We're back from our trip to Mexico City and I'm very excited to share some thoughts! First off I want to say thanks to everyone who chipped in their feedback. It was all very valuable and our experiences were greatly assisted by Chowhound as well as Nick Gilman's excellent book, a couple of tv shows on the Mexico City food scene and our own gut feelings. Also, my wife will be documenting the trip on her blog, Tasty Trix, over time with posts broken down in themed chunks and full of photos. So stay tuned for that.
Secondly, I just want to say that Mexico City is a truly awe-inspiring place. From the sheer amount of human activity and collaboration on display on every street to the massive amount of cooking going on every time you peek around a corner, it's not an exaggeration to say that this might be the most ALIVE place on Earth.
A couple of tips for travelers to Mexico City before I get started: We relied heavily on the excellent metro system on our trip. While it gets crowded, each individual car is no more crowded than a rush hour subway in New York. The difference, of course, is that when I commuted in New York I would regularly wait 15 minutes for those cars to arrive, while the mind-bogglingly cheap and efficient Mexico City metro arrives every 30 seconds… and is STILL that crowded! My wife made liberal use of the women-and-children-only cars at the front of the trains while I sweated it out in the next car. It's a simple yet elegant solution to a basic problem.
We expected to take cabs from sitio stands but those staying in the Centro should be aware that you will not see any sitio stands. I think we saw one (in Coyoacan) the entire trip. I have no advice on taxis since we barely used them. Our hotel did call a "tourist" cab to take us to Dulce Patria and we kept the guy's number and called him to pick us up and to take us to the airport a couple of days later. Nice guy.
Also, I'm not going to lie: We didn't get away without any gastrointestinal issues. But c'est la vie, you just have to go with it! I wouldn't give back any of the experiences that we had.
One last tip, appropriately enough on tipping. As economical as most of the dining is and as excellent as the service is, even in the cheapest places, we tipped very well. But make sure to tip the specific person. At first we just left the tip in the envelop with the rest of the bill which led to confusion. Get your change back and then tip everyone that you want to tip individually. We paid with cash everywhere except Dulce Patria and used Santander and Scotia Bank ATMs (thanks to the Bank of America checking account I opened solely for this purpose) and didn't pay any fees anywhere. Definitely made travel easy! On to the report!!
We arrived in the DF on Friday evening and, after dropping off our things at the hotel, strolled up to CAFE EL POPULAR, which had been suggested as a good starting point for weary travelers. And it really was perfect. We ordered enchiladas divorciadas, which were awesome, and a mole tamale that was lighter than you'd think. The enchiladas were particularly amazing and took us back to a Mexican restaurant on 5th avenue in Brooklyn back in the 90s. That place had been touted as "authentic" and now, thanks to some shared flavors, we realize that it was! The vibrant plate, the colors of the Mexican flag, was a proud and lively dish with which to start our trip.