Mexico City is a brilliant choice for foodies anxious to experience the high to low, homegrown to flown-in dining options in this deliciously diverse city. From street food eaten standing up, to a remarkable 11-course meal with a dessert that rivalled a Vegas production prepared by the talented French chef Sylvain Desbois at the St. Regis, the cosmopolitan city’s cuisine is incredible.
Food in Mexico City is farm-to-table inventive, defined by fresh flavours and unexpected combinations (crickets and tacos! Who knew?). Mole comes in every imaginable flavour and there is always a shot glass of the exceedingly diverse flavours of mezcal close by to wash it all down. The hippest Brooklyn watering hole has nothing on the complex cocktails and ambient pre-Hispanic cool at Xaman run by French owners Romain Morice and Anthony Zamora.
Mexico also has a vibrant craft beer scene. There are interesting fusions of traditional cuisine and new techniques, from foams to craft cocktails and the same kind of sophisticated food that trend-scouting urbanites hunt for in New York, Paris or Rome.
Some of the favorite tastes that we find lip smacking:
Mexico City residents drink mezcal straight, the better to appreciate the various gradations of smoky and sweet, smooth and punchy in this liquor distilled from the agave plant. While the better-known Mexican liquor, tequila, is by law only distilled from the blue agave, mezcal can be sourced from the more than 30+ varieties of agaves so the flavour varies wildly. Slowly sipping and savouring mezcal is more like wine tasting than the quickly downed tequila shot. Almost every restaurant has some favourite selections on hand (there are over 9,000 mezcal producers in the country). Also, mezcal is known as “god’s elixir,” so you can’t really go wrong with an endorsement like that.
2: Turkey torta at Tortas Tortas
The incredible turkey tortas at the street food stand Tortas Tortas (54 Dolores Street in the downtown historic centre) operated by Luis “Luigi” Buenrostro come accessorized with avocado and homemade chipotle salsa and like all great street food, demand to be eaten standing, right then and there, salsa dripping down your arm, as soon as they’re dished up. But just in case, there are plastic benches to perch on if you want to savour this local delicacy with a modicum of dignity.
3: Carrot salsa at Fonda Mayora
The hopping Fonda Mayora bistro in the hipster-thick Condesa neighbourhood is the perfect Saturday afternoon stop for people- and dog-watching. Food is inventive and satisfying, like high-concept comfort food.
4: Avocado pizza at the St. Regis, Mexico City
It sounds so simple: an avocado pizza with thin slices of Mexico’s favourite fruit layered like rose petals, cooked on a thin pizza crust and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of serrano chilli and a mist of lime. But this speciality of the Mexico City St. Regis celebrates the sublimity of fresh, native ingredients prepared without too much fancy intervention.
This is just the kind of fancy hotel snack and international comfort food you want as you sip a ginger margarita and watch the world go by. The grill describes itself as “contemporary American with local influence” and that’s a pretty nifty way of encapsulating the mix of the familiar with a touch of the exotic that exhausted international travellers sometimes yearn for after a long day of adventure and street food.
5: Escamoles para taquear at Los Danzantes
Mexicans celebrate the other protein. No, not chicken: bugs. They are for sale at local markets, and pop up in a variety of dishes, as an add-in to guacamole, a taco filling, a coffee-like puree sprinkled on dishes. This spot stocks an incredible array of mezcals to sample but be sure and ask for the buttery, crunchy, corn-like ant eggs, each about the size of a ball bearing and harvested from the root of the agave. This insect caviar, considered a delicacy by the Aztecs, epitomizes the unique foodways of the country, both ancient but also well-suited to the needs of a changing planet embracing new forms of protein.
6: Mushrooms at Amaya
Chef Jair Téllez is as much an undeniable fan of the pig as any of the Southern-born chefs. He has a particular way with seemingly simple ingredients, giving a rustic, pared-back preparation that allows their true flavour and beauty to shine through. Such is the case with a gorgeous bowl of mushrooms Téllez served up at a preview of his newest restaurant. The dish’s earthy flavours were the perfect complement to the bracing mezcal Téllez brought out to accompany.
7: Churros dipped in chocolate at El Moro
Mexico City’s answer to Krispy Kreme, the old school coffee shop! It is the perfect way to start your day anytime but seems like it would be required supping after a night of mezcal-abuse, with its perfect blend of caffeine, grease and sugar. Order the churros, and any of the varieties of dipping chocolate—Mexicano, Espanol, Francés—from sugary to more subdued and start dunking. Absolute perfection.
8: Mole at Pujol
It doesn’t get edgier, more experimental but also more rooted in local food culture than it does at Pujol, celebrity chef Enrique Olvera’s gorgeous, romantic hot spot, named to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Service is exceptional, the staff unobtrusive but incredibly knowledgeable and the dark, velvet-encased atmosphere undeniably sexy. A rotating cast of beautiful couples commanded intimate tables hugging the wall, adding to the seductive atmosphere. Olvera’s food is absurdly clever but the flavours are never upstaged by the fussy presentation. A medley of street foods starts the meal, including baby corn on skewers served from a hollowed-out gourd so diners could gather around the dish like a warming campfire. A dusting of powdered chicatana (flying) ant, coffee and costeno chile mayonnaise transported street food to the realm of haute cuisine.
But one of the singular Pujol experiences is a hyper-conceptual pre-dessert offering of two moles, a “baby” mole nuevo and a “mother” mole Madre arranged like an enticing bull’s eye on the plate, with the dark brown mother encasing the nutty brown baby within. Not too sweet, it was the perfect punctuation to the restaurant’s signature, singular six-course feast.
9: Blue corn tlacoyos
Street vendors in Mexico City and some restaurants also feature this gorgeous, flavorful spin on the traditional tortilla, but in this case made from ground blue corn. Seek them out whenever and wherever. Part of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic food traditions, the diamond-shaped blue corn tlacoyo is cooked on a small metal griddle with a shelf inside for the hot coals and often holds a mash of fava beans and cactus salad and cheese. But it is that magical taste and colour of the blue corn that transports this dish to another place entirely.
10: Rajas con crema at Roldan 37
After touring the chaotic, must-see Merced Market, a food hall and grocery shopping destination in one, where glistening Fruta cristalizada, endless varieties of mole and a food stall crowned with some pseudo golden arches offers tacos topped with a heaping helping of French fries, you’ll want to come down from that melee with a relaxing cocktail and snack from the atmospheric Restaurante Roldan 37. The second floor with lovely small balconies and floor to ceiling windows flung open to catch the breeze is an otherworldly experience, a moment to savour the food but also the uniquely lost-in-time atmosphere that often rubs up against big-city amenities in this wonderfully contradictory city.