Here's our report from 5 days of mid-range dining and street food in Mexico City this October. The highs were so high! The lows were low!
*THE BEST* Can't recommend these places enough!
RED TREE HOUSE
This was our B&B in La Condesa and we couldn't recommend it enough. We rarely partake in hotel breakfasts, but we looked forward every morning to the authentic home-cooked Mexican breakfasts (enchiladas, omelettes with huitlacoche, etc.) not to mention the best churros we've ever had.
From the outside, we couldn't even tell if we were in the right place or if the restaurant was open, but inside it was packed with locals for lunch. The guacamole and enmoladas (duck tortillas with a dark mole), and barbacoa rabbit were all delicious. My partner ordered a regular coffee, but they ended up doing a full "coffee service" for us for free instead, which involved a barista grinding the beans tableside, brewing it in a large urn, and serving it in a teapot. The show and flavor of the Mexican coffee were both terrific. Service was a bit pushy, but otherwise it was a great meal.
Q'KEKAS (in Mercado de Coyoacan)
A quesadilla and gordita stall on the outside of Mercado de Coyoacan. We hadn't heard of this place, but it was so packed we had to try it. We got a quesadilla (which they called a "keka") with chicken tinga and a gordita with chicken. Both were so delicious. Our only regret was that we weren't more hungry.
STALLS AT LA MERCED
We ate at two terrific stalls at La Merced. The first, between doors 11 and 12 along the outside wall of the market, had with a long counter and a big sign on the wall with a cow that called [something] Pancitas. Everyone was eating the caldo de gallina (hen soup?). It was so simple and delicious: a bowl of clean, clear chicken broth with a stewed chicken leg that you dressed yourself with salsa, cilantro, and raw onions.
The second stall was right at door 11 and had a tiny al pastor spit. We got two tacos all pastor with pineapple, and for 40¢ each these were our favorite tacos of the entire trip. The "gringa" style (with cheese on a larger flour tortilla) seemed to be super popular with the locals.
Bustling seafood restaurant with a nightlife-ish vibe for dinner. Our favorites were the the grilled artichokes and octopus tostadas; the shrimp aguachile, Peruvian ceviche, and Clamato michelada were also great.
I had read a lot about this place, but most of the buzz seemed to be from a few years ago when it opened, so I was worried that maybe it wasn't quite as good anymore—but we weren't disappointed at all. The tuna tostadas and snook soup were amazing. The latter was incredibly simple‚ just a deep red broth with chunks of fish and nothing else, but the flavor was so rich. We also got the pescado al la talla (the fish of the day was king mackerel) and liked it, but it paled in comparison to the other two dishes. We also go the fig tart (very good) and the cheese flan (a touch heavy). This was by far our priciest meal of the trip at $70 USD for 2 after tip - no drinks.)
Lovely little restaurant—white tablecloths but not at all stuffy. We loved the salmon sashimi appetizer. We also had a very good beet salad and the suckling pig. The tea tonic (non-alcoholic) was great, but the much talked-about celery soda was too sweet for our taste. We weren't super hungry; I would have loved to try more. One of our pricier meals.
A dimly lit cocktail bar with great takes on classic cocktails.
A really charming, cute cocktail bar with creative "mixology"-type cocktails. It felt like we were in Brooklyn.
*GOOD* We would go back.
A popular, brightly lit, clean taco restaurant that's bustling at night. We got the bistec taco, flank steak taco, chuleta taco, and pastor "crater." Everything was great (but they were a little heavy-handed with the cheese IMO). (For dinner we actually split our meal between Califa and the taco stand diagonally across the intersection from Califa, which we liked for different reasons. It was cheap and simple, run by two local women, and the quesadillas were totally solid.)
EL TIZONCITO (location on Tamaulipas)
El Huequito was on our list but we never made it. Instead, we ended up here, which also claims to be the "inventor" of al pastor. The little tacos and huarache (all al pastor) were delicious, though not the most flavorful pastor we've ever had, or even had on this trip.
Very busy mezcal bar with a long list of local small-batch mezcals that are siphoned out of unlabeled glass jugs behind the bar. The bartender gave us tastes of three mezcals that I remember the numbers but not the names of. #12 was too harsh for us. #9 was very good, distilled with cinnamon, raisins, and chicken breast (???); I would have ordered it but #26 (the bartender's favorite) was the smoothest for our novice palettes. The mezcal came with orange slices with chili and salt.
BLUE MASA STAND (on Burdeos between Av. Chapultepec and Av. Hamburgo)
This stand was just one woman sitting in front of a wide griddle making blue masa tortillas to order. We got a chicharron gordita (blue corn), a chicken and nopal quesadilla (corn), chirizo sope (blue corn). Everything was very good (maybe a little under salted), but I think largely what we loved about it was the experience of stopping at a random stall on the street that looked good and had lots of people eating at it. So, this is more a note about street stands in general, more than this particular one. I'm sure there are stands all over the city which are great.
*WOULDN'T RETURN* Unexpected disappointments!
This was 1 of 2 big disappointments of the trip, and my least favorite meal by far. We heard a lot about it (on CH, even!), but we found the cream soup of the day bland, and the fideos secos to be little weird and not that good. The arroz con leche and vanilla-mezcal ice cream were just OK. The worst, by far, though, was the tamal made with root beer root. It was dry and kind of awful and, for me, totally inedible.
This was the other disappointment of the trip, since we had read so many great things about it and loved Nico's. We ordered the bone marrow sopes and the fish in a mole made from pepitas, both were just OK. We also ordered the esquites with duck kidneys (?), which we found to be frankly pretty bad.
TOSADOS COYOACAN (in Mercado de Coyoacan)
I had read a lot about this place as having the best tostadas in the city, but we thought they were just OK. We had the tinga, shrimp, and pata, and didn't find them to be particularly flavorful. (The pata really wasn't for us... I had excepted something different since in Chinese cuisine pork feet usually have a good deal of meat on them. That's a matter of our taste more than anything though!)
MCTECO TACO STAND (in La Merced)
A random stall we stopped at in La Merced that had a sign that mimicked McDonald's golden arches called McTeo Tacos. There were lots of diners there, but we found the bistec taco (which came with fries on top, hence the name) to be incredibly greasy.
*TO DO* (Not food, I know, but these were special)
Diego Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education
Three floors of Rivera's amazing Mexican Revolution murals showing his communist politics, housed within the courtyard of a office of civic works. Free (bring an ID to get in) and almost no other tourists.
It was PACKED to the gills, but I still found Frida and Diego's house totally mesmerizing. The exhibits were super informative and gave great context to Frida's work. (I wanted to see more of her work immediately so we actually took a cab right to Museo Dolores Olmedo, which has 25 of her pieces, but all of them were on loan in South Korea!)
Papanteco flyers at the Anthropology Museum
Right in front of the anthropology museum (which we liked quite a bit and was exhaustively informative) was a demonstration of the traditional Panpatl "danza de los voladores," involving four men climbing and spinning around a thirty foot pole on ropes while playing the flute and drum. We happened upon it just as we got to the museum, but it seemed to be happening again as we left, so they must do it regularly.