Anyone arriving in Mexico City will likely notice the sheer size and sprawl of the city, 573 square miles to be exact (a bit different from my beloved 49 sq miles in San Francisco). The subsequent food guide focuses primarily on the central portion of the city in the neighborhoods of Condesa, Hipodromo, Roma, Polanco, Cuauhtemoc, and Juarez. Mexico City & Mexico as a whole are blessed with a vibrant food scene, full of flavor, color, citrus, brightness, spice, and history. Whether living like a local and popping by any of the thousands of food stands throughout the city or heading to some of the more famous fine dining institutions, the food in Mexico City is fantastic and oh so affordable for an out-of-town'er like myself. A month of eating out almost everyday was not nearly sufficient to try all the foods I hoped to - I imagine it would take several lifetimes to taste everything Mexico's culinary scene has to offer. Here is my short list:
La Casa de Tono
A 24/7 joint in Cuauhtemoc with what I would call Mexican diner vibes. The two level restaurant features friendly and extremely efficient staff and a menu of Mexican favorites. The must order and specialty of the house is the pozole, a hearty stew with your choice of meat or veggie, soft hominy, a flavorful red broth, topped with cabbage, onions, and lime. A large bowl will bring your bill to $2.50. There are several other locations further out within Mexico City as well.
Elena Reygadas' second Italian/Mediterranean outpost (see Rosetta below) located on tree lined street in the posh Condesa neighborhood open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don't miss the fresh pastas, the cauliflower salad, or a flatbread.
Imported from Guadalajara, La Docena is a bustling & spacious corner restaurant on Avenida Obregon in Roma Norte serving up an eclectic menu of seafood, Spanish ham, po'boys, burgers, and more. The service is friendly, the atmosphere lively, and the food flavorful.
Walking along Colima one morning with a friend, we both did a double take when we passed a door that opened to an inner courtyard filled with hanging green foliage, dangling round lights, and a collection of wooden tables and chairs. The restaurant is idyllic, has both indoor and outdoor seating, strong wifi, and serves weekend brunch and lunch/dinner the rest of the week.
The original outpost of chef Elena Reygadas (above Lardo) in the charming Roma Norte neighborhood. The restaurant is housed in a 3-level colonial home redesigned by her architect husband. The ground floor has lofty ceilings with green tendrils hanging down, and each room throughout the restaurant retains period details and character. Fresh and flavorful salads, innovative pastas, and the most delicious baked rhubarb and ginger dessert make for the perfect lunch or dinner.
A local lunchtime favorite dishing out every kind of seafood you could imagine. At peak hours the restaurant is packed and bustling, so if you have a tight schedule be sure to make a reservation. Highlights include the tuna tostadas, the ceviche, and the various whole grilled fishes. Come hungry and wash down your meal with a selection of tasty margaritas.
Needing no introduction, Pujol is perhaps the most well known Mexican restaurant thanks to Chef's Table and the relative fame of chef Enrique Olvera. Taking traditional Mexican dishes, Olvera applies modern cooking techniques and ideas, creating inventive and flavorful dishes that are still wholly Mexican. For a full blow by blow of my meal at Pujol and to see the taco that changed my life, peruse this post.
Recommended by one of my favorite San Francisco Chef's, Val Cantu of Californios, El Hidalguense is a cute barbacoa house in Roma Sur full of colorful tables, wooden details, and an open kitchen. Although the menu is extensive, locals know to order the barbacoa, roasted lamb wrapped in banana leaves served with fresh corn tortillas, a variety of salsas, onions, cactus salad, avocados, herbs, and lime. The restaurant is only open from 7am - 6pm Friday - Sunday so plan accordingly.
Beloved bakery and cafe of chef Elena Reygadas (seeing a trend here?) now in two locations, the original on Colima in Roma Norte, and the second on Havre in Juarez (a bit more roomy). Although the menu is fairly extensive, the pastries and breads are the the crowning glories. Don't miss the half savory, half sweet bollos de romero or the rol de guayaba, essentially a guava danish. The coffee is also some of the best I had in Mexico City.
A cute corner breakfast or lunch spot serving simple and straight forward Mexican staples with fresh, local ingredients. The chilaquiles verdes with an egg are especially good for an early morning pick me up.
Slatted wooden walls and warm lighting create a cozy atmosphere in this Roma Fonda. Although more sophisticated than your everyday Fonda, the food in general is fresh and simple, but still packed with flavor. Tasty drinks as well!
Another well known and well regarded fine dining establishment in Mexico City. Chef Jorge Vallejo creates playful dishes that echo Mexican flavors, techniques, and ingredients, yet are thoroughly unique. Bright and citrusy aguachiles, unexpected tartares of escamoles (ant larvae) and avocado, and smoked crab tostados with radish and habanero mayo make for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Seasonal mexican flavors served in a French Bistro style is the key at this small Roma restaurant. Locally sourced ingredients, artful plating, and friendly staff make this a must try spot for lunch or dinner.
Churrerria el Moro
When in Mexico, you must try a churro and hot chocolate. With several outposts throughout the city, El Moro is perhaps the most famous of Mexico City's churro houses. Each location is covered in tiles and has a simple menu of churros, a selection of hot chocolates, coffee, and a few sandwiches. Churros are made fresh to order and come out in giant rings that are then cut into quarters. Enjoy inside or take them to go.
A beautiful modern and open space with walnut accents located in the swanky Polanco neighborhood. Raiz is possibly one of the best kept food secrets in the city, as it seems to be relatively unknown but puts out delicious, flavorful, and locally sourced food. You can order the tasting menu or a la carte, both options are equally tasty. A super amiable and helpful staff is just icing on the cake.
The informal sister of Maximo Bistrot, Lalo is a colorful and lively restaurant in Roma, serving Italian inspired fare. A large communal table runs down the center of the space and graffiti-like painted walls add some spunk to the restaurant. A great option for weekend brunch, although expect to wait a bit.
For a break from the Latin flavors, head to Merkava, located on my favorite Avenida Amsterdam in Hipodromo for a dose of Israeli/Mediterranean eats. Undulating light wooden walls coupled with blue painted designs and banquet seating make for a fun and somewhat architectural space. Don't miss the appetizer sampler or any of the hummuses.