Posts Tagged With: Mexico City

10 Best Things We Ate in CDMX

How does one come up with 10 on a four day trip? Its complicated. The long explanation starts with my childhood, and requires lying down on an old couch to tell the story. It has to be an old couch, preferably beige. The short version is that’s how we roll, especially on a food focused trip as such. I can actually come up with 10 items in just one of the days. That’s Mexico City for you.

Green Chorizo Taco at Mercado de Jamaica

I think Eva Longoria made a mistake here. This is a life altering taco that didnt require any salsa to enhance the flavor. But on Eva’s Searching for Mexico show on CNN, while I was delighted to see her visit the same place we did, I was terrified by the amount of salsa she added on this delicate beauty. This jewel was part of a tour with Eat Like a Local.

Pescado a la Talla at Contramar

Imagine opening a restaurant that evolves around a dish that eventually becomes a national treasure. And before you know it, you are the food consultant to the president. Thats exactly what happened to Gabriela Cámara, and her famous two color snapper. I’ve had wonderful fish with one of those colors before that is a bore fest compared to this experience, where you essentially make the fish tacos of your dreams.

Suadero Taco at Tacos El Güero (San Rafael)

Rule number one of fight club: Aim for tacos outside the gentrified areas, or in this case, areas that refuse to gentrify. Not only you’ll find them at a fraction of the cost, but quite tastier as well. Suadero, sadly rarely seen in NYC, is essentially the beef (brisket) version of Carnitas. Here you’ll find them just fatty enough, crispy, and quite tender. And you’ll most likely be the only tourist, but dont get intimidated. And dont skip on the sick pastor as well.

Chile en Nogada at Angelopolitano

Yet another rarity in the USA, and once you see and taste it you’ll understand why. It looks like a dish typically made once a year on a special holiday, and for some it is in Mexico (Independence Day). But at Angelopolitano, you’ll find it year round, even when pomegranate is not in season. Its a hearty combination of meat, candied and dried fruit stuffed in poblano chile, and topped with walnut cream sauce, and pomegranate. Typically served room temperature.

Pibil Tacos at El Turix

At the glamorous Polanco, you can either dine with ladies who lunch across the street at Maque, or sit on the sidewalk with construction workers at El Turix. We did both, for research of course. And the construction workers got it right. An outstanding Cochinita Pibil wrapped in a deliciouso soft tortilla from this busy hole in the wall. And you may also see many munching on the fine Panuchos (fried tortillas stuffed with beans, topped with shredded chicken)

Lengua Tostada – Amatista Tostadas (Coyoacán)

This is another one of those if you know, you know type place in the foody paradise Coyoacán. Popular with tour guides, other locals, and tourists alike. They dish all sorts of delights like a fine Aztec soup, and fancier Tostadas like Octopus and tuna. But that Lengua Tostada, covered with an intense but pleasant dark 7 chili sauce was the eye opener. A fiesta in your mouth. Try to go when they open or prepare to wait a little, especially if a tour occupies the entire second room.

“Veracruzanos” at La Cocina de mi Mamá (Coyoacán Market)

While most tourists head to the insta-heavy Tostadas Coyoacán, the locals sneak to the back of the market for this literally hidden gem. We had to ask another vendor who was very happy to bring us there, but its probably more fun to find on your own. This dish is exhibit A why Mexicans take their breakfasts very seriously. Tortillas filled with eggs, bathed in bean sauce, chorizo, onions, cheese and peppers. Sensational to say the least.

Taco course at Quintonil

Its hard to pick a dish from a meal full of standouts. Every dish played a role, but perhaps none bigger than the extravagant Taco course. There were charred avocado with Escamoles (insect caviar), smoked cactus salad, Oyster mushrooms, pureed beans from Oaxaca, nutty Crottin cheese, chorizo with oats, and more. It could have been a fine meal in itself, but at Quintonil its just another course.

Lengua Taco at Tacos “El Betin”

I think the term ‘hole in the wall’ was invented here. This was our first stop on a taco crawl in San Rafael. Great pastor, but the Lengua was like a smack in the face. Just about the most delicate, tender Lengua I ever had. Just like other spots in San Rafael, you may find yourself surrounded by locals, or a food tour.

Grandma’s Flan at La Casa de Toño

Come for the hearty pozole, the specialty at this American-like mini chain, but stay for Grandmas Flan. Nothing really out of the ordinary here. Just a solid flan, Caramel freaks like me, crave and enjoy. La Casa de Toño is one of a few good options open Sunday night, popular among locals too. You’ll get a number and wait to be called or displayed on the screen.

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CDMX – If I Can Offer Just Ten Tips

A follow up to “If I Can Offer Just One Tip”. We only spent 4 days, but somehow managed to see, do, and boy oh boy eat plenty. Not only I try to include tips that you wont find on every other list, but some are actually contradictory in a way. This is designed more for first timers. Stay tuned for the obligatory top 10 dishes which will be fairly easy to do in this case even with such a short stay.

Stay in/near Centro

Classic Ziggy fashion, starting with the one where he loses half of the audience. But hear me out. I’m not so much advocating the heart of Centro but the south/west edges, or really in/near Colonia Tabacalera or Juárez. Much of the advice out there is to stay in La Condesa or Roma areas which are some of the most gentrified areas of CDMX. I found them not terribly different than what you find in large US cities. Different but not terribly like the beautiful chaos of Centro during the day. We enjoyed spending most evenings in La Condesa/Roma, and Ubering back to our hotel (10 minutes, cheap). Many of the sites are so spread out, you’ll be Ubering plenty no matter where you stay. But we found the Barceló México Reforma location perfect for us first timers. Walking distance to all the sites in the Centro, the up and coming neighborhoods of San Rafael and Juárez, and close enough to the night scenes of Roma.

Sunday is Fun Day

Its a double-edged sword for foodies. Many restaurants close or close early on Sundays. But this is also a pleasant day to spend in CDMX. The canals and boats of Xochimilco are essentially a one giant party on Sundays. The otherwise crazy busy Reforma is closed to traffic, so a good day to bike the monument filled blvd. You got afternoon dancing at the Alameda de Santa María, and much more. Since most likely you’ll spend less than a week in CDMX, try to have a full Sunday be part of the plan.

Frida Kahlo Museum – Temper expectations

Its a wonderful little museum no doubt. But the commercial and touristy aspect of it is a major turn off. Between buying the timed tickets well in advance, the crowds, standing on line to get in. Want to take photos? That’s another fee. All that planning and hoopla for a crowded 45 minute quicky, without any of the wonderful Frida work on display. If you are a Frida fan, its an obvious must. Otherwise, watch the movie (its great even today) prior to your visit if you go, or skip altogether.

Although Coyoacán in itself is a must

On the other hand, Coyoacán, the location of Frida’s museum is a stunner. You got the fantastic Coyoacán market, the main square surrounding Fuente de los Coyotes, the artisan market of Allende Garden on Sundays, and just wandering around the streets is such a pleasure. And we happened to find some of the best food we’ve had on the trip here (more on that on the next post).

Take Your Probiotics?

I’m not a gastroenterologist and dont even play one on the internet, hence the question mark. This is just something I picked up from another blog. The biggest problem with Mexico City is the chance of getting sick. No matter how careful you’ll be, its always a possibility, and perhaps not a destination for very sensitive stomachs. But we followed the advice of taking Probiotics daily starting a week prior to the trip, and other than minor tummy trouble on the last day before departure, we were fine. Coincidentally, or not, on the day before departure we forgot to take our Probiotics.

Watch your step

Remember when I said the biggest problem is getting sick? I lied. The most dangerous thing in Mexico City might actually be the sidewalks. The city is essentially built on a lake by the Aztecs. The clay the city rests on dries up, collapses and results in broken and uneven sidewalks all over. I had a few close calls, and I imagine its not easy to navigate on a wheelchair. While you marvel at the scene and architecture, its very easy to lose focus.

Dont overlook the smaller museums

CDMX is a museum powerhouse, with world class museums scattered all over the city. So with everyone and their mothers flocking to them, its easy to overlook the smaller, less popular ones like the colorful Museo de Arte Popular, and Museo Mural Diego Rivera. The latter houses a Rivera masterpiece that miraculously survived the great earthquake of 1985 when it was inside a hotel. Pound for pound they can offer a better experience and fun/crowds ratio for people with limited time.

Do the Anthropology Museum, but preferably with a guide

This is more of note to self, but a tip nonetheless. We did not see the museum with a guide, but wished we did. Its an awe-inspiring, world class museum that attracts tourists and locals (including many school trips) alike. Whether you are into anthropology is almost irrelevant in this case. While you’ll admire the design and artifacts, the crowds, and the sheer volume of information is overwhelming and may be best appreciated with a guide.

Take Uber over Taxi

We had a 50% success rate with taxis, and 100% with Uber. Uber is cheap, reliable, and its very hard to get scammed when you agree on the price upfront. On the other hand, taxi scams are unfortunately more common. If you must take a taxi from the airport, at least make sure they dont sell you an oversized car for over $500 pesos. If you only need a sedan, ask for a sedan.

Design your own taco crawl

That’s not to say, dont take a tour. Absolutely take one, but might as well make it something that’s more outside your comfort zone, like the market tour of Eat Like a Local mentioned earlier. But designing a taco crawl in CDMX is fairy easy and fun. Here’s one idea in San Rafael: Lengua and Tripa tacos at El Betin, Suadero and Pastor at El Güero, and El Barrigon with beer at Porcino.

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Quintonil {CDMX}- Where Hyper-modern Meets Tradition

Even the street names of ultramodern Polanco are snobby sounding… Isaac Newton, Galileo, Alejandro Dumas (or Dumbass as per Shashank). Just about all the streets are named after important writers, philosophers, politicians, and food bloggers. Walking around the area is like playing Jeopardy. Who is President Masaryk! Compared to the rest of Mexico City, the Polanco neighborhood feels like a Beverly Hills gated community without the gates.

Its a rather picturesque, unapologetic enclave filled with ladies with big hats who eat avocado toasts at places like “Snob bistro”. Yes, its a real place inside an attractive development, straight out of Coconut Grove. But yet, we counted three yellow boots, locking pricy cars for some reason. Too important to pay their tickets, or too many spare beemers? There’s a video that went viral recently showing a Polanco resident yelling at a parking officer.

Its therefore not a surprise that Pujol, Quintonil and other CDMX elite are in Polanco. Frankly, I “settled” on #9 world ranked Quintonil over #5 Pujol because I fell asleep and missed my Pujol reservation window. I could barely score one at Quintonil. But while Pujol is the more famous, there’s really no consensus in the city on who’s the best.

From the outside, Jorge Vallejo’s, Quintonil, just like so many great ones, like Osteria Francescana, looks unassuming. While inside, the smart decor, and the pampering of a world class spa, sets the ‘we are not in Kansas anymore’ tone. This was a birthday treat, as was the entire food focused trip. And the result was two unforgettable hours.

The fun actually starts when you reserve months in advance. Do I want a main dining room a la carte, the seemingly insect heavy bar tasting menu, or the dining room tasting menu. The latter two require a significant deposit, roughly 5x the a la carte option. But the fine print states that one can simply opt for the dining room tasting menu upon arrival (when booking the dining room), which raises the question, why would anyone pre-order that over the cheaper a la carte. And after the 4th glass of the excellent matching wines, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get to the bottom of it with my new BFF waiter, while Mrs Z kicking me under the table. After the fourth kick, my facial expression changed, and by the look of his, he probably suspected I was having a stroke, or gas.

As for the food (Its about time Ziggy, sheesh), not one dud, and nothing stood out above all. And that’s a good thing in this case. Like a winning team without a star. Every dish complemented the next and previous. A harmonic flow of colors, textures, and umami. What looked like a simple melon salad, was actually an extravagant melon, tomato, horchata, and pumpkin seed concoction. And what looked like a another photogenic concoction, was a tasty riff on the classic Scallop Margarita with a vivid Aguachile, wasabi, and nori.

In between single courses, you even had a chance to play taco master with carefully selected ingredients that filled the table. There was charred avocado with Escamoles (insect caviar). Smoked cactus salad. Salsad oyster mushrooms. Pureed beans from Oaxaca. Nutty Crottin cheese. Chorizo with oats, and more. Add delicious corn tortillas and you got a flavor jammed fest.

Then comes a perfectly cooked Striped Bass with seafood infused basmati and a coconuty sauce. A young goat with chickpeas puree, and herbs, was aromatic and superb. The dishes featured more science than my combined 4 years of college. Its avant-garde alright, but undeniably Mexican.

The scrumptious desserts really complete the experience. All four of them. A Cactus paddle sorbet. A delightful Creme Fraiche with passion fruit and caviar. The stupendous Guava “rocks”, with pink peppercorns, and caramelized white chocolate. And just when you are about to get too full, comes a birthday flan for the ages. One of those meals, and yet another reason to visit this food paradise.

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CDMX – If I Can Offer Just One Tip

Mexico City will open your eyes. You might as well forget everything you know about Mexican food and Mexican culture. If you think that tacos mostly come with hard shells, or the Day of the Dead parades have been around for a long time, prepare to be surprised. The latter was actually inspired by a recent James Bond Movie. And the former, Ok, I dont know anyone who eats at Taco Bell regularly, but you get my drift. They are out there.

This city may also change the way you travel. We American city slickers, often lean toward smaller… villages, small towns, country side, places that are total opposite of where we live. Mexico City, the largest Metropolitan in North America, challenges that theory. I’ve been thinking about going back from the moment we left. You get a sense of unfinished business.

I’ve never had so much to write after a short trip. I have many useful tips, even though we just barely scratched the surface. I will offer more tips in no time, but today I will offer just one. I dont want you to think I’m lazy (I most definitely am, but I dont want you to think that), but this tip is a rather important one.

Take the half day Markets and Street Food tour with Eat Like a Local.

“But Ziggy, arent you a guide, or a former guide or something? And so, arent you biased?”. Good question Timmy! It’s true. But I only love to write about experiences I like. There are some tours I took in Europe and the US that I never mentioned here. And being a former guide, and someone who’s been taking tours all over the world, gives you a decent understanding of what a good tour should be.

Simply put, this is an outstanding tour. It’s a little more expensive than other tours in CDMX but you do get what you pay for and then some. Mainly you get the benefit of a limit of 6 guests, which is the lowest I’ve seen outside of private tours. It’s a female only, CDMX born group that focuses on responsible tourism including paying the vendors well. Judging by the smiles and hugs we witnessed, this is not a gimmick.

The focus is on Merced and Jamaica markets with some snacking in Condesa at the beginning and end. What you get is a brilliant array of street food including insects, tacos, fruits, sweets, huitlacoche (corn fungus), incredible corn in a cup, and a life altering green Chorizo taco that did not need any salsa or anything really. About 20 tastings but we never felt too full. Very good pace, and plenty of much needed rests for a drink when needed. With a small group (us and another couple) it was like a local showing us around. You get a better understanding and appreciation of local culture (see first two paragraphs).

Taking food tours anywhere is usually a good idea. In addition to the usual benefits there are the added intangibles like meeting other travelers, and spending time with a local. And so you are often at the mercy of the person you meet, and Panda, our guide (thats her nickname) is just the right kind you want to spend four hours with. They bill their tours for people who hate tours. You wont find too many tours out there that involve subway rides, and such small groups. But this is also for people who love tours.

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Contramar {CDMX} – The Culinary Gringo Happy Place

How to not look a tourist? A strange question people have been asking since the beginning of time. In NYC my usual answer is walk fast, ditch your family, abduct a dog from the dog park, and ask random strangers if they like comedy. No one will confuse you for being a tourist. You may go to jail but its a tiny price to pay for the privilege of living like a New Yorker.

But the real question I have is what is wrong exactly with looking like a tourist. Is the tourist stigma really that strong in some parts of the world, or is it the fascination of trying to live like a local, and get a taste of local culture. Perhaps a combination of the wants?

Living in a city like NYC, the flip side resonates with me more. Locals should try to look more like tourists. We often take this fascinating city for granted, and spend our time rushing to the next task. We may pass by the same building 300 times without seeing what tourists see. What if we pause, slow down, smell the roses, and play with the squirrels from time to time.

Anywho, if you are a gringo like me, looking like a local is practically impossible in Mexico City. Especially when you are having lunch at the excellent Contramar, surrounded entirely by tourists. As is the case with many such establishments these days in CDMX, gentrification, and the price points of a Contramar price out the vast majority of the local population. Hence, a destination for the food tourist.

Contramar opened in 1998 by Gabriela Cámara, one of the most influential chefs in Mexico. In fact since 2019 she is also the culinary advisor to Mexico’s president. Sort of the Mexican version of Biden’s senior Ice Cream advisor, and Trump’s burger consultants. At some point Gabriela opened Cala in San Francisco, and the two restaurants were the subject of Netflix’s A Tale of Two Kitchens. The pandemic, Cámara’s move back to Mexico for the presidential job, and other factors contributed to the closing of Cala a few years back.

But Contramar continues to shine, partly thanks to their signatures – tuna tostadas, and the “red and green” fish. The latter is called Pescado a la talla on the menu, and it is glorious. Its a butterflied red snapper, cooked with a red chili sauce on one side, and parsley sauce on the other. Unlike other such dishes we’ve had, the fish is sauced prior to cooking. You’ll see it being paraded all over the place, along with a tray of taco accessories. The tacos we made from this fish were addictive to say the least, though I give the nod to the tangier red side.

And as good as the famous buttery, silky smooth tuna tostadas were, the Galician octopus app was equally as outstanding. Galician style octopus is one of my favorite dishes on the planet, and this was a beautiful and delicate version. We also couldnt find much fault with their famous fig tart either. Even though much of the flavor came from the base, not so much the fig. Another looker, like the rest of the dishes.

Cant get reservations? No problem. Just email them. This is not Pujol or Quintenil where reservations are hard to get. Its important to also mention the Margaritas at Contramar set the stage for pedestrian drinks the rest of the trip. The main room is stunning, comfortable, and the service is like a super friendly well oiled machine. Touristy or not, Contramar is in the business of culinary happiness. Go!

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This is CDMX

CDMX – Ciudad de México – Mexico City to those not familiar. If you’ve never been to Mexico City city, there’s a decent chance you never heard of it referred as CDMX before. I was in that camp up until six months ago when I decided to make a birthday trip out of it. And now all I can think of is what took me so long, and where in NYC can I get a decent Suadero, or green chorizo taco.

The good news is that I will write in more detail about CDMX soon, especially about the food. The bad news, I scheduled mouth surgery right after the trip (yesterday) so I am out of commission in NYC for a few weeks unless you want me to review Oatmeal. Quaker’s Raisin, Date, Walnut is winning that horse race for now.

But for the time being, I will just tell you, in all my years of travel, I’ve never seen anything like CDMX. The combination of distinctly different neighborhoods, sprawling markets, street food everywhere you turn, jaw dropping monuments, world class museums, is on another level. I expected to see different, and I got that and then some.

It’s incredibly rich culture is best understood via food of course, although there are some interesting boutique museums that help describe in other ways. In addition to the plethora of street food, and I mean plethora, you got a hefty amount of contemporary options including two in the coveted “top 50 restaurants in the world” list. Will tell more soon.

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