Where I’m from in the Midwest, “Mexican” food is usually large platters of tacos, enchiladas, and something called “chimichangas” covered in some cheese sauce, shredded lettuce, and sour cream. The margaritas are blended and it’s Miller Lite on tap.
When I moved to California, I discovered taco trucks and homestyle Mexican restaurants like Molcajete and Kúuup in San Francisco. I learned a few things: that a real taco is grilled meat on a corn tortilla sprinkled with cilantro and onions. That one smothers it not in dairy, but in one of a few red or green salsas available for sprinkling. That there’s a delicious sauce called mole that’s thick and chocolate-y and it’s smothered on enchiladas. And that there’s a grilled pork dish of the gods called conchinita pibil.
I recently traveled to Mexico City for a week and learned that my experience with Mexican food was at a toddler’s level. I was adventurous possible because I believe the way to a place’s heart is through its cuisine. I went on a tour of the Distrito Federal (D.F.) and over the course of 6 days, tasted many different styles of Mexican food and places to eat it. This list is short, but a tasty and memorable start to the thousands of places to eat in Mexico City.
Eat as Families Do
The name of the family restaurant La Casa de los Abuelos in the Zona Rosa neighborhood means “Grandparent’s House” And it is a restaurant for grandparents – there are framed pictures of grandparents on the wall in the grand style of European castles- and parents and kids and cousins, brothers and sisters. The high-ceilinged dining room is filled like a dance hall with sea green booths and hungry patrons. The staircase leads to an attended playroom for the customer’s children to bounce on a trampoline, play with toys, or watch videos. Parents can watch their kids play on several TV monitors posted on the wall.
White uniformed waiters scatter to serve up tortilla chips and salsa to the tables, taking orders from a laminated menu of sopes, tostadas, tacos, and pozole (soup). The service is prompt, the food is fresh and filling and ranges from $4 and 7 USD a plate.
Eat in the Heart of a Market
On the way to the Museo Frida Kahlo, one can pass the Coyoacan Market. It’s easy to find a passage and walk into the market ‘s center for lunch to get a sense of where the locals are eating. Past the food stands of tortas and tostadas, you’ll find an open dining room filled with about 50 plastic tables and chairs and dozens of defeños (residents of the capital city). Ringing the space is a U-shaped walkway surrounded by food stalls – small kitchens that spill over with silver pots and buzzing servers. We chose the Fonda El Comal with a fixed price menu and for 75 Mexican Pesos (about $6 USD) and got a chicken soup (pollo consommé) served with chicharonnes and avocados, cheesy spaghetti, and mole enchiladas. The mole sauce was rich, thick, and had a layered chocolate/peanut/chili flavor. Our meal was accompanied with a basket of homemade corn tortillas kept warm with a dishtowel covering. I was not that hungry when I started to eat, but ended up swabbing the plate with tortillas for the last drip of mole sauce.
Fusion Tacos in Condesa
Visitors to any Kebab shops around the world will recognize a very familiar prop in taco shops around Mexico City – a “Boll” – the turning rotisserie that drips fat and flavor. The carved pork does not fill a doner kebab, but tacos. It’s a genius fusion of the Middle Eastern style meat (brought over by immigrants to the D.F. at the turn of the 20th Century) and the Mexican taco. On the tree-lined streets of the comfortable Condesa neighborhood, I recommend two places to try these tacos.
Tacos el pastor at El Tizoncito: The web site claims that this place invented the tacos el pastor. I am not one to contest, because they serve up an unbelievable taco. A meal at this corner café starts with a tower of salsa and relish. Order the tacos el pastor one by one. You can order “with everything,” but beware. In addition to the taco meat, pineapple, cilantro, and onions, it’s served with a fiery hot salsa. I had to hurriedly order a horchata to cool my burning tongue and my next round was “with everything, but the salsa.”
Taquería El Greco: At this hole in the wall restaurant, order the “Gringa pan Arabe con Carne DONERAKY con Queso.” You can guess at the translation, but it’s literally the kebab meat spread over one tortilla, covered with cheese, flattened with another tortilla, and grilled once more like a quesadilla.
Hipster Heaven in The Roma Neighborhood
Avenue Alvero Obregon is lined with outdoor restaurants serving Italian, Spanish, and French cuisine – all with a Mexican spin of course. Have dinner at the very trendy M A X I M O [Bistrot Local] with plain white walls, candlelight, and a one-page gourmet menu. Its menu changes and includes fresh and local ingredients filling plates of risottos, steak, roast chicken, and fish. The local spin means avocado foam, cuitlacoche, and red snapper. This place was so hip that we saw a model and a well-known Mexican TV actress dining at tables next to our party. In the same neighborhood, is Romita Comedor, a wonderful place to grab a nighttime cocktail. Climb the spiral staircase to the rooftop restaurant and be delighted by an open-air space that feels like being in a human-sized bird cage. The DF night sky is indigo past the wrought iron roof skeleton. There is an extensive cocktail menu, but the best drink looked to be the mojito.
Lunch Counter at Los Bisquets
Los Bisquets de Obregon is a diner chain that can be found on many corners in the neighborhoods of Mexico City. The one is Zona Rosa is special because it has an actual lunch counter. Albeit it’s in a mall, but the old-style charm is very present. Yellow and green chairs line a corner counter that seats about 10. There are homestyle dishes on the menu, including my favorite the Nopalito Divorcado – cactus with red and green sauces poured on opposing sides of the plate, but a special experience is the café con leche. A waiter will appear with your glass and then two silver pitchers. He’ll look to you for guidance on what to do first, hold your finger at the level of the glass that you want filled with espresso. He’ll pour it to that level and then will ask “con espuma?” or would you like foam? If your answer is yes, then he’ll raise the second pitcher up and pour hot whole milk from on high to create the bubbles.
Take Your Big Trip Travel Service Review
Chauffeur service Blacklane Limousines offered me an airport drop off and pick up from my house to SFO and back for this trip to Mexico City. It was a tall order – my flight left at 6:00 a.m., which meant a pickup time of 4:20 a.m. The chauffeur and his black Lincoln Towncar were there right on time. The driver was professional and the car was very comfortable. Upon my return, a driver, holding a sign with my name was present right at the baggage claim, which was a very welcome home after two flights from Mexico City. Arranging the ride was easy on their web site. If I had paid myself, the cost would have been under $100 each way. It was a nice luxury to be picked up so early in the morning in style and arrive home to sign with my name on it. I recommend this service to those who have the means. I shared with the marketing manager who I worked with that I did not receive a text or call confirmation for the scheduled pickup and she said that was an anomaly.