Travel

The Mexico City Guide

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It feels like Mexico City is going through a major moment, where all the things that used to make it such a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, are just that much better now.  We’ve always loved the tacos and the incredible street food that you can find on practically any corner, but now chefs like Enrique Olvera at Pujol and Jorge Vallejo at Quintonil are deconstructing classic recipes and taking them to the next level.  Then there’s the art scene, where it’s no longer just about iconic 20th-century artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but about new, world-class art institutions like the Soumaya, and the Museo Jumex that have both landed in the last five years. Even tequila has possibly been outdone by hundreds of boutique mezcal brands that spring up on an almost monthly basis. The list goes on. Basically, Mexico City, or CDMX—as it’s now known—just got a whole lot awesomer.

Biko

Presidente Masaryk 407, Polanco | +52.55.5282.2064

The team of chefs at this long-standing, Basque-influenced favorite on upscale Masaryk are so serious about the fusion cuisine they've created between their Basque roots and the Mexican ingredients on offer, that they've come up with their own name for it: Cocina Gachupa. It consists of some truly modern, almost sculptural dishes, along with traditional favorites like tortilla and stuffed peppers. Plus, the food here is meant to be savored with a good glass of wine, and the selection here is on point, with everything from the best of Mexican wines from the Baja Peninsula, to a few great French bottles, and of course an excellent list of unusual Spanish finds.

Lalo!

Zacatecas 173, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5568.3388

This cool, graffiti-covered casual breakfast and lunch spot comes from Enrique "Lalo" García, the chef behind the beloved Maximo Bistrot. Here, he serves fluffy French toasts and Croque Monsieurs for breakfast, and delicious pizzas and pastas for lunch at a long communal table that runs through the lively space. And though the vibe is much more chill, the food is no less extraordinary than at its big sister restaurant across the street. Whatever you do, don't miss the bread basket at breakfast.

Nicos

Avenida Cuitláhuac 3102, Colonia Clavería | +52.55.5396.7090

Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo inherited Nicos from his mother, who opened the restaurant in 1957, serving her family's traditional recipes in a large cafeteria-like dining room in the totally off-the-beaten path neighborhood of Azcapotzalco. Today, the restaurant continues as it always has, serving his family's classic Mexican dishes, but with a few added bonuses. Gerardo, one of the leaders in the Slow Food movement, has spent years researching traditional ingredients and processes, sourcing local, organic ingredients and has incorporated them into the menu. He's a major influence (and supplier) to some of the city's best restaurants. Open for breakfast and the traditional extended lunch, the best approach is to start with the Guacamole, made fresh at the table in a molcajete, split a few mains—everything from Chiles en Nogada, to Mole, to Enchiladas—and spend a few hours afterward digesting with agave-based drinks like Mezcal or Pulque (a pre-hispanic alcoholic beverage) which Lugo has also sourced from all over the country.

Eno

Francisco Petrarca 258, Polanco | +52.55.5531.8535

Eno is Chef Enrique Olvera's mini-franchise of casual and considerably more affordable cafes (Olvera did Pujol). True to style, he's using traditional Mexican ingredients but making them relevant to a more modern, city-based clientele. The lunch hour is prime time here, when the long bar and all the tables are full—all three branches are cleverly located in major office areas. If you can nab a seat, go for the Tepache, a fermented pineapple drink not dissimilar to Kombucha, to help digest one of the meaty tortas—aka the ultimate Mexican sandwich served on traditional bolillo bread rolls.

Delirio

Monterrey 116, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5584.0870

With prime real estate on one of the main drags in the Roma, this corner deli-turned-restaurant serves the best Mexi-Mediterranean brunch in town. This translates into long lines on weekends for dishes like Greek Eggs, served with olives, tomato relish, and fresh, warm pita bread. Come for lunch and you'll find wonderful tortas, sandwiches and salads to choose from, too. The real highlight here, though, are the ingredients, which are proudly displayed on the deli counters throughout the space, and which owners Monica Patino (one of the big names in Mexican cuisine) and daughter Micaela Miguel, go to great pains to source from local and global suppliers. There's everything from Ensenada olive oil, to French wines, to hard-to-find Middle Eastern ingredients, to small-batch honeys, coffees, teas, and jams produced all over the country.

Pujol

Francisco Petrarca 254, Polanco | +52.55.5545.3507

Enrique Olvera's Pujol tops pretty much every list when it comes to dining in Mexico City. Using native ingredients like ant eggs and huitlacoche (a delicacy made out of corn fungus), he's completely deconstructed Mexican cuisine molecular gastronomy style, so while some of the ingredients may be recognizable, the flavors on offer are totally new. Here, in a small, dark, and unassuming dining room decorated with white tablecloths and stark white tableware, it's Olvera and head chef Erick Guerrero's culinary experiments that take center stage: There might be an egg hidden in a puffed tortilla, or a taco may come in liquid form. The daily-changing prix fixe menus are full of surprises, and a must-do when in town. Photo: Fiamma Piacentini

El Cardenal

Palma 23, Centro | +52.55.5521.8815

Don't let its location in the Centro's Hilton fool you into thinking this is a tourist trap: El Cardenal has been around in several incarnations since the 80's and is one of the more formal restaurants for Mexican food, where high-fliers take their business clients and families do Sunday lunch. The menu is extensive and for newcomers, a perfect introduction to regional cuisine, from their traditional Chiles en Nogada to Enchiladas, to whole roasted fish and tacos de Arrachera (steak)—the best in town. Beyond lunch, though, breakfast is where it's at with a selection of freshly baked pastries, authentic hot chocolate, freshly squeezed juices, and traditional egg dishes—the ultimate mix of sweet and savory.

Mero Toro

Amsterdam 204, Colonia Condesa | +52.55.5564.7799

This spot from the owners of Contramar is yet another successful foray into importing quality seafood to Mexico City. With their support, Chef Jair Tellez, who first made a name for himself with Laja, a restaurant located in the Valle de Guadalupe wine region in the Baja Peninsula, brings his brand of Spanish-influenced, northern coastal cuisine to this street-side deck dining room in the Condesa. In the spirit of surf and turf for which the restaurant is named, there are delicate ceviches, seasonal salads, whole roasted fish, and serious hunks of lamb and pork on offer. Along with the food, the wine list boasts many of Mexico's best producers from the Ensenada region in the north, and there are Mexican craft beers available, too.

Bravo Lonchería

Rio Sena 87, Colonia Cuahtemoc | +52.55.5207.6276

The lonchería is an old-school concept, a casual diner where office workers got their lunchtime fix, but in the hands of the guys behind Bravo, it's also a haven for serious foodies. They've taken the torta—a meaty sandwich served on a house-made bolillo roll—and made it gourmet, with a daily-changing menu of options packed with pickled veggies, hot sauces, regional condiments, and moles. Here hipsters and office workers pack into the long bar that loops through the industrial-chic space, complementing their meal with craft beers and mezcal.

Casa Virginia

Monterrey 116, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5207.1813

After opening their wonderful café, Delirio, on a busy corner in the Roma, prominent chef Monica Patiño and her daughter Micaela Miguel managed to charm the building's owner, an elderly woman named Virginia, into renting them the entire building—a 1920's French Beaux Arts-style home with high ceilings, tall windows, and old-fashioned tiled floors. They then created Casa Virginia, a homey and refined space. The menu changes often, including ratatouilles—the restaurant's now-famous red snapper covered in tapenade—and a great assortment of veg-centric, seasonal dishes are all served family-style in the airy, white-washed dining room. Meanwhile, up on the rooftop, they've installed a small but fully-functioning garden where many of the kitchen's ingredients are sourced.

El Parnita

Yucatan 84, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5264.7551

The family behind this small, unassuming open-air cafeteria have mastered the art of the snack, collecting recipes from around the country for years and finally serving their discoveries in an endless stream of small plates (and small plates alone). Tostadas, shrimp tacos, tlacoyitos (fried balls of masa served with refried beans, cream, and avocado), freshly made tortillas, their famous killer habanero salsa: Everything here is delicious and made fresh daily. Head over on the weekend and you're in for barbecued treats—meat or seafood, depending on what's fresh on the day.

Azul Histórico

Isabel la Cátolica 30, Colonia Centro | +52.55.5510.1316

Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, the chef behind this small chain of restaurants, has developed and re-discovered certain moles and salsas that were otherwise almost totally unknown in Mexico City, even among serious foodies. The Mole Negro, heavily condimented Chipotle salsa, and Oaxacan tortilla soup are just a few of the highlights that also happen to be among the most affordable when it comes to serious gourmet eats in town. Of his four restaurants, his latest opening on the patio of a 17th-century palace, is definitely the most glamorous, and a heavenly break from the Centro's busy streets.

Sud 777

Blvd. de la Luz, El Pedregal | +52.55.5568.4777

Though it's home to some of the most scenic hidden enclaves and charming colonial streets, the city's South was never known for its food until Sud 777 came along and changed that. The contemporary space is a destination in and of itself, with a terrace, patio, mini Kokeshi sushi joint, and lounge to complete the leafy, open dining room—meaning a meal here can last hours and move seamlessly from one space to the next. And the food doesn't get boring either: While the lounge offers a small but thoughtful menu of tapas and sushi, in the dining room there's a real mix of heavy-duty meat dishes, like their famous ribs, and perfectly light raw tuna tostadas, ceviches, and salads.

Quesadillas Maria Isabel

Emilio Castelar 14, Polanco | +52.55.5281.3835

Pretty much every single dish at this old-school luncheonette is fried, and so incredibly worth it. The main highlight are their quesadillas (pockets of fried masa filled with cheese and a choice of potato, chorizo, spicy rajas, etc.) which are served sizzling on plastic plates. After one or two of these babies and their famous flan after, an Alka-Seltzer comes in handy, as does a long walk—a treat in this beautiful old neighborhood dotted with boutiques, bars, and cafes.

El Danubio

Republica de Uruguay 3, Colonia Centro | +52.55.5512.0912

In the same location since 1936, this Basque seafood restaurant is an old-school classic with the requisite white tablecloths and dressed up waitstaff. Located in the Centro, it's where businessmen and politicians entertain, eating traditional paella, Lobster Thermidor, fresh langoustines, and big seafood platters. With 110 dishes on the menu, it's hard to believe that everything is fresh but there's a reason this place is legendary—all the fish and shellfish are flown in each day, and every single dish on the menu is made to order.

Maximo Bistrot Local

Calle Tonala 133, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5264.4291

When the team at Maximo Bistrot says "daily-changing menu," they mean it. Early every morning, the cooks at this Parisian-inspired corner restaurant head to the local markets to buy the day's freshest ingredients, and then chef Eduardo Garcia comes up with the dishes: Luscious risottos, perfectly moist roast chicken, an amazing burnt eggplant dip, even a simple beet dish is a revelation. It's no surprise that celebrities, tourists, local office workers, and residents all happily share this teensy, charming eatery.

Rokai

Rio Ebro, Colonia Cuahtemoc | +52.55.5207.7543

The best seats in the house at this authentic Japanese spot are at the bar, and the only way to go is omakase, letting chefs Hiroshi and Daisuke do their thing. It's not a stretch to say that in a city where the Spicy Tuna roll is still considered the real thing, Rokai is a revelation. Needless to say, there's no mayo in sight here. The chefs hit the markets each morning for the freshest fish that's flown in daily, and then make incredible sushi, sashimi, ramen and dumplings until they run out. Get there early or you'll miss the day's best dishes.

El Bajío

Alejandro Dumas 7, Polanco | +52.55.5281.8245

There are a few prominent grand dames of Mexican home-style food and Carmen "Titita" Ramirez Degollado is one of them. She opened her first spot in 1972 in the off-the-beaten track Colonia Cuitlahuac, teaching a team of women the dishes she grew up with in Veracruz, and gaining so much acclaim that she's since opened 4 more restaurants. The kitchens remain all-female, the decór remains colorful and tastefully folksy, and the recipes are still the ones Titita discovered over the years. Any meal here should begin with the Veracruzan platter, which is packed with a selection of mini-tamales and fried masa gorditas.

Dulce Patria

Anatole France 100, Polanco | +52.55.3300.3999

From the imposing gold doors, to the bright pink floors, to the Oaxacan embroidered seat cushions, to the fantastical way the dishes are presented, Chef Martha Ortiz's restaurant nestled in the very cool Las Alcobas boutique hotel teeters on gaudiness. Her vision is so complete, though, that it somehow totally works. The food—multicolor quesadillas, violet infused house-made breads, hibiscus water, margaritas garnished with cactus tuna, sweets that are dished out on wooden toys—is a whimsical take on Mexican flavor, and a completely immersive experience.

El Califa

Altata 22, Colonia Condesa | +52.55.5271.7666

Choosing your taqueria chain in Mexico City is kind of like choosing your soccer team: It's likely to cause some debate and is a marker of age, social standing, tastes, and politics. The main divide seems to be between El Farolito and El Califa, so much so, that there is one street in the Condesa where the two warring factions are directly across from one another. Both serve great tacos, whether its steak, nopal, chicken, pork belly, or the standard al pastor (spit-fired, marinated pork), but each has its own specialties. Farolito, which is slightly more old-school has its own salsa especial recipe, a mix of all their salsas thrown together on the grill—dangerously spicy and addictive. Meanwhile, the Califa, the hipster's taqueria of choice, offers "the Costra" which was invented in a taco stand outside one of the upscale nightclubs in the 90's and became legendary: it's a tortilla topped with an abundant amount of crisped cheese and then filled with a meat topping. Try both: We try to be non-partisan when it comes to tacos (though we're starting to lean toward El Califa).

Tori Tori

Temistocles #61, Polanco | +52.55.5281.4226

Japanese is one of the few foreign foods that locals will regularly trade in for a Mexican meal, and there's a spectrum when it comes to quality. The arrival of Tori Tori has upped the ante (and with it, the price). This chainlet has been around since the 90's, but in the last few years the outposts have all had a major facelift. The most notable is the location on Temistocles in Polanco where two prominent local firms, Rojkind Arquitectos and Esrawe, have given the restaurant a futuristic and somewhat nightclub-y feel. The menu here is pretty extensive with everything from simple nigiri to classic mayo laden rolls, but the marinated tuna rice bowl, and the sushi cake—crispy morsels of rice topped with a slice of shrimp, salmon, or tuna—are where it's at.

Rosetta

Colima 166, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5533.7804

Located in what was once a Beaux Arts mansion in the Roma neighborhood, Rosetta has a distinctly homey feel, with a dining room painted in pastel frescoes that wind through the restaurant's many rooms. Here, Chef/owner Elena Reygadas—who trained with Giorgio Locatelli at his restaurant in London—dishes out a daily-changing menu with fresh burrata to start, fantastic risottos, stunningly delicate pasta dishes, and house-made bread so good she's now opened two bakeries. This is undoubtedly the best Italian in the city and it comes with its fleet of die-hard fans, so reservations are a must.

Quintonil

Newton 55, Polanco | +52.55.5280.2680

With a small and inconspicuous entrance on a tiny, quiet street in Polanco, Quintonil would be easy to miss if it weren't for the number of fans and accolades it's gathered since opening. Pujol alum Chef Jorge Vallejo and his wife, restaurateur Alejandra Flores, opened their simply decorated, airy dining room in 2012, and have made a name for themselves not only for their warm hospitality, but for dissecting traditional Mexican dishes, using quality ingredients, and making them anew and totally fresh. Some of the best dishes are the simplest, like the crab tostadas and the green rice topped with an egg, avocado, and fresh cheese. It's Vallejo's light and refreshing comfort food that's earned him a place among the best restaurants in the country and the world.

Contramar

Durango 200, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5514.9217

There is nothing like lunch at Contramar: And by lunch, we mean comida, an extended main meal which begins roughly around 3pm and continues through the afternoon and into the early evening. On any given day at around that time, the Contramar is a cool cross section of the local scene: business men and women on long lunches, big extended families at their weekly family get-together, local artists, actors and musicians, and a few in-the-know tourists all come together over fantastic tostadas de atun, ceviches, and a great variety of excellent coastal cuisine. The airy dining room is always packed, and a little loud, but that only adds to the buzzy vibe, as do the wonderful wait-staff who stick around year after year. Simply put, this is a classic. The owners, Pablo Bueno and Gabriela Camara are behind a few of the city's best restaurants but this is definitely their masterpiece.

San Angel Inn

Diego Rivera 50, Colonia San Angel | +52.55.5516.1402

Admittedly there are plenty of other places to experience great Mexican food in the city, but few are as legendary and stunning as the San Angel Inn. Located in a colonial ex-monastery, with a beautifully manicured courtyard, cozy interiors, and an ever-present trio who make the dining room rounds, it's pretty transporting. In fact, before the city sprawled in the '50s and '60s, it was a weekend countryside retreat, hence the name.

J by José Andres

Campos Elíseos 252, Polanco | +52.55.9138.1818

The renowned Spanish chef José Andres has landed in Mexico City making himself at home with yet another culture's ingredients. At the recently revamped W Hotel, he's created a new sort of fusion cuisine incorporating traditional Mexican ingredients like avocado and zucchini flower and giving them the Spanish tapas treatment. In fact, it's the tacos and the tortas on the menu that are the most popular here, especially when they're accompanied by one of the restaurant's signature Gin & Tonics served in a large globe glass. With its terrace overlooking the neighborhood's quiet streets, and a long traditional tapas bar, this is the perfect place for long business lunches and after work drinks.