Mexico City can be overwhelming. Eating there shouldn’t have to be. This guide provides a few restaurant recommendations for where to eat in Mexico City. But more importantly, it explains how to eat in Mexico City.
For things to see and do in Mexico City, see our itinerary, 5 days in Mexico City.
1. Tacos al pastor at Salón Corona
While we were in Mexico City, our apartment was literally right next door to Salón Corona’s original location at Bolívar 24, so it became a second home for us. They also have a few other locations in the city that you can look up on their website.
For delicious, inexpensive tacos in Mexico City, draft beer and a great atmosphere, it’s worth checking out.
You’ll find most people are drinking a pint (tarro) of draft beer–claro (blonde) or obscura (dark). Shortly after getting your beer, the waiter will bring by some spicy, pickled vegetables (a mix of carrots, zucchini, cauliflower and hot peppers).
Then you need to make the hard decision of what tacos to order. Here are some recommendations:
- Tacos al pastor (Mexico City’s famous spit-grilled marinated pork that you see everywhere… a must-have)
- Tacos gringas (2 wheat tortillas filled with pastor meat and melted cheese… another must-have)
- Tacos mole verde (pork in a creamy, green sauce)
- If you’re in the mood for some seafood, try the octopus (pulpo) ceviche.
Don’t worry about ordering everything at once. Food comes quickly, so feel free to order one round of tacos at a time so they stay warm and fresh.
2. Street food: Atole, tamales and quesadillas
Eating in Mexico City is not a difficult thing. In addition to the numerous fine dining establishments (none of which we visited), there is at least one taquería (taco shop) on every block. There are also countless “unofficial” restaurants and food vendors lining the sidewalks around the city, especially at every metro station entrance.
In the morning, these vendors offer steaming hot cups of atole (a deliciously sweet corn-based drink similar to runny porridge), and tamales of every kind. Neither Matt, nor I have much of an appetite in the mornings, so we skipped the tamales (they looked delicious, but were just SO much food), and stuck with large cups of atole. Ordering the drinks was a little intimidating because we had to brave the crowds surrounding the vendors while we were still half-asleep. Not speaking much Spanish, we weren’t sure exactly how to order the drinks. We found success by simply asking “atole?” to confirm that’s indeed what they were selling, then saying “dos” to indicate we wanted 2 cups. Once we had our cups of atole, however, we were glad we made the effort!
Our next foray into street food came in the form of ordering lunch at a food stall. These informal eateries are the backbone of the open-air markets that surround metro station entrances. At the time of ordering, we had no idea what the food being sold actually was… all we knew was the place was busy, we were hungry, and the taco-type concoction looked and smelled delicious. It can be a challenge to order something when you don’t actually know what to call it. We typically just say the quantity we want, and when the vendor responds, we try to catch any word we can. In most scenarios, they’ll list the different flavours they have. When we’d catch a familiar word, we’d repeat it back. So we stumbled through the ordering process (I’m sure the vendor thought we were crazy), and they handed us our food.
We learned later that we had been eating traditional Mexican quesadillas (with chorizo filling). These don’t look anything like the Tex-Mex version we get in Canada. In Mexico, a quesadilla is essentially a folded corn tortilla (sometimes flour) filled with vegetable and/or meat and cheese. The quesadillas come on a little plastic plate, and you can top them with one of the salsas provided by the vendor. You are expected to eat in the area of the food stall and leave the plate behind. A typical meal will usually cost about $15-$20 pesos per person (less than $2 CAD).
It is impossible to convey just how many there are of these food stalls in Mexico City! While they can sometimes be intimidating, the food is delicious and worth all the effort.
3. Pulque, the Aztec beverage
For those who are curious, Pulque is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. It’s been enjoyed for at least 1,000 years. It was enjoyed by Aztec priests and sacrificial victims. In modern times, it has lost popularity to beer, but is currently enjoying a revival.
Plain pulque (pulque blanco) is white, slightly viscous and effervescent. It has a pleasant sour taste. If you like beer, you’ll likely enjoy pulque. Many bars also offered it sweetened with fruit purées if that’s more up your alley.
It is generally consumed at pulquerías, but some bars also offer it.
While in Mexico City, we discovered a small bar called El Mexicano, located at Calle Regina 27A (metro Isabel la Católica; closed Mondays). They serve pulque blanco, several flavoured versions, and make cocktails with it. Their cocktail, tlachiquero, is a deliciously dangerous mix of orange juice, pulque and mezcal. (They also have an extensive list of artisanal beers and mezcals.)
The edibles at El Mexicano are delicious. On the safer side, try the goat cheese quesadillas (quesadillas de queso de cabra) and the fig tapas (tapas de jamón Serrano, higo y queso de cabra). For the more adventurous, try the guacamole with chapulines (guacamole con chapulines y totopos). Chapulines are delicious roasted grasshoppers flavoured with lime juice… a popular snack in Oaxaca and areas around Mexico City.
Pulque and chapulines… a memory you’ll never forget.
(We also found pulque in Playa del Carmen.)
4. Pastries from Pastelería Ideal
Pastelería Ideal is a pastry shop with two locations in Mexico City’s Centro Historico (Av. 16 de Septiembre 18 and República de Uruguay 74). They are very popular! You’ll notice countless people on the street carrying packages of their pastries, and you’ll often have to fight the crowds in their shops. With their vast selection, there’s no need to turn elsewhere for pastries in Mexico City.
Their pastries are delicious, and very inexpensive compared to pastries in Canada, USA or Europe. Pick up some for dessert and some more for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Purchasing pastries at Ideal works differently than what we’re used to:
First, you take a large platter and tongs and help yourself to pastries displayed in the centre of the shop. Then you take your platter of pastries to somebody in a different section of the store to package it. They’ll tally your order on a piece of paper that you take to a cashier, located at a yet another location in the store. The cashier will give you a receipt that you bring back to the packaging station to get your order and leave. Like many things in Mexico, at first it seems complicated and a hassle, but it runs smoothly and is a surprisingly enjoyable experience.