyaren, and go behind the scenes in this video on the best of what Mexico City has to offer.
Additional reporting by Cynthia Spanhel (@foodworththecalories).
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