Guide: Eating in Mexico City
Mexico City might just be the world’s capital of gastronomy. From the most globally recognized restaurants like Pujol and Quintonil to a vast network of street side taquerías and tortarías to labyrinthine markets overflowing with produce, meats, and millenary traditions, few cities on earth have as much to offer the culinary traveler as CDMX, or Ciudad de Mexico.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Two decades ago, visiting Mexico City was marked with both intrigue and wariness. A sprawling, graffiti-covered city tarnished by crime, it was the seriously intrepid rather than simply hungry traveler that came through in exploration. Always an important business hub for the Americas, the city never lacked for visitors, but over the past ten years, CDMX — which had been called Distrito Federal, or DF, until 2016 — began to feel electric in the most underground way, bringing in a new wave of visitors that sought art, culture, and good food.
Museums and galleries opened at fast pace, parks were beautified, historic architecture was restored, and polished restaurants and bars began to attract a new generation of chefs. These young chefs, who had gone to stage and train in kitchens around the world — many in Europe — were realizing that the plates they were cooking in other countries didn’t look or taste anything like the flavors and time-honored recipes that backboned their heritage. Mexico was rife with beautiful ingredients and spirits that, when applied to European-style cooking techniques, could revolutionize palates. Slowly, a culinary spark that complemented the city’s now-established fashion and art worlds was ignited. Flash-forward to today, the food and drink scene in Mexico City rivals Paris and Rome, New York and Los Angeles. And in an ironic turning of tables, young chefs from around the world are headed to Mexico City to stage and learn culinary craft.
In September of 2017, two powerful earthquakes struck Mexico, sending buildings around the city tumbling to the ground and cracking foundations of others. Hundreds lost their lives and and many others were left homeless. In the immediate aftermath, many restaurants became centers of support for aid workers and needy families, while others shuttered for weeks. Some restaurants never lost clientele, while others have yet to fully recover business. Let this serve as a reminder that this city and its culinary community are something special. Some tourists canceled trips there assuming the city is a construction site. It isn’t. It’s more full of life, mezcal, and change-your-god-damn-life taco stands than it has ever been. Now isn’t the time to stay away. It’s the time to visit.
To that end, we offer up our first New Worlder Guide, a comprehensive look at all Mexico City has to offer from Eat, Drink and Stay lists, to casual neighborhood spots, street food stalls, markets, bakeries, and so on. We’ll be adding new Mexico City content on a weekly basis, and updating this page regularly, so be sure to check back often. Below, a glimpse of Mexico City through our eyes.
The true soul of Mexican cuisine is found in the streets and Mexico City is no exception. It’s impossible to walk more than five minutes in any direction and not come across a string of sidewalk stalls with fiery hot comales slinging out tacos, tlacoyas, tortas, flautas, ceviches, and barbacoa. While there is a high concentration of unbelievable grub in el Centro – such as the tacos de suadero from Los Cocuyos, the tacos al pastor at El Tizoncito, or the seafood tostadas of El Caguamo – every part of town has a few knockout street snacks that will change your life.
With two restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list and another two in the top 100, Mexico City has no shortage of excellent fine dining restaurants. With a strong dollar and euro to the peso, even the most expensive tasting menus restaurants and drink pairings are a bargain in CDMX compared with their counterparts in the U.S. or Europe. Enrique Olvera’s Pujol, reinvigorated with a bigger and bolder location, plus that famous mole and a new taco omakase menu, alongside Jorge Vallejo’s nature driven food at Quintonil are the hardest tables to land. Newcomer Lorea, from Mugaritz veteran Oswaldo Oliva is close behind, as are Edgar Nuñez’s contemporary Mexican dishes at Sud 777 and Eduardo Garcia’s French inflected Máximo Bistrot.
There’s a happy middle between the cost of fine dining and the intensity of street food and that’s in Mexico City’s neighborhood restaurants. Here you can eat and drink well and linger for hours without spending all of your pesos. For seafood, head to the leafy streets of Colonias Roma and Condesa for the raw bar at Guadalajara import La Docena, the Baja-style crudos at Mero Toro, and the multi-sauced whole fish or tostadas de atun at Contramar. You can also find regional fare at casual spots like Pasillo de Humo (Oaxaca) or El Hidalguense (Hidalgo), institutions like old-school Nicos, and chill spots like Fonda Fina and Fonda Mayora.
Mexico City has a long tradition of pastelerías and panaderías influenced by both European and indigenous baking traditions, creating a truly unique culture of breads, pastries, and confections. Some of the classic shops have been around for more than a century and you can create a sugar-fueled scavenger hunt of sorts roaming Mexico City seeking out the favorites. Pick up conchas at El Bajío, churros at El Moro, pan de muerto and other baked goods at Pastelería Ideal, and that unforgettable rollo de guayaba at Panadería Rosetta.
It’s not surprising that a city the size of the D.F. has plenty of places to wet your whistle, but what is a surprise to many is the immense variety of specialized spots to drink, many of them only found here. You can always head to your everyday, corner cantina for a michelada or tequila, but with some direction you can find pulquerías like Las Duelistas ladling out milky white agave sap, mezcal bars with hundreds of bottles from obscure producers, star mixologists at Licorería Limontour and Hanky Panky, and Latin America’s largest selection of natural wine bars.
Prepare yourself for a world of flavors, smells, sights, and sounds that take over your senses inside any Mexico City market. The Central de Abastos on the outskirts of town Itzapalapa, is the city’s largest wholesale market, supplying many of the others, though it lacks the charm or access of those in the center. Head to the maze-like La Merced or less chaotic San Juan to see entire rows of vendors carving up nopales or baskets full of insects arranged as if they were tomatoes. New wave markets and food halls aren’t unheard of either, like Colonia Roma’s Mercado Roma and its newly opened cousin in Coyoacán. Read our full list of Mexico City’s markets.
Foodie Side Trips
In Pre-Columbian times, much of modern day Mexico City was covered by lakes and canals dotted with small islands where small gardens were kept. The Aztecs expanded the land into farms called chinampas that helped feed much of Teotihuacan. While many of these floating gardens have long disappeared, the chinampas of Xochimilco are seeing new life as suppliers of produce to many of the DF’s top restaurants.
You don’t have to stick to DF proper to find refined restaurants. In Toluca, contemporary restaurant Amaranta is routinely featured on Latin America’s 50 Best restaurant list. Chef Pablo Salas explores the culinary heritage of the state of Mexico through seven-course tasting menus with a pairing that dabbles in Mexican wines and craft beer.
Rivaling Oaxaca as the birthplace of the greatest number of Mexico’s most famous dishes, Puebla is a mere two hours from Mexico City. Sample mole poblano, chiles en nogada, cemitas, chalupas, and tacos arabes from traditional restaurants and market stalls. There are also cooking classes, a new generation of adventurous young chefs, and some excellent places to stay.
Where to Stay
When it comes to putting head to pillow, CDMX doesn’t lack for options; it all depends on what part of town you decide upon. In Centro, it’s about Downtown, a swank option that opens on a gorgeous courtyard, anchored by a rooftop pool overlooking the city’s historic skyline. If you crave luxury and want to shop in high-style, while traipsing through nightly tasting menus, consider Las Alcobas, the meticulous, boutique property attached to Martha Ortiz’s creative Dulce Patria. The Condesa DF offers another killer rooftop and a see-and-be-seen brunch and cocktail scene, while in nearby Roma, the three-room La Valise is awash in privacy with a tricked out top-floor suite complete with room service from Elena Reygadas’ Rosetta.
Header image of Contramar‘s red and green snapper, courtesy of Contramar.