One could live a lifetime in Mexico City, Distrito Federal (or simply “DF”) of Mexico, and never know all that there is to eat in the city that has it all. Street food is as ubiquitous as vehicles and traffic lights; it’s nearly impossible to walk a few meters without inhaling the smell of freshly pounded tortillas or coming across a vendor selling freshly cut fruit or squeezed juices, loaded sandwiches (tortas), tacos and many other local treats. In the last ten years or so, cutting-edge restaurants have popped up, serving some of the world’s best tasting menus, and the city’s array of gastronomic gems make for very difficult decisions. Mexico City has become a hot spot amongst travelers over the past few years, and frequent peregrinations can be boiled down to two elements: food and culture. The frenetic, sprawling city is 1485 square kilometers, and while no guide will cover it all, here’s a good start.
Start the day at… Panaderia Rosetta
This wildly popular bakery has the tastiest pastries in town, hands down. Panaderia Rosetta is a spin-off of Rosetta, a charming restaurant located in the trendy Roma Norte neighbourhood, where chef Elena Reygadas was baking such heavenly breads and pastries that its own separate bakery was warranted. The first Panaderia Rosetta opened blocks away from the restaurant and was an immediate success, as expected. Not too long after, Reygadas opened a second bakery in the upcoming Juárez area and, unlike the often-mobbed, hole-in-the-wall original bakery, the new one has ample patio and indoor seating and a significantly shorter wait time. While much of Reygadas’ technique is rooted in the European tradition, guava and ricotta danishes, sugary conchas and pulque bread make Rosetta a Mexican bakery at heart.
Panaderia Rosetta, Havre 73, Juárez, 06600 Cuauhtémoc, CDMX, Mexico; + 52 5207 7065; rosetta.com.mx/panaderia-en
For a true local flavour, head to… Contramar
The freshest seafood in Mexico City can be found at the ever-so-popular Contramar, a buzzy and vibrant restaurant from chef and restaurateur Gabriela Cámara. The interior of the 20-year-old restaurant is simple—vivid blue marine-themed murals, white tablecloths and an airy dining room that’s constantly packed with both locals and tourists alike. The menu, on the other hand, is not quite as simple, and is filled with spectacular riffs on local, home-style recipes such as the legendary red and green grilled snapper (half red chilli paste, half fresh green parsley), raw tuna tostadas, grilled octopus in red mole, and any of their ceviches. Do not leave without at least a bite of their famous fig tart or coconut flan. Our advice is to dine as the locals do—start at around 3 pm for an extended main meal (comida) that continues through the afternoon and into the evening. There are few better spots to enjoy the Mexican tradition of sobremesa (lingering over beverages and chitchat after a meal) and restaurants like Contramar are prime examples as to why lunch is treated as the most important—and longest—meal of the day in Mexico. Reservations are accepted and recommended, or arrive before one in the afternoon to avoid a long wait.
Contramar, Calle de Durango 200, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico; +52 55 5514 9217; contramar.com.mx
For a contemporary take on cuisine, head to… Lardo
Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with hints of Mexican flavour is what you’ll find at Lardo, an informal and convivial restaurant situated in the charming Condesa area. An open kitchen with a wood-fired oven sits in the middle of the bright and airy restaurant, and a striking bar makes for a perfect spot to appreciate the restaurant’s attractive wine list while nibbling on light snacks. On warm and sunny days, the restaurant’s full facade of French doors are drawn open, exposing the streets to a very handsome crowd. The focus at Lardo is on ingredients, which are carefully sourced seasonally and delicately prepared, and some menu highlights include homemade charcuterie, bright and refreshing greens, and the house special pizza with chorizo and burrata. Breads, both ones that accompany your meal or ones you pick up from the on-site bakery, may be some of the most delightful in the city. Reservations are highly recommended.
Lardo, Agustín Melgar 6, Condesa, 06140 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico; +52 55 5211 7731; lardo.mx
Join the hipsters over at… Cicatriz Cafe
Situated in the eclectic neighborhood of Juárez, Cicatriz Cafe is a lovely spot for quality coffee, home-baked goods, and fresh comfort food. The cafe is owned and run by New Yorker siblings, Scarlett and Jake Lindeman, and the fare takes influence from US favourites such as avocado toast, spiced and roasted carrots and kale-centric salads, all with local ingredients. For lunch, the “Big Salad” is a crowd favorite—tahini-dressed kale with beets, sprouts, jammy eggs and crisp pepitas. At night, the lights dim and the menu trims down to a simple yet colourful menu (the fried chicken sandwich is a must), and the space fills up with a trendy and artistic crowd eager to take advantage of the natural wine and cocktail list. The space itself is small yet open and breezy, with soaring ceilings, plaster walls, concrete floors, exposed beams and an upper level that lends itself nicely to people watching.
Cicatriz Café, Calle Dinamarca 44, Cuauhtémoc, 06600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico; +52 55 4041 7931; cicatrizcafe.com
Go splurge at… Quintonil
Everyone is going to tell you to make a reservation at Quintonil, and you absolutely should; the restaurant serves one of the most enlightened and ultramodern tasting menus in region, and it should come as no surprise that it often earns itself a place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Jorge Vallejo opened Quintoil in 2012 after he completed stints at Enrique Olvera’s Pujol and Rene Redzepi’s Noma; Vallejo’s wife, Alejandra Flores, runs the dining room while he mans the kitchen. A la carte is certainly an option, but you’d be doing yourself a disfavor if you didn’t go with the ten course tasting menu. Most, if not all, of Vallejo’s dishes draw from traditional ingredients and dishes like cactus, mole, tostadas, tamales and indigenous insects. The menu changes consistently, but some standout dishes, such as the catch of the day with pureed guajillo chiles or the cactus nieve (shaved ice) have earned themselves regular appearances on the menu. Our advice is to reserve online as far out as you can, and request for a table in the sky-lit room in the back. Be sure to keep in mind that the restaurant is closed on Sundays.
Quintonil, Av. Isaac Newton 55, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico; +52 55 5280 1660; quintonil.com
See also: What To Eat In Tulum, Mexico City