I recently went back to Mexico City and while I discovered that I would be happy sipping on a Victoria and eating chile-covered fruit floating on the Xochimilco canals all day, here are some stationary food and drink options to mix it up!
Ricas Quesadillas y Tlacoyos Light
It’s most likely that nearby each tourist destination in Mexico City there is a street food stall that is a destination in itself. A few blocks away from El Museo de Arte Popular there is a line of vendors sheltered by red plastic tarps. At this stand you can enjoy a quesadilla or tlacoyo (a torpedo-shaped masa snack that’s stuffed) with the backdrop of a church’s blue and yellow stained glass windows across the sidewalk.
The masa here serves as a vessel for guisados, which literally translates to stews or braised meats, but can be different toppings that sit in cazuelas waiting to be scooped into a taco or other masa creation. We sat at the short stools and ordered three quesadillas filled with squash blossoms, huitlacoche and mushrooms. The blue corn masa tortillas are freshly pressed, coming off the comal like the color of a flame’s heart. Quesadillas can be made with requeson and/or quesillo oaxaca, and there are meat guisado options too. Sitting on the sidewalk at a table decorated only with salsa, limes and salt, eating my favorite childhood snack reminded me that often eating one dish made just right can be more exquisite than anything at a fancy restaurant.
Closed on Sundays. On Av. de Balderas between Independence and Juarez.
I’m still confused by what Manila has to do with this place, but continuing on the theme of doing one thing and one thing well, this is a taqueria devoted to duck, one of the few meats you typically don’t stumble across at taquerias. The narrow Condesa restaurant fits 15 seats, half of them around the kitchen counter. The only spots of color in the white-tiled space are a portrait of Mao (interesting), a blue speaker that lights up, and the jamaica, tamarind, and sweet and sour sauces on the counter. The signature dish here is the Tacos Kim: roasted duck, plum sauce, carnitas, cucumber, and green onions on a flour tortilla. The dish mimics the fixings for pecking duck, which the owners were inspired by while traveling in China. Here the mandarin pancake is subbed for a flour tortilla. Between the plum sauce and the flour tortilla, it’s a fun mingling of food memories if you grew up with both genres of flavors. For a more Mexican take, go for the Tacos Manila: duck, beans, epazote on a corn tortilla (although I didn’t find them as tasty).
There are a few beer options here, and if you’re smart you’ll flag down the camote and roasted platano vendor circling the block for some dessert (Thanks Jeronimo!) $70 pesos for a plate of four tacos, and they have tortas on the weekend.
Sometimes when traveling it’s the small victories and not the over-the-top meals that are the most memorable. The coconut crema on the side of the road, the copita of mezcal in a dive bar, the day-changing coffee on a busy city trip. At Cafe Avellaneda that was the coffee drink I had, made with tamarindo, espresso, juniper and tonic. The tartness of the tamarindo played with the bitterness of the espresso and the tonic mellowed things out.
This tiny cafe and bar a few blocks away from the touristy area in Coyoacán opens up to the street and has a few places to sit at the copper counter. There are a number of coffee and tea cocktails on the menu, however the cafe works with small coffee farms and has a range of specialty beans from Mexico, so even the straight-up is special here (the owner is a barista competition champion too).
Pasillo del Humo is a project by the son of Celia Florian, one of Oaxaca’s culinary heroes (read an interview with her I did last year) and I am so pleased that we came here for brunch. As all proper breakfasts should begin, we were immediately served café de la olla (choice of hot chocolate too) and given a selection of golden brown pastries: the chocolate croissant was buttery perfection and the concha was fluffy and not too dense, one of the best I’ve had. The breakfast menu offers some of my favorite Oaxacan staples, like chilaquiles with choice of guajillo sauce, moles or frijol, with an optional fried egg or tasajo. There’s a tamale plate with a trio of yellow mole, black mole, and bean tamales. I had the cazuela de huevo y chapulines: grilled hoja santa, melted quesillo, chapulines (grasshoppers) and a fried egg in salsa chile pasilla mixe. It was earthy and tart, flavors true of chapulines and hoja santa, which might be intense if you’re not familiar with them.
The space is on the top floor of a food hall in the Condesa, with high ceilings decorated by murals of Istmeño lace headdresses and embroidery blooming over the tops of wooden panels. The kitchen is open, bookended by piles of pastries on one side and colorful tortilla baskets on the other. It would be a great place for lunch as well.
I’m not really recommending this place. More just compelled to comment on it. Part SNL parody of Ojai, part mixologist haven, this bar’s schitck is incorporating pre-Hispanic ingredients into craft cocktails. Punch bowls are served in jicaras and rosemary garnishes are lit on fire as they leave the bar. A guy with a man bun walks through the floor periodically with copal.
On one hand, the space is beautifully designed with apothecary-like bottles behind the bar, crystal cups of rose petals and ginger sitting on the counter, and elegant wood paneling and private booths. Also, I like drinks with cactus fruit and zapote shrub. On the other hand, I wonder how the people who spend and make money at Xaman identify with and give credit to the indigenous people who have kept alive traditions and knowledge of these plants and fruits. This is why I’m not wholeheartedly recommending this place, but I think it captures a trend we should talk about. The DJ here was one of the better we heard, with disco beats getting us up to dance in the copal smoke (I’m rolling my eyes at myself).
Come to this long-time neighborhood bar for live Son Jarocho, music from Veracruz, on Sunday evenings around 6 or 7. There was one professional dancer with the band, and a whole bunch of impressive audience participants. In the evenings it feels like PataNegra is a low key tapas bar, but as soon as the live music stopped the playlist went right to pop and the lights went down so expect a change in the vibe. Look out for other shows as well, they are known to bring in some well-known acts.
If you like a classic cocktail with a side of Don Draper fantasy, come here. The low lit corner bar feels like a mid-century posh library with swanky velvet chairs and couches, patterned wallpaper and circle mirrors.
They’re know for their classics, but I was pleased sipping on a drink with orange blossom, lemon, mezcal and ruda (a bitter herb) for garnish. With Brazilian soul on the turntables this is a sexy spot to lounge before a night out.
In between meals:
The Suprema Corte de Justicia in the historic center has what are probably some of the most moving and under-admired murals in the city. Down each stairwell of the Supreme Court are murals interpreting the theme of justice. The History of Justice in Mexico by Rafael Cauduro is the most contemporary and chronicles the history of abuse by the government against its citizens. It’s hyper-real with police officers in riot gear poking out through the windows and torture cell basements at the bottom of the stairwell. It’s a fierce cry for justice in a building where it has so often been denied.
The Museo Dolores Olmedo is housed in a 16th century hacienda with peacocks and hairless Xoloiztcuintle dogs roaming around the property. Olmedo was a wealthy business woman who administered Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s estates, so there are rooms full of their work as well as photos of the couple, all interspersed with a big collection of mostly pre-colombian art. A perfect day would be to come here in the morning and then head over to the nearby Xochimilco canals for snacks and beer on a boat (it’s good to leave the canals by 4 pm, when they get crowded with college kids).
Thanks to my sisters, Jenny and Kyana for scouting a few of these places and being the best company, and to Jeronimo for showing us around!