Most Authentic Foods in Mexico City and Where to Eat Them
By Roberto Vilchis, a local archaeologist who is passionate about his city’s unparalleled food scene.
Edited by Matthew Wears
There are many reasons to visit Mexico City, but number one has to be our incredibly rich and diverse food culture! Not a lot of people realise, but most authentic foods in Mexico City don’t really make it to other parts of the world; there’s a whole other universe of Mexican food beyond tacos and burritos. It’s mainly the Mexico City street food that has become popular in other countries, but you guys are missing out on the seafood, fiery sauces and of course all of the unique cooking methods that we have. That’s not even to mention the incredible foreign influences that we have thanks to being such an open and cosmopolitan city; they add a whole new dynamic to the flavours. In this Mexico City food guide, I’m going to try and make it a little bit easier for you to navigate the wildly diverse food scene. I’m going to be giving my must eat foods, as well as sharing with you just a handful of my favourite places to eat in Mexico City. So, let’s jump right in!
Tacos – Xochimilco Market
We’ll start off with the one everyone knows; the taco! This is like pizza to Italy or fish and chips to England, it’s the one that everyone knows, and can’t wait to try when they get here. Tacos are fun, simple and of course delicious; so delicious in fact that we have them at all times during the day, even breakfast. Another great thing about them is that you can put anything inside of them, so it’s down to your individual tastes. Like all Mexico City traditional foods, to find them at their very best, you really have to go to a market. They’ve been at the heart of the city since before colonial times and they’re still so important today, and for tacos there’s nowhere better! The best tacos in Mexico City can definitely be found down in Mercado de Xochimilco. This is an old Spanish market that is just about as authentic as it gets. Follow your nose, or look for the taco stand with the longest queue of locals - from there, I can promise whatever you try will be amazing.
Carnitas or chicharrón – La Merced Market
These are two dishes of slow cooked pork are quite similar in terms of what they essentially are (what you would recognise as pulled pork), but there is a slight difference. Although they’re both cooked in the same way, carnitas refers to the actual chunks of meat, whilst chicharrón is the crunchy rind. They are both cooked in a huge bowl full of boiling lard, and stewed for around twelve hours until the meat is completely caramelised. In my opinion, this is the most delicious Mexico City food you can get because the outside is so crispy, but the inside is still really juicy and tender! This is another local street food favourite that you’ll be able to find on just about every street corner. Try somewhere like La Merced Market just outside the historic centre, it’s the biggest market in the city and is very famous for its really great authentic food.
Barbacoa – El Hidalguense
If you want to try some Mexico City traditional food that you won’t find in any other place, then it has to be barbacoa! It’s sort of just like a Mexican version of a BBQ, but instead of grilling the meat, you dig a huge hole and fill it with hot rocks and use that to cook your food. The meat is wrapped in maguey leaves and left overnight, but in the morning, you’re gonna have some of the tenderest meat you’ve ever tasted, not to mention delicious juices which we use to make a fiery soup with. One of the best restaurants to get this has to be El Hidalguense down in the Roma district. Although, if you’re searching for where to eat in Mexico City that is out in the streets, just look for the stalls with the huge meat carving knives. This is also quite a special dish that’s traditionally made for families, so don’t be surprised if you only find it at the weekends.
Pozole – El Pozole de Moctezuma
This is a very traditional soup that is traditionally made from corn and pork meat, although it’s so much more than that. It contains so many other ingredients that it ends up becoming a very huge meal, so if you’re going to tackle this one, then good luck to you! This is not only one of the most authentic foods in Mexico City, but all across the country too. Everyone has their own variation of this tasty broth, but of course I’m going to say that here in Mexico City we have the best. This dish is served in traditional restaurants called pozlería, which all serve their own spin on the meal. El Pozole de Moctezuma is one of my favourites, as well as being very popular with the locals who enjoy it for its authentic feeling. Would you believe that in ancient times, pozole was actually made with human meat instead of pork? But let’s not think about that too much!
Birria – Birria Michoacanisimo
Because the nightlife in the city is so crazy, it’s a good job that most authentic foods in Mexico City work really well as hangover cures, and birria is definitely one of these. This is like a very flavoursome stew made from lamb and chili, although you can sometimes find places that use other types of meat if lamb isn’t your favourite. Birria Michoacanisimo is one of the most popular places to get this food, and for good reason too. I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but I promise this is where to find the very best birria in town. Here, they choose to make their birria from goat meat instead, which is a really tasty type of meat for those that haven’t tried it! You get the choice of three different cuts of meat that range from really lean, all the way to what’s known as surtida, which is a collection of different parts of the goat, perfect for anyone who wants to try something a bit different.
Tlayuda – Mercado Roma
This one isn’t from Mexico City, but from the Oaxaca region instead, which is one of Mexico’s most incredible areas when it comes to really good food! But, as I’ve said before; for any kind of authentic Mexican food, Mexico City is the place where you’ll find it. Tlayuda is probably their most famous dish, and the best way to describe it is like a huge Mexican pizza. It’s a huge corn tortilla with beans, cheese, meat and fiery hot sauce all mixed together to make one delicious, spicy concoction. For this one, I’d have to recommend going somewhere that has really great food from all over Mexico, such as the Mercado Roma. This has now become one of the best street food places to eat in Mexico City for anyone that wants to get something that you might not usually find around town.
Cochinita Pibil – El Turix
Another one that’s really great is cochinita pibil, a dish that originated all the way down south in the Yucatan region but has spread north to become a really popular Mexico City food. Similar to barbacoa, you dig a hole in the ground and leave the pork meat overnight to cook amongst the hot rocks. In the morning, you will have some of the most tender meat imaginable, which is usually enjoyed alongside a sauce made from one of the hottest chillies in Mexico. This isn’t for the faint hearted, but I think it’s absolutely delicious! Even though this is a Yucatan dish, I know exactly where to eat in Mexico City that serves up really authentic cochinita pibil; El Turix. This little restaurant might not be the prettiest, but it sure does serve up some of the finest food in Mexico city!
Guachiles – Marisquería Playa Escondida
Guachiles is essentially the Mexican take on a popular Peruvian meal called ceviche, raw seafood which is marinated in lemon juice. Its roots stem from the Pacific coast and is a really tasty mix of raw scallops and shrimps, alongside onion, cucumber, avocado and plenty of spice! When I say this meal is hot, I really mean it! The sauce is made from the serrano chili which even makes me sweat, especially when I’m eating it in the summertime. Again, this isn’t specifically a part of the Mexico City traditional food scene, but you can definitely find a good guachiles if you know where to look. I’d say the Playa Escondida market just next to the Roma neighbourhood is the best place to start. There’s a well-known local fish restaurant called Marisquería Playa Escondida that has been one of the best restaurants in Mexico City for seafood for some time now, and you’ll find it on the menu here.
Pulque – Xochimilco
Even though we’re talking about authentic Mexican food, Mexico City also has some really good drinks for you to try too! One of the most popular is the thick and sour tasting pulque, an alcoholic beverage that has a history dating all the way back to the Aztec times. It’s made by fermenting the leaves of a maguey plant, which I’ll admit doesn’t sound like the most delicious thing in the world, but it is really good, I promise. Because it’s such a traditional drink, you’re going to need a pretty traditional place to try it, and there’s nowhere better than Xichimilco for that. This ancient collection of canals in the south of the city has not only become a must see for tourists, but it’s one of the best places to try pulque too. You can find plenty of vendors on the canal side, but for an even better experience you should head to the Mercado de Xochimilco, one of the most traditional markets in the city.
Al Pastor – Taquería El Califa
This Mexico City street food is a good example of how our culture has been influenced by other countries over the years. This is essentially like Mexican kebabs, and you may be surprised to learn that it was brought over by Turkish immigrants in the past, but now it’s one of the most emblematic foods of Mexico City. Small chunks are cut from one huge skewered piece of meat which is cooked rotisserie style, then enjoyed simply in a taco with the classic toppings and of course lots of hot sauce. To find this must try food, Mexico City has absolutely loads of great places all across the city, so you’ll never be far from great al pastor! Taquería El Califa is a very popular place that has had so much success, it’s managed to open another restaurant in the city. The one that I know can be found in the Roma District again, which as you might have guessed is one of the best in the city for great food.