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By Francesca De Luca: The sophisticated Italian who made Mexico City her home
I have been living in Mexico City for about 3 years and I have been in love with its food since the first bite. I have tried numerous plates from all over the country and I can say that the capital offers a great taste of everything, both in terms of national and international cuisine, from street food to high-end restaurants. With regional Mexican cuisine offering such a wide range of techniques and flavours, and with eateries ranging from street food stalls to glam restaurants to family run spots, there’s never a dull moment when you’re discovering food in Mexico City. Here are some of the best places to eat in the capital of Mexico!
If you’re a restaurant lover like me, you may have heard of the Quintonil and Pujol, the eleventh and thirteenth best restaurants in the world. They are excellent choices if you are looking to places where to eat in Polanco. On the same level, however despite being less known, I would recommend a restaurant where I go more often, Maximo Bistrot, because of its more relaxed atmosphere. Located in La Roma Norte, the restaurant offers traditional “platillos” with a modern twist created by one of the best Mexican chef, Eduardo García, who also worked as a chef at Pujol, among other places. I am a lover of this place also because its menu changes daily according to the freshest products the chef finds at la Central de Abasto, the main market in the capital which is so vast it’s almost like another city! Don’t forget to book.
I love going to El Cardenal for breakfast. I don’t even mind the queue, which is inevitable there on weekends. Believe me, it is worth the wait! High quality traditional food and exceptional service at a moderate price, this is El Cardenal’s specialty. There are platillos (plates) from different regions, from the enchiladas of Michoacan, to the gorditas of Hidalgo and cochinita from Yucatan. Everything is delicious but I make sure I never miss out on their pastries, their nata (cream that thickens and congeals from boiling raw milk) and their hot chocolate called Doña Oliva, the restaurant’s own trademark. In my opinion, both the oldest branch in in the historical centre, and that of San Angel are the perfect places to start your day and fill up of energy before exploring either of these areas.
Blanco Colima is a huge historic building in Roma Norte that houses two restaurants, a bar and a patio, and one of the top places to eat in the capital. As you might gather from the upscale vibe, this is not the most budget-friendly location in the world; however, it is worth the splurge as it offers not only rich cuisine but also a platform for art and music. Both fine-dining restaurants Lázaro, a place known for its highly creative dishes, and Belafonte, Mexican cuisine mixed with Japanese style and European techniques. My students and I love going there even just for a few drinks!
Mexico is famous for its family-run restaurants, which are in one room of the family's house, the so called fondas. Doña Vero in La Roma Norte is one such place, a tiny restaurant with a super homey feeling thanks to its chilled environment and its rich food cooked by a Mexican lady known as “the quesadillas’ queen” who matches tradition and creativity in her platillos. I always go for quesadillas de venado (deer), one of her signature dishes, and gorditas de chicharròn, a thick tortilla filled with pork crackling, garnished with chapluines, the iconic Mexican insect. The perfect pairing for these dishes is a bottle of Buscapleitos, my favourite locally-produced beer.
Mexican cuisine is extremely rich, so much that UNESCO included it among its protected world heritage; however “el taco” is still the king of Mexican street food. There are plenty of yummy taquerias and I love looking for and discovering new hidden gems. About six months ago I bumped to what is, still to these days, my top taquería in the capital. It is a tiny place where they serve you delicious meat submerged in lard, slow cooked until it falls off the bone and is ready to be folded into tiny tacos. I cannot leave the place without having a campechano, a chopped-up mix of beef, longaniza, and one of crispy tripe. Don’t forget to order it with a little bit of cilantro and onions - as Mexicans say, con todo (with everything)!
I am often in La Roma, one of the coolest boroughs of the capital, and when I am there on Saturdays I never miss the chance to pay a visit to “Meche y Rafael” to eat some delicious tacos of carnitas. This taquerìa is located in a very unique market, Mercado Medellin. Nicknamed “pequeño Havana” (little Havana), Medellin offers a great variety of fruits, meats, and antojitos (Mexican tapas) not only from Mexico but also from all over Latin America, as well as some local craft beers. When I fancy something different, I head to Mercado Roma, the hipster version of a food market where you can enjoy artisanal treats from over fifty vendors, most of whom produce local, farm-to-table dishes and desserts. I always get some churros with ice cream from El Moro, one of the most famous churrerias in the capital.
I am a market lover, if you haven't guessed it yet, and Mexico is the country of colourful and traditional mercados where many locals still go shopping or have lunch. My favourite food market in the historical centre is Mercado San Juan, famous for its huge variety of exotic products - meat, insects, fruits and vegetables - as well as a very special attention to customers. Among its gourmet products, it is well renowned for its fishes’ quality. Admire and try as many different fruits and insects as you can and don’t miss out some sashimi or a ceviche, a fresh raw fish dish cured in citrus juices, at El Puerto de Alvarado stand, or the fish plates from the state of Sinaloa at Don Vergas. If I fancy some Peruvian food, I then pay a visit to El Mercadito Peruano. and like a proper Italian, I never leave the market without a coffee from Triana Cafè, one of my favourites in the capital.
When I fancy going to traditional place in the city centre, I head to La Opera, the famous historical cantina where revolutionary hero Pancho Villa famously fired his gun at the ceiling in 1910. Its menu is offers much more than the typical botanas and includes a good variety of starters and main dishes. I recommend lengua a la Veracruzana, cow’s tongue cooked in the Veracruz state style. And it should go without saying, that I always accompany my meal with a good tequila and a beer, a very Mexican combo. The atmosphere here is chilled and you can enjoy your food while feeling like you’ve gone back in time to the revolutionary era.
If I’m craving a delicious bite after a late night out, I usually go to one of the Taquerias Orinoco. Originally from Monterray, a Mexican city in the north of the country, they are different from the traditional taquerias of the capital as they offer only three types of meat - al pastor, bistec, and chicharrón – all delicious! There's is no waiter taking your order while you are standing and you need to pay before sitting down, but the service is still very quick. Everything can be ordered on corn or flour tortillas and filled with cheese. Don’t miss out the yummy salsas however be moderate in the doses as they are incredibly spicy!
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