Mexico City – early April 2011
I spent 8 days in DF a few weeks back, armed with information in this thread, suggestions from Rick Bayless’ travel guides
and a few guidebooks. I have friends who live in Polanco so I can’t comment on hotels/lodging (other than to suggest you make friends with my friends – great hosts and great people!). In general, I had a completely amazing, stupendous time – once I got past the altitude and omni-present sun (no such thing as too much sunscreen), I really enjoyed myself. Some of my personal highlights included Chapultepec Castle, Xochimilco, Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino, Museo de Arte Moderno and the Teatro Bellas Artes.
I had the full benefit of my friends in the evening and on weekends (they have lived there for a while now and are very comfortable navigating the city – even in their car), which definitely made things easier than they would have been otherwise. During the mornings and afternoons I was on my own and I felt very safe and comfortable (maybe a solo woman would feel otherwise). While it wasn’t nearly as English-friendly as I would have thought, I have plenty of experience with Mexican ingredients/menu items so I was able to order food without too much trouble. I also got really good at saying ‘Esta bien’ and ‘Estoy bien’.
The Metro was easy to use, took me to where I wanted to go and was very, very cheap (3 pesos per ride) and I only felt uncomfortable when a young man got on my car and proceeded to smash his elbows in broken glass for money (I’ve seen a lot of things on the L, but nothing like that). Cabs from a sitio were also very cheap. The exchange rate was pretty favorable – about 12 pesos/dollar and it was sunny and warm every day (mid-80’s). I made it in just before the rainy season is set to begin, from what I understand
It’s barely 3.5 hours direct from Chicago and I’m already looking forward to a return visit.
Anyway, on to the food! Below are restaurants where I got some of my favorite meals. I’m never good at taking pictures of food, so I don’t have any to share. Next time, though!Monte Cristo
Insurgentes Norte 1980; http://www.rmontecristo.com/english/montecristo.htm
Rick Bayless really talked this place up in his travel guides and I had lunch there immediately after landing at the airport. It was not easy to get to and Bayless’ [=urlhttp://www.rickbayless.com/travel/view?articleID=25]instructions[/url] only helped so much. We found it, though, and it was delicious. We ordered the sangria service which was unorthodox in including Sprite but also since the waiter used a full-size, wooden baseball bat to muddle everything together. I went with a lamb roasted in banana leaves and found it to be well-seasoned, moist and very tender. The black beans and rice that came with were standouts, as well. I started with squash blossom fritters in a strong, assertive huitlacoche sauce. I probably should not have tossed back so much sangria so soon after landing (altitude!) because I wasn’t able to eat even half my order before feeling a little woozy. Entrees were 190-250 pesos, I think, and the space was very beautiful (though it was also next to very audible the quasi-expressway). La Nacional
Orizaba (@ Querétaro), Roma
This was one of my favorite amongst favorites and I’m sad I only made it there once. It’s more a bar than restaurant but the food was certainly worthwhile (we had the guacamole with chincharrones, chicken wings, steak tacos and a torta ahogada). There was also a nice list of beer that I can only assume is Mexico’s attempt at craft styles. I had a few types of Minerva and they were all solid (I saw Duff brand beer but decided it would not have been worth it). Their selection of mescal, though, was the real draw. Most glasses were in the 65-90 peso range and included the full array of accoutrement
of orange wedges, sal de gusano and even some carrot and jicama sticks for good measure. My favorites were the Murcielago as well as one from Nuaca (sp??). La Nacional is also next to an outpost of the small chain of mescalerias, La Botica, for those who want to make a 1-2 combination out of it. Café Azul y Oro
There might be an outpost of this restaurant in Polanco, and I’d suggest going to that one first unless you’re with someone who knows how to navigate UNAM (Mexico City’s largest university). Located near that contemporary art museum on campus, this place looks like a cafeteria but the food is very good. We were there just as mango season started and there was a mango-centric menu available. Other than an agua mango
, I stuck with the normal menu and ordered a squash blossom soup and cochinita pibil. The soup was nice but suffered a little from using completely raw squash blossoms as garnish. The pibil had great flavor and came with blue corn tortillas but the actual meat somehow came out a touch dry. I suspect that the pork was lean to begin with. We were there on a Sunday, so maybe they had already used up the good stuff. My friends had skirt steak, which came out perfectly cooked and well-seasoned. Corazon de Maguey
Centenario 9 (on the Jardin Centenario), Coyoacan
Sitting on one of the big squares in Coyoacan, this little mescaleria was decent. Most glasses ran 85-120 pesos, though they also offered flights. I think I would have liked it more if the prices were in line with La Nacional, but we were sitting on a square and it makes sense that prices would reflect that. For a mescaleria, though, we had to specifically request their list of mescals. This list was not well laid out – though maybe that was my unfamiliarity with the language at work. El Huequito
Simon Bolívar 58 (b/w Republica de Uruguay & Republica del Salvador), Centro Historico
This was my first solo lunch and I am proud to say I handled everything nicely! Known for their pastor, I opted for the ‘pastor especial’ – a mound of pastor with 6-7 tortillas (I also got cheese – I wouldn’t recommend it, though). Generally, this was good – I was there on the early side for lunch and I suspect the pastor had not had a lot of time on the spit. Still, there was nice flavor and the whole thing may have cost 75 pesos. I started with a tortilla soup and this was the best I have ever had. There’s a very deep, smoky flavor and it was nicely spiced. The array of salsas available was also very impressive. Despite being near the Centro, this was obviously a favorite amongst locals judging by the number of old men playing dominoes. Café Dumas
Alejandro Dumas 125 (@ Presidente Masaryk), Polanco
I stopped here for breakfast on my way to Chapultepec and found it very, very pleasant. It’s more of a European style bakery with a variety of scones, croissants and breads. In addition to a small sandwich counter, there was a case of characuterie and assorted salads and prepared foods. There’s a quiet courtyard in the back, filled with folks from the next door Egyptian embassy. El Farolito
Newton 130 (@Horacio), Polanco
Easily, the best al pastor tacos I had. I started with two, as well as an order of steak tacos with chincharrones and just had to order two more al pastor before I left. Nice amount of char, perfect balance of onion, cilantro and pineapple, I did not mind gorging myself in the least. Ordering was a little odd, at first – when you sit down, you’re presented with a menu/checklist and just mark off what you like. It was easy enough for me to order more as I went along, but either leave the list there the whole time or don’t bother. I understand that there are several locations and suspect that with El Tizoncito (below), quality may vary with location. El Tizoncito
Campeche 362 (@Cholula), Condesa
I loved their grilled knob onions, though we ordered their ‘special’ version which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend (it wasn’t bad but didn’t exactly add anything to the dish, either). We also started with a chicharron de queso and holy crap… delicious, crispy, salty cheese – I don’t know why we didn’t order two. I opted for an al pastor hurrache, thinking I should change things up a little. It was fine - the pastor was great the flavor was a little overwhelmed with the black beans and lettuce. The standard line-up salsas were very good but the real stand-out was a warm pinto bean spread. My friends had visited an outpost in Polanco and were seriously underwhelmed. I told them that LTH suggested this outpost and convinced them to give it a try – they were glad to find out that El Tizoncito can be great, even if it means heading to Condesa. Pujol
Petrarca 254, Polanco
Now the 49th best restaurant in the world (second best in Mexico), I was blown away with my meal here. Guests can order ala carte or a tasting menu – I was surprised that the table didn’t have to agree what to order (ie. one could go ala carte and the others with a tasting menu). As it was, we opted for the 8-course meat-centric tasting menu (there was also a 6-course menu focused on seafood). I think the cost was just under 900 pesos (an absolute steal!) and we split a very good bottle of red that ran about 1000. The initial pacing was way off, though – not long after we sat down, we got menus. Then we got a 3-part amuse (amazing, amazing bites consisting of refined takes on street food (preparing us for the rest of the menu) – my favorite was a miniature elote with a coffee-spiked mayo). Then the sommelier came over even though we hadn’t placed our order with our waiter. Finally, we were able to order a round of cocktails and our dinner and from that point on, everything was smooth sailing. Really, though, the meal was every bit as satisfying as I could have hoped for – lots of soul-satisfying, homey flavors but in thoroughly modern and contemporary presentations and executions. I think my total cost was US$130 – a tremendous value compared to what we see in Chicago for the quality and inventiveness of the food.