We packed a lot of eating into five full days, and almost everything we tried was excellent. In a sprawling city that offers virtually unlimited choices, I was glad to have done a fair amount of research beforehand. However, it was also good to have recommendations from locals to help narrow down our options and offer logistical assistance. Getting from point A to point B can be much more difficult than you imagine.
Here are the highlights:
Municipal Food Market – Coyoacan – Ave Higueira
Jet-lagged and hungry, we descended on this 15-stall covered market like giddy children. This is fitting, since our host had was from around here and used to eat at the same market growing up. He headed straight for the quesadilla stand, which was his favorite. Two tortillas, pounded out to order, then stuffed with various ingredients and then deep fried. Despite the name, only one actually contained cheese. Standouts where the chicharones, thrice fried pork bits and the cuitlacoche, seasonal corn mold. The busiest stall was selling Pozole, so we also went for a bowl of that, with its earthy, spicy broth, hominy and chunky pork fat.
El Tizoncito- Tamaulipas 122, Condesa
This corner taqueria claims to have invented Al Pastor. Not sure if it’s true, but the tacos were delicious. We ordered them four, five at a time, the taquero patiently waiting for the rotating spit of meat to slightly sear on the outside before deftly slicing the pork, and then tossing chunks of pineapple onto each taco with a flick of the wrist. The tacos were delicious, lightly spicy and dry with a sweet crunch of pineapple. We also tried an order of juicy roasted pork tacos with melted cheese.
La Botica -Campeche 396, Condesa
Part of a well-known chain of mezcalerias, this bar lists its mezcals and simple snacks on hand-written cardboard menus. To sit at a table you’re required to order at least one food item. We chose a stringy, fresh block of oaxacan cheese, which went perfectly with my salty and strong Pechuga, a mezcal that is distilled over a hanging chicken breast.
El Polar Guillermo Prieto 129, Cuauhtémoc
A huge four-floor cantina specializing in draft beer and barbacoa. The goat is served with tortillas and a rich, fatty broth, which is not unlike a Mexican version of Pho. Packs of mariachis rush by carrying guitars, drums, horns and amplifiers, eager to serenade tables with their wonderful but deafening songs. A chaotic, heady and filling experience.
Pujol - Francisco Petrarca 254 Polanco
Simple, expressive food presented in a serene and comfortable setting. Lives up to the hype and then some. The second-best tasting menu we’ve ever experienced, and a steal compared to any fine-dining restaurant in New York.
El Turix - Emilio Castelar 212 Polanco
The line out the door said it all. Rich, spicy Conchinita Pibil served three ways: as tacos, panuchos and tortas. I tried one of each and wish I’d gone back for seconds.
Quintonil - Newton 55, Polanco
Pujol alum Jorge Vallejo cooks modern takes on classic Mexican dishes with loads of French technique and arresting visual presentations. We found the food incredibly rich and over-reliant on sauces. While we couldn’t find any fault in the flavors per se, the food seemed showy and clumsy next to the understated, elegant soulfood of Pujol.
Tamales Flor de lis Huichapan 21, Condesa
Another revelation on a trip that was full of them. I’ve always enjoyed tamales, but never had one so fluffy and dry, the corn meal so light and airy it was almost like a cake. Perfect eaten on a park bench for breakfast.
El Cardenal (San Angel) De La Paz 32, San Angel
The most-often listed restaurant on all the travel sites for classic and classy Mexican food. This is the newest branch, a huge former Italian restaurant in San Angel. We had a family meal around a huge square table in a private room. After a slew of appetizers (more cuitlacoche anyone?) we dug into their main courses, mostly various behemoth cuts of roasted meats. The food was good, but the company was better.