When my best friend asked if I wanted to visit Mexico City with her, I didn't so much say "yes" as I did involuntarily expel an affirmation so shrill, it prompted a family of birds to flee the snow-coated fire escape of my apartment.
Unfortunately for those traveling with me, it wasn't the last time I made a noise like that. In fact, after pretty much every bite I tried in CDMX (Ciudad de México)—think: tacos, tamales, pozoles, tostadas, and so much more—a spontaneous squeal could be heard probably even by the birds back at my apartment in New York.
Mexico City is sprawling, and I barely scratched the culinary surface with my three-and-a-half-day trip (psst: please don't do the math and judge my daily snack consumption, now that you know the visit length). It's no surprise that the city continues to crop up on top travel destination lists, with a record-breaking 10.6 million visitors in the early part of 2018. In fact, even while I was in Mexico City, I felt pangs of internet-jealousy upon seeing other people's CDMX food photos, like this one from Ovenly's Erin Patinkin:
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For the record, Erin, my vote is "go for it."
Here are the tip-top food and beverage moments from my trip—let me know which million things I missed in the comments, and if I didn't scar my friends with all the shrill exclamations, I'll add them to our agenda for the next visit!
If I could live in any bakery I've ever visited, it would be Panadería Rosetta Havre—for the record, I'd also happily settle for a bed in the smaller version of Panadería Rosetta in Roma Norte (next to Rosetta Restaurante). The hour-plus I spent sitting at the bar of the Havre location solo-sampling different confections with a large, milky coffee was my favorite morning in recent memory.
The well-known rol de guayaba (guava pastry) is truly life-changing—it reminded me of a super-sophisticated take on the jelly-and–cream cheese sandwiches I favored as a kid. But you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu. Other favorites of mine were the rol de canela (cinnamon roll) and the ocho de crema pastelera, which was like a figure-eight of laminated pastry filled with cream so beautifully, delicately flavored, it made me feel like I should speak only in a whisper in its presence.
Yes, Mercado de San Juan is on every food-tourism list for CDMX, and yes, you should absolutely still go. It's a large market full of vendors selling everything from meats to fish to produce to cheeses to cured cold cuts to all sorts of insect delicacies. The seafood is some of the freshest in the city, and there's no shortage of countertops you can sit at to sample the fare.
If you see someone with a cart of tamales walking up and down the pathways, do yourself a huge favor, and buy several! Also, don't skip the fresh tortillas in the back-left corner—they were the best I found during my whole visit. (Plus, the person manning the tortilla stall will sell you masa if you want to attempt your own at home later.)
Come for Gabriela Cámara's famous tuna tostadas and red and green grilled snapper—stay for the world-class aguachiles and jaw-dropping desserts (like this guava cheesecake, or the dead-simple meringue-cookie, fresh strawberry, and whipped cream pie I had that was essentially a cloud manifest in sugar form). Order multiple palomas or try one of the gorgeously balanced Mexico-produced Chardonnays.
Stop by this pop-up taco spot—which opens in an auto repair shop after hours—for your new favorite al pastor. You'll never look at pork (or pineapple!) the same way. Be sure to get at least two more than you think you want.
If you're anything like me as a traveler, you'll want to stop for tacos daily at the midpoint stretch between lunch and a late dinner (just before the requisite evening nap). Do so at the quick, wallet-friendly, and utterly wonderful Taquería Orinoco. Get several of the bistec, and thank me later.
As Emma Janzen, author of Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World's Ultimate Artisanal Spirit wrote, "Finding the best mezcal isn't about knowing what to expect when you order a pour. It's about discovering something beautiful and unexpected every time. A liquid adventure, if you will." La Clandestina is an excellent place to kick off your series of liquid adventures in Mexico City. It's an intimate bar with essentially a novel of a mezcal menu. Sit in the front room if you'd like to gaze adoringly at the red-lit wall of mezcal barrels, or in the back–corner booth for extra-cozy vibes. Order whatever your server recommends—go for the trenta size (a one-ounce serving), so you can sample many.
This is your spot for a top-notch breakfast before exploring the historical center of town, where you'll find the zócalo (central square), the Palacio Nacional (Diego Rivera murals abound), and so much more. Café de Tacuba opened its doors in 1912 in a former convent, and recipes haven't changed for 50 to 60 years.
I knew that I'd love Fonda Fina—a more casual cousin to fancy Mexico City hotspot Quintonil—from the moment we arrived, when we were presented with the best salsa verde and salsa roja I've had in my entire life (the latter was—you might want to be seated for this—warm!). When I say "cousin," I mean that the menu at Fonda Fina was designed by Quintonil’s chef, Jorge Vallero. Fonda Fina's chef, Juan Cabrera (formerly of Pujol), executes it so brilliantly, I wish I could've doubled back for a second dinner an hour after the first.
Highlights included a shrimp aguachile negro, dead-perfect barbacoa, and absurdly good tlacoyos (which are pillowy, oval-shaped beds of blue corn dough topped with all sorts of delicious fillings and accoutrements) with marlin. "I don't even like marlin, and I could eat 1,000 of these," said my dining companion.
I fell into the habit of purchasing a stack of freshly made corn tortillas pretty much any time I walked past a storefront tortillería, and I have to say, every single bite of transcendentally warm corn tortilla was better than the last. I ate my fair share plain, but I also used them to taste other miscellaneous bites I'd acquired while walking around (like tiny avocados coated in freshly squeezed lime and sprinkled with chile salt, super flavorful sliced chorizo, or hunks of queso fresco and ropes of Oaxaca cheese). Of note, these tortillerías have become less and less common over the last two decades or so, since the government of Mexico scrapped subsidies and price controls on tortillas.
Having planned this trip only a couple of weeks in advance, I'd resigned myself to the reality that there was no way our group would get to try Pujol, one of the world's 50 best restaurants and the list-topper on most Mexico City eatery guides (often vying with Quintonil, another top-50 spot). Instead, as a major Enrique Olvera fan, I had my sights set on his casual tortillería, Molino el Pujol in Condesa. I even convinced myself that it was better this way; a trip to Pujol would've majorly eaten into my budget for January in a way that went against quite a few New Year's resolutions I'd just scribbled onto an old napkin.
But fates intervened, and our group became the very, very lucky beneficiaries of a last-minute cancellation for a late-night reservation. (Sorry, January budget. It's scrambled eggs for dinner from here on out.)
Well, oh. My. Gosh. From the very first bite (an ear of baby corn rolled in creamy spiciness—plus crushed ants) to the last (an epically thin, crispy churro!), I was in a sort of culinary fugue state. Dishes I can’t stop mentally replaying include otherworldly soft-shell crab; barbacoa-style ox tongue; and octopus with ayocote purée, capers, olives, and insanely good tomatoes (in January?!—yes, in January). And of course, the thousand-plus-day-old molé madre. Oh, and fantastic, exciting local wines, and an A++ after-dinner carajillo (a Spanish drink that combines espresso with Licor 43).
You should absolutely also check out the tamal vendors you'll see lining the streets all over the city around breakfast-time; pick up a cup of atole (a sweet masa-based beverage) while you're at it. Then, for your afternoon or evening tamal fix, head to the unassuming Los Tamales de la Roma for a second wave. Order a sampling of all different sorts—each will be more delicious than the last. My favorite was a corn husk–wrapped number (they also have varieties wrapped in banana leaves) with salsa roja and shredded chicken.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there will come a day when you simply can't squeeze in a mid-afternoon snack between lunch and dinner. It's okay. Simply go to the rooftop bar at Hotel Condesa DF, order a round of palomas, and enjoy the sunset. (If you get there while it's still sunny, bring a bathing suit in case you want to take a dip in the rooftop's super-serene plunge pool).
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Other: Churrería El Moro (multiple locations) for excellent churros; Churrería La Parroquia in Coyoacán for equally delicious churros; Mercado El 100 in Roma Sur on Saturdays for a local farmers' market.
What did I miss? Let me know in the comments!