If you think Mexico is just about la playa and tacos, you need to check yourself and book a flight to Mexico City. The country’s capitol and the 12th largest city in the world, encompassing a population of almost 9 million people with the metropolitan area reaching 21 million people total. Yes, there are tons of fancy and low-priced hotels, art galleries, museums, cathedrals, ancient pyramids outside the city to climb, craft markets, ceramics, street food, and more to see. If you want to plan your trip around food, here is my list of the best restaurants and bites to grab while you are there!
If you live in Texas, you have no excuse as Aeromexico flies directly from Austin to Mexico City. One trip a day in under 2 hours, and of course, Houston has direct flights from United and Southwest as well. I’d also like to thank Rick Martinez (cookbook author and former editor at Bon Appetit) for his amazing guide that I trusted to get my tastebuds through this city’s food scene. I even ended up recognizing him at a spot he recommended (Contramar– see more below) and got to meet him and thank him in person! What are the odds!?
- PUJOL– Apparently everyone has seen Netflix’s series Chef’s Table with Pujol’s Chef Enrique Olvera (he also now owns Cosme and Atla in NYC) except for me. I usually have a hard time enjoying myself at a restaurant that is SO hyped up, and in this case named #20 on The Worlds Best Restaurant list and #4 in ALL OF LATIN AMERICA. However, this time I soared off the plane right into one of the most beautiful restaurants with a perfect window table with perfectly positioned Instagram lighting at our seating arrangement (they renovated and moved to a new location a few months ago). Inside the restaurant is sleek, the neutral color palate makes you feel like you are in a modern museum that’s having a trendy party due to the uplifting, back lighting on the bar. The meal begins with street snacks (mini bites), and then you pick amongst 4 different options at each course number for the rest. There are 6 courses total including a non-negotiable mole that changes everyday as the kitchen ages it. Ours had been aged for 1,471 days and emitted two shades of brown in a circular fixture. You eat it with a spoon and taste and feel each bite that slides down your throat. I know you’ve never had anything like this before. I tried all kinds of things from Geoduck Clam Rice, a Charred Eggplant Tamale, and (my favorite) Grilled Fish with crispy skin and a pool of delicious Pumpkin Amarillito sauce. Since we had a birthday in our crew, we were surprised with a gold dessert mixed with pink and white meringue fit for Barbie, and any self-proclaimed restaurant critic. I chose the chocolate dessert with pennyroyal, caramelized banana, and mint ice cream. At this point it was 1 a.m., and our bellies were reaching capacity with full hearts (look out for the surprise palate cleanser before dessert and finale churro finisher). For all that food and exceptional service, we came out on top spending $131 total including tip and a glass of wine. I recommend starting your first meal here to kick off your trip with high-spirits and get you in the Mexico City spirit! Make sure to get your reservation about a month or so out. We planned our flights around this dinner actually, and yes, it was worth it even though I had some friends say to eat at Quinitol instead.
- EMILIA: Book the intimate tasting menu at this Mexico City spot where you can choose to sit at the counter around the cooking chefs with a large group of friends. There are other tables around if you rather something more private. Connected to Tokyo Music Bar, a hi-fi vinyl music bar, we began with a drink in this neon-lit space with yummy light pink plush booths, and ended the party dancing off our dinner in here. It really does feel like Mexico City concepts always find their way to Austin later (it’s almost like the intimate dinner at Pasta Bar counter and the Equipment Room hi-fi vinyl bar). Tokyo Music Bar was absolutely my favorite bar we went to during our time in the city!
- MERCADO ROMA: Jose Guadalupe, Platos de Cuchara. This newish market is similar to food halls all over the world like Rome’s Mercato Centrale or New York’s Chelsea Market. We went early in the morning, so only a few stalls were open such as a gluten free bakery and juice bar. We had the best crab tostada I’ve ever tasted that came mixed with shredded lettuce and some white crema. Go for it!
- TAQUERIA EL CALIFA: When you need a quick snack or taco break, this casual joint in Condesa gives you the best agua fresca (get hibiscus) and nopales (cactus) and cheese tacos.
- MERKAVÁ: You might think it’s crazy to go to an Israeli restaurant in Mexico and skip a chance to have another taco or gordita. What if I told you the best hummus and pita I ever had (not including Israel) happened to be here? Good luck trying to translate a Spanish/Israeli menu to English. Just make sure you get the traditional hummus and pita (they’ll give you extra don’t worry). My other favorite dish was the Trout with Beets, Brussels Sprouts and Honey. Do yourself a favor and order ahead an extra serving of these amazing vegetables. You’ll need them. While I couldn’t pass up the Babka French Toast and Ice Cream dessert, Breads Bakery and Russ & Daughters in NYC actually does a better job.
- MAQUE CAFE: I think this was the best breakfast we had. Not only was this cute spot on the corner next to a lovely green park, Parque Mexico, but it was full of sweet smells and hardworking bakers replenishing pastry baskets and the bread WALL. I know enough Spanish to get by, but not enough to have the intense sugar conversation I, oh, so wanted to have so I wouldn’t miss the best thing. They had palmiers, muffins, rolls, jam stuffed breads, multigrain options, and after a big decision, I went with their most popular: the corn muffin. Never have I ever had a corn muffin that tasted so much like maiz. It wasn’t as sweet as American corn muffins and very moist– almost like the consistency of bread pudding. The cheese danish was even better. The egg options are also endless here: Chilaquiles, Omelettes, Tortilla, Huevos Rancheros. Get the Revueltos which are fluffy eggs with tomatoes and a side of chilaquiles and beans.
- JUGERÎA CARO: You’ll notice lots of fruit and juice carts everywhere in Roma and Condesa at least! This one has the best cut up mango and berries to jump start your morning.
- MERCADO EL 100: An open-air farmer’s market held each Sunday in Roma from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. with 50 stands of local farmers is the perfect way to get an authentic taste of Mexico City and even discover new food trends that will probably make their way back to the U.S. The market has delicious pastries (my favorite was a health nut seeded gluten-free bun that I have no idea what it’s called but I LOVED it). You’ll find a Quesosommelier booth, soaps, and other fun gifty items for your friends and family back home. We went to the stand at the very back of the market where they are making homemade tlacoyo. They are like open-faced tacos but with a thicker, plush tortilla on the bottom and you get to tell the sweet man what toppings you want such as eggs, all kinds of salsas, beans, cactus, which are all served out of gorgeous clay pots.
- EXPENDIO DE MAIZ: My favorite taco experience has now been revealed as on my second trip to Mexico City, this place now has a line down the street! Here you just tell them what you’re in the mood for and they whip it up right in front of you and you can keep going until you are full. Each table has different dishes and it feels like you are in someone’s home. This unassuming sidewalk spot is worth it 🙂
- EL PARNITA: Located in Roma Norte, this is an easy taco spot with crowded tables, a patio, three different salsas already on your table. The offerings are large but a bit more particular- no chicken- and lots of pork FYI. I loved the Shrimp Taco with Guacamole and Salsa Rellenito (this is the best salsa/sauce I had all trip). Also, try a Tlacoyitos Especiales. It’s like an extra thick and tall tortilla that’s more bread like and stuffed with cheese, beans, and topped with shredded pork.
- FRESH & CO. PLANT BASED CUISINE: On one of my trips, I was visiting my bestie, Hyo Jin, who is vegan and loves food and research as much as I do. We had dinner planned at Lardo but needed a quick snack, so stopped by this vegan shack for the best Tortilla Soup I’ve ever had. So creamy, warm, and the right comfort. He was actually closed that day but Hyo Jin convinced him to serve us some of the extra tortilla soup he already had made. It was so special and then he treated us with some strawberry vegan ice cream. Hospitality is a feeling you can actually taste, y’all.
- LARDO: This place has a similar feel to ABC Kitchen in NYC: Pizza with Squash Blossom and vegetarian items like the Cauliflower Soup. Outfitted with plants, a cool and trendy crowd, it still maintains high-quality dishes with a full bar. It feels very California and New York-esque, and while beautiful, I think next time I’d go for brunch instead of dinner.
- MAKAN: This Singaporean restaurant was such a delight! While closed right now, they are planning to re-open so check their pages as it’s definitely one I wouldn’t want to miss. If you have a party of 8 or more they will do a family style pre-fixe for cheap, but it’s different than the states’ “white table cloth” feel. They prepare their best hits that cater to everyone at the table, and also serve some of the tastiest Mezcaleritas I’ve had! Places like this are so fun in Mexico City because it’s much more affordable than the U.S. We had a round table hidden in the back of the restaurant with our own cove, and it was certainly a night to remember with Fish Laarb, Braised Lettuces, Roasted Eggplant with baba ganoush, Duck & Noodles, Chicken & Rice, etc. Ok yeah, it was a lot of food!
- LA PITAHAYA VEGANA: Vegans, you are not left out of the taco game! This food stall has beet colored tortillas and amazing cauliflower tacos topped with coconut crema. There are pastor made of seitan as well as a potato taco and quesadilla.
- KIIN THAI-VIET EATERY: Can’t believe one of my favorite restaurants in Mexico City was a Thai place, but I loved this spot and highly recommend it if you’re looking for something last minute where you don’t need a group res. Enjoy the nice garden patio and order Summer Rolls, Lemongrass and Shrimp Salad, Green Curry, Pad See Ew, The Fish, Shrimp in Red Curry, and the Crab Omelette. This would also be a great place if you’re on a longer trip and need to mix it up from the taco truck routine.
- PANDERÍA ROSETTA: I know Texans are overly nice, but Mexicans are REALLY REALLY NICE. I had another overwhelming episode trying to figure out which freaking pastry to get here, and the lady behind me asked if I needed help. Recommended the guava and cheese croissant and then offered to go ahead and buy it first so that I could snag her FIRST bite. How nice! Unfortunately, the jam was so far in, I only got a bite of the regular croissant bread, BUT I listened to her and got a chocolate croissant. While you can get these anywhere in America, they are still buttery and full of just enough chocolate. Maybe get one of the doughnuts or other specialty pastries for something new. This bakery is in my favorite part of the city, Roma Norte, with gorgeous architecture and their sister restaurant, Rosetta, which is Italian and not too far away.
- CONTRAMAR: This is the sacred restaurant for locals and travelers with the bi-color WHOLE fish that looks like Christmas. Definitely make a reservation: [email protected]. Imagine eating it right during the holidays, too? Request an outside table so you can enjoy the patio, plants, and pedestrians. This was the most happening place we visited all week since most locals leave for holiday right before NYE. My heart sank when I spotted Rick Martinez (who, as I mentioned earlier, wrote the guide to Mexico City I used to plan my trip). I jumped up and ran over to thank him for helping me! We were all there because of him. He also happened to be from Austin, so that was fun overall. I also ran into a friend from high school, old NYC crossfit buddy, and another editor friend from The New York Times. Clearly this is the place to be, and the service and hard working staff proves it with their hustle. The bread basket here is also one to remember. Make sure you get that seeded, square-shaped bread – it’ll actually make your forget about tortillas for a second. I promise. Start with the Tuna Tostada which is fresh as sashimi and comes with 4 pieces. I liked the shrimp tacos as well, but the star of the show was indeed the whole fish with the red chile and parsley sauce. It looks huge, but honestly I think I could have eaten it all by myself. We ended one of the most exciting and emotional dining experiences of my life with the dessert situation. You’d never think a place like this would wave the most gigantic list before your eyes. Think Nutella Flan, Cheesecake, Banana Pie, Chocolate Brownie, Meringue with Strawberry. The Apple Pie was a good finisher and not too sweet, but the Fig Cake had a great buttery crust and was actually more like cheesecake.
- BALLARÓ: Just down the street from Contramar is this pasta and pizza bar with a self-serve pastry room. If you are looking to try a traditional Mexican Conch bread, this is the place to get it. A buttery, almost round, brioche-like bread with pockets of sprinkled sugar on top make it an any time of day treat.
- HOTEL CASA AWOLLY: Do not be fooled this is not a hotel, but a magical tri-level spot with several different colored and fascinatingly decorated rooms. We spent NYE here which was an incredible four-course meal including a Pumpkin Pureé Soup, Beef Tartare with Truffle and Potato Chips, Fish with Beurre Blanc, and a White Chocolate Tart. The main dining room had streaming lights with roses hanging overhead, a tiled patterned floor, gorgeous candlesticks, and a staff that knew how to take care of picky Americans- ha! The whole place looked like a mansion that belonged to an interior decorator, and the floral wallpapered bathroom was enough to bring your phone in there for a photo. Head up to the roof for a drink if you don’t have time for a meal.
- JULES BASEMENT: My favorite cocktail bar which is a speakeasy halfway inside a Mexican restaurant that also looks like amazing food. Grab a classic mezcal cocktail in this underground spot which is pretty loud. The white skulls used as bases for the tables are mesmerizing. Make a reservation.
- 686 Bar: Another speakeasy with really nice cocktails where you can chill and dance to LCD Soundsystem in your chair. The bartenders or maybe they’d want to be called mixologists because they are truly wearing lab coats. Menu includes: Spicy Margarita, Sake Sour, Mezcal Meets Italy
- Los Salvajes
- Bar Oriente
- Café Paraíso
On my list for next time: