Olive Magazine

olive pitstop: 10 great places to eat & drink in and around mexico city

Published: July 14, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Wherever you’re travelling in Mexico, chances are you’ll be passing through Mexico City at some point. But don’t just breeze through it. Especially if you’re interested in food. Some of the best street food in the country (including pulled pork tacos, chipotle chicken enchiladas and sugar-dusted churros) means it deserves more attention.

A city of street food

Street food is where you should start in Mexico City. Specifically, with tacos. These, of course, are the real deal, and there’s plenty of choice on the fillings: minced beef with sweet red peppers, shredded chicken with beans and tomato salsa, even chorizo and potato tacos, with a fiery pineapple and jalapeño salsa.


They might be split and filled with a baked egg or refried beans, then topped with slow-cooked pork. Or piled high with thin, flash-fried strips of meat, and lots of fresh chilli-spiked salsa. Pulled lamb versions, the meat cooked for days over a smoke pit before being seasoned with avocado leaves and served in corn tortillas with plenty of tomatillo salsa, are a weekend ritual for many families (as is ‘proper’ hot chocolate, spiced with cinnamon and served with churros doused in sugar).

A herb called papalo (it tastes like a mix between rocket and coriander) is commonly used as a seasoning, and is often found in bunches near food stalls for diners to pick off a few leaves and add them to their meal.

At lunchtimes look out for crunchy corn tostadas stacked with fresh, citrus-marinated white fish or juicy prawns; and buttery toasted sandwiches (tortas) filled with roast meats, roast chilli sauces and avocado. Or head to one of the city’s tiny bustling cafés for huevos rancheros (tortillas topped with salsa, a fried egg and creamy, subtly spicy refried beans) or rich, smoky mole served on enchiladas drenched with red and green salsas, filled with melted cheese and pulled chipotle-spiked chicken. Don't miss creamy green mole either, made with pumpkin seeds and tomatillos, served with fried fish and plantain crisps).

The black mole sauce can be an acquired taste. It’s basically a regular red mole flavoured with onions, chillies and spices and cooked slowly until it’s reduced and thickened. The bits of the sauce that catch on the sides of the pan are then scraped and stirred back into the sauce to create a rich, intense flavour and give it its signature colour. The end result is bitter, sweet and spicy; every restaurant makes their own version so try a few before you decide you don’t like it.

For snacking, crispy fried worms and flying ants are considered a delicacy – locals bristle with excitement over them like a child would a sweet stall – but fruit is abundant, too; mangos, watermelon, sweet potato fruits that taste like caramel.

Traditional Mexican street food is getting a fine-dining twist, too, in some of the city’s hipper spots. Tortas are being soaked in salsa, French dip-style. Tacos are being made with blue corn and served with perfectly piped guacamole in high-end restaurants. Even churros have been turned into ice cream sandwiches, two spirals of sugary, crisp and chewy dough holding a generous scoop of flavoured ice cream.

One word of warning before you get stuck in: a lot of this food can be eaten with your hands but there’s a skill to eating a taco (they’re normally handed to you just as a tortilla with meat so it’s up to you to choose your own, customised, toppings), and a right way to hold your tortilla; there’s a thin side and a thick side and if you hold it thin-side-up your fillings will soak into the corn so you get a better flavour, and it won’t fall apart in your hands.

10 great places to eat and drink in Mexico City

1. Barbecoa Renatos

Slow-cooked lamb left to cook for days over a wood fire, and wrapped in avocado leaves for a deep, savoury flavour means meltingly soft chunks of lamb served with traditional corn tacos, salsas, feta and pickled cactus. It’s a weekend breakfast tradition for families to pile up their plates with tender lamb, drinking brown sugared-sweetened black coffee, traditional spiced hot chocolate and a bowl of the cooking lamb juices caught during the roasting and turned into a soup with chickpeas. Arrive early, though; when it’s gone it’s gone. barbacoarenatos.mex.tl

2. Azul Condesa

No-fuss modern dining is the name of the game at this hip restaurant. Tea lights cover entire walls, there’s an indoor garden and bright surroundings but it still hs a traditional tortilla hot plate. Mexican food gets a contemporary twist here, with seared local fish, pumpkin seed mole (pipian) and plantain crisps.

Classic ceviche tostadas, steaks with fiery salsas and, of course, the traditional black mole. Try one of their many margaritas, served on the rocks or frozen (coconut, hibiscus, strawberry and blackberry were just some of the ones on the menu when we went). azul.rest

3. Mercardo Roma

Stalls at this impressive market include local Mexican cheeses, stunning chocolate with intriguing flavours (mole, tequila or cricket anyone?) and churro ice cream sandwiches. Head upstairs to the roof top bar for a cool beer before you leave. It’s where the cool kids hang out. mercadoroma.com

4. El Cardenal

This rustic restaurant may be part of a chain but it is well worth a visit. Don’t be fooled by the slightly dated-looking presentation: order the heuvos rancheros or the chicken chiquales and you’ll realise why this place it packed. The signature dish is an ant egg omelette, which tastes a lot better than it sounds!

Try the concha bread too, a classic breakfast roll topped with a mix of sugar and shortening for a crisp top and fluffy interior. Served with clotted cream, it’s heavy, energy boosting (and very delicious) food for hard-working people. restauranteelcardenal.com

5. Contramar

With its uber-trendy setting and lunchtime crowd of suits this is a great place for a spot of people-watching. The tables are set crazily close together, but the fish-focused food is exceptional. Try giant local clams, eaten like oysters with a lime, salt and shallot dressing. The signature dish is grilled snapper, flavoured with red adobo and green parsley salsas (served in a neat yin-yang style). contramar.com.mx

6. Contramar

With its uber-trendy setting and lunchtime crowd of suits this is a great place for a spot of people-watching. The tables are set crazily close together, but the fish-focused food is exceptional. Try giant local clams, eaten like oysters with a lime, salt and shallot dressing. The signature dish is grilled snapper, flavoured with red adobo and green parsley salsas (served in a neat yin-yang style). contramar.com.mx

7. El Taco Taco

For Mexican-style sandwiches (tortas) this place is hard to beat. Usually they’re filled with turkey fried in lard (torta poblanos), salsa and guacamole, and toasted until they’re crunchy on the outside and satisfyingly soft inside. Perfect lunch material. There’s no website but you’ll find it on the corner of Ayuntamiento and Dolores in Colonia Centro. Follow the disco lights and the queue!

8. Pujol

Stripped-back Mexican food, in the most refined way, this three Michelin-starred restaurant is an experience not to be missed. Smoked squashes filled with baby corn and served with ant mayonnaise is the kind of dish you’ll find on its seven-course tasting menu.

As are barbecoa tacos, with prettily piped guacamole and adobo chilli sauce, and prawn tostadas with chipotle mayonnaise more akin to art than street food. It’s worth it for the happy ending alone – usually a trio of desserts made according to classic recipes but never tasting so good. pujol.com.mx

9. Merotoro

Surf and turf casual dining in a pretty setting, the signature dish here is an unmissable octopus-fried lamb sweetbreads with gizzard gravy. Deeply rich, savoury and salty, served with smashed cucumber, it’s a winner.

Clam ceviche with fermented beetroot, and a Mexican/Japanese fusion tuna tartare are also deserving dinner contenders. The room is simple and casual, but bring a jacket as the huge front window is usually opened out onto to the street. merotoro.mx

10. Sud777

Located in one of the city’s most upmarket areas, this restaurant looks like a nightclub with romantic, Japanese-inspired interiors and a fusion menu. Inside it’s like a maze, with myriad tiny, private dining rooms and small spaces. There are two restaurants here - a tepanyaki bar and a classic restaurant area, both softly lit and very trendy.

Food is exceptional; homemade burrata with green salsa and olive oil, creamy suckling pig risotto with queso fresca, new season asparagus, and grilled mahi mahi were spot on. And Japanese influences are obvious in dishes such as blackened cod, and tuna tostada with ginger and soy sauce. sud777.com.mx

Written by Anna Glover, July 2016

Anna accompanied the Asda team on a product development trip, lead by head innovation chef Mark Richmond.

Main header image courtesy of Getty

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