Mexico is one of my favorite destinations ever to plant myself in a moment’s notice. The rich culture throughout the entire country is one I’ve not seen anywhere else—and I’ve seen a lot. Apart from the centuries-old rituals, cultural celebrations, and ceremonies (some of which the US has adopted, but in the most lackluster manner), their food is what should really attract you. Anywhere in Mexico, really, but especially El Distrito Federal, or Mexico City, is where you need to be.
Sometime last year, I spent three days (that’s never enough time to really dig in anywhere, but let’s just go with it) indulging in food I didn’t know could be so fabulous. Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world; of course it has great culinary options, you might think. That’s until you really get down and see how much better it really is.
Not only will you nosh on popular street foods like pozole and tacos al pastor—with popular spots generating lines that look like the DMV at the end of the month—but you can also create envy in your friends back home by dining at one of the world’s most famous restaurants. If you have the cash, make reservations at Pujol for an intimate, fancy dinner. Don’t be alarmed if your baby corn comes served in a delicate purée of ants. These are the things that put Mexico City on the map of culinary excellence and innovation.
But, if you’re not into ants and worms and still want to throw down like a well-educated foodie, try this fast-paced itinerary of good eats:
Camino Real Hotel has an impressive number of top-grade restaurants to choose from, including Iron Chef Morimoto’s sushi spot. Authentic Japanese with strong Mexican influence is cooked up for you by both Japanese and Mexican nationals. You just can’t go wrong. Or you can try the hotel’s real-deal Mexican restaurant and be serenaded by a live mariachi band.
Mercado San Juan is a must-see if you’re into farmers’ markets. Taste all the cheese you want, stare at octopi, get a sampling of fresh ceviche, and find out how Mexicans use morel mushrooms. Oh, and nibble on some dragon fruit on the way out. Don’t worry about the live worm buckets as you enter. Leave those to the locals.
Enjoy really good tacos and super fresh guac at El Bajio Reforma in the Regina District. While debating which type of taco you want, enjoy the mammoth-sized paper maché dragons adorning the entire place. It’s quite colorful in there, so you won’t even need coffee to taper mid-afternoon yawns.
But if you do need really good coffee to accompany your breakfast, you can’t miss Barro Negro, a mid-scale restaurant with pretty exterior design serving amazing Mexican breads with cotija cheese and huevos rancheros. Real huevos rancheros. While you’re leaving, enjoy the little ladies in the open kitchen as they pat 10 tortillas faster than you can walk out the door.
And finally, if you need a break from Mexican food and want to test the city’s strength in other cuisines, enjoy a sexy dinner at Rosetta. This Italian trattoria is an example of one culture mastering another’s food. The ambiance is as rustically beautiful as you’d see in Tuscany and the food is as magnificent as you’d have at an 80-year-old grandmother’s villa.
No trip to Mexico City would be complete without visiting one of the hundreds of mezcalerias, or cozy bars serving nothing but a plethora of mezcal. If you need suggestions, the tequila experts at Museo del Tequila y el Mezcal could guide you in the right direction. And there are many routes to sipping on a drink with a worm in it.
This is in 24 hours. Imagine what seven days could be like! But I’ll leave that for another story on Mexico City. For now, just eat your way through the ciudad!
Bren is a Latin-fusion private chef and avid world traveler, always looking for the next best adventure. As a writer, she documents her own food experiences with her camera and notepad and then shares on her blog, Flanboyant Eats.