The 10 Best Things I Ate in Mexico City
It was hard to cap this list at just 10, to be honest.
When some people go on vacation, they plan their trip around excursions and sightseeing. Not me. I plan my entire trip around eating — and I’m hoping you can relate. Traveling to Mexico City is a dream for people like us. Those who love street food as much as fine dining, who dream of markets with food in every direction you turn, and who can always make room for one more bite. Over the course of a few days in Mexico City, I fell in love with food, the sites and the people. Here are the best 10 things I ate in the city.
While you’re roaming the streets of Mexico City, you may see vendors artfully stuffing masa with a fava bean puree and forming them into an oval shape. Not quite a tortilla or quesadilla, this pre-Hispanic dish is called tlacoyo. They’reare crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and often topped with cactus, cilantro, cheese and fresh salsa.
Rainbow-colored produce was everywhere. Insanely ripe, sweet and juicy mangos were better than eating candy, and the pitaya was so vibrant and pink I couldn’t believe my eyes. My favorite find, a stunning salmon-colored fruit called mamey, was like a cross between an avocado and a baked sweet potato in the best kind of way. Scraping off a little bit of the pit on the inside of the fruit released an amaretto scent that was truly unforgettable. Once I tried mamey at the market, I spotted it on other dessert menus and had to keep trying. From a mamey soft serve-like dessert at Rosetta to a mamey mousse at Azul y Oro, I was in absolute heaven.
Corn is one of the most important parts of the Mexican cuisine. Corn tortillas, specifically, are a staple at every meal. One of my favorite memories from the trip is eating a fresh, warm corn tortilla from a small vendor on the street, simply rolled up with a sprinkle of salt. To get a full appreciation for corn in Mexico City, make sure to stop by Molino El Pujol, the new tortilleria by Chef Enrique Olvera of the renowned restaurant, Pujol. Their avocado taco wrapped in an hoja santa leaf with a caramelized onion, garlic and chile guacachile sauce was so simple but truly one of the best things I ate on the trip.
Grasshoppers are creating quite the buzz lately and I have to admit, I am here for them! Often flavored with chile, lime and garlic, the crispy critters take on all the flavor of their seasoning. You can find these savory snacks in the markets, but my favorite was when they were served alongside guacamole. They really added a crunchy, salty bite.
One thing I had never heard of before were escamoles, or ant larvae. They add a sweet taste and soft texture to dishes, which reminded me a little of fresh sweet corn. My favorite bite of escamoles was at Chef Jorge Vallejo’s restaurant Quintonil, just named number 11 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018. His dish — charred avocado tartare with escamoles and herb chips — was designed to elicit the taste of guacamole and it was unbelievable!
There is truly no comparison between the packet of powdered hot chocolate you drink during the holidays and authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate. The drink you’ll find in Mexico City is a balance between bitter and sweet, and it’s served with a signature froth on top. A wooden instrument called a molinillo is rolled between your palms as a whisk to add air to the hot chocolate drink and create that frothy texture. El Cardenal is known for their hot chocolate and freshly baked pastries, not to mention their traditional Mexican dishes like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. They mix the hot chocolate tableside with the molinillo and pour each drink dramatically into your mug. (Get your camera ready for the ‘gram!)
Giant swirls of churro dough get piped into hot oil, bubble and fry until they’re crisp and golden brown. Then they’re rapidly cut into big pieces with sharp scissors and tossed in cinnamon sugar. I could have stayed at the window of Churrería el Moro watching this process repeat for hours. El Moro is an iconic spot for hot chocolate and churros, and they have locations around the city. Make sure you order the side of three dipping sauces: the super-rich chocolate, cajeta (a goat’s milk caramel sauce) and leche condensada (sweet condensed milk).
People in Mexico say there are as many mole recipes as there are families. I have a new appreciation for homemade mole after taking a cooking class at Casa Jacaranda led by Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz. We started toasting the chiles from scratch, grinding the spices, cooking each element and then savoring the aroma as more than 20 (!!!) ingredients simmered together to create one sauce. It was such a rewarding experience tasting the finished product.
Al pastor tacos were already a personal favorite before going on this trip, but there is NO comparison to getting a fresh al pastor taco on the street in Mexico City. You’ll see the rotating stands of pork cooking with a flame on the streets. Stop as often as you can, and wrap up the shaved meat with onions, salsa and a squeeze of lime in a fresh corn tortilla. One bite and you will instantly think about changing your flight and staying in Mexico forever (or at least I did!).
If you’re visiting Mexico City on a Saturday, you absolutely must take a trip to the El Bazaar Sábado to see all the vendors selling art, crafts and jewelry. A bonus to the shopping: the quesadillas! Pick from a variety of fillings or keep it simple with salty and gooey Oaxaca cheese. They’ll expertly make every tortilla fresh to start, rolling the masa and pressing it into a circle. After the tortilla is cooked, they stuff it with your filling of choice and cook until slightly crisp. Get there early when the market opens to bypass the line … they make an average of 3,000-4,000 quesadillas every Saturday!
The way to end a meal in Mexico City is by sipping mezcal. I always thought that mezcal was a certain type of artisanal tequila, but in reality tequila is a type of mezcal made from a specific region in Mexico. If you are still acquiring the smoky taste of mezcal, try it mixed into cocktails. The mezcal and soursop (one of the excotic fruits of Mexico City) drink I had at Rosetta was one of my favorites of the trip.
If you’re looking for a true margarita, though, you have to go to the San Angel Inn and sip the most-stunning rendition of this drink ever. The margarita is served in a mini silver decanter that remains chilling in an ice bucket. You pour the decanter of margarita little by little into a martini glass and sip slowly so it remains the perfect temperature, aka intentionally not ice cold but chilled just enough to be refreshing.
The simplicity of fresh flavors, the tradition that runs through each dish, and the way street food is appreciated just as much as fine dining is what made Mexico City so special. If you love eating your way through a city while taking in the sites, the people and the culture, I think you’ll leave Mexico as happy (and as full) as I did.