Part 2 of my food blogger’s guide to Mexico: Street food and Casual restaurants in Mexico City
Street food is nearly synonymous with Mexico City’s food scene, and for good reason. Everywhere you turn, there’s another stand making something else delicious! I know many of us Gringos are scared of street food and hygiene and what not, but honestly, I carry a little cipro with me, choose carefully, and dive in.
What you’ll find below here are 5 days worth of wandering around, eating wherever the lines looked long, the food looked fresh, and/or I saw something I hadn’t seen before. I rarely knew at first glance what something was, many of my decisions were dictated by the person in front of me or what was within pointing distance. This seemed to be a good strategy for finding delicious food.
The very first thing we did when we arrived was to find the nearest street food vendor to the hotel. We cornered a lady selling ‘tacos de canasta’ or basket tacos. The concept being that they’re pre-made tacos, that then continue to steam in the basket as they cook. Around the corner was the empanada you see here. The woman sold one thing, the empanadas, and yet, there were two huge buckets of freshly made sauce to choose from. I have a new found respect for sauce. I’m ready to campaign for a more prominent and varied sauce culture here. I’m so over Tabasco and Sriracha!
On one of our first days in town, we exited the metro at ’Chapultepec’ on our way to the (very worthwhile) anthropology museum. We walked out onto a roundabout filled with 360 degrees of street food. Slack-jawed in a personal paradise, I wandered, wondering how I’d make my decision of where to eat. Finally, the answer came to me when I found the one stand with a line four times as long as the others.
Here, as at nearly every stand, tortillas were made to order, griddled up fresh in front of the customer. That there is a single restaurant in America claiming to serve ‘authentic’ Mexican food and not making fresh tortillas is for shame.
We started with a tlayoco, a thick masa (corn mixture) cake formed by hand, griddled and, in this case, topped with nopal (cactus) salad. They can also be stuffed with cheese or beans.
At the same stand, I picked up a quesadilla. Nothing like the orange cheese and commercial tortillas you can find around the U.S., each tortilla was hand patted, then griddled, before the cheese and chicken (or whatever) are added. Then you get to load on your own toppings–salsas, etc.
Street food basics accomplished, the next day we wandered the unfathomably large Mercado de la Merced. By wandered, I mean we basically got ourselves mercilessly lost until we wanted to cry, then sat down and ate a taco to gather strength to continue, then repeated. A half a dozen times. At one point, we ran into this fine purveyor of sheep head tacos.
I promise they look scarier than they taste. And the scariness of dead animal skull at your dinner table doesn’t hold a candle to the thought that you might never get out of the market, because it goes on and on! Eventually we found our way to the subway stop (which is actually deep within the market) and moved on.
‘Our’ subway stop (by the hotel), like so many others, had a collection of street food surrounding it. I made a point to test out the entire array of food at the Chilpancingo stop, just to make sure it was all delicious. Barbacoa tacos and the consomme (soup) that comes with it is great for chilly mornings. A soul-touching soup, the kind that if my grandmother were Mexican, she’d probably drop her matzoh balls into (IDEA!), followed up by (or dipped into with) a meaty, messy taco.
Flautas, from the next stand over, are very easy on the American palate. Crunchy outside, soft pulled meat inside. The avocado and lettuce garnish doubled up the crunchy/soft contrast, epitomized by the shards of deep-fried tortilla that flew in every direction when you bit into these, while molten hot chicken filling poured into your mouth. Flautas, you are my pleasure, my pain!
The spinning stick of al pastor meat is ubiquitous. Not far from the hotel, in Condesa, there is no shortage of rotating meat purveyors. Despite extensive testing, I was unable to find one that did not live up to my standards. I must recommend them all. Though, my favorite was the one with the extensive selection of sauces (Sauces are on their way ruling the world), shown here. These are, I believe (but do not promise) from El Tizconcito, which is actually a fairly large chain (hangs head in embarrassment).
BUT WAIT! I saved the best for last. Not quite as street-side as the others, this casual restaurant is an absolute must-do for lovers of all things delicious: Barbacoa tacos. From a little shop, not far from our hotel, and totally worth making sure you get there. The sauces were amazing, though the tacos were so good, it almost hurt to alter them. The fatty meat (you can choose between fatty and lean) is soft enough for a baby to swallow, in sore need of the dark corn tortillas to soak up the flavor and the meat juice, as it mingles with the sauce. Looking out onto the street, a pile of these tacos in front of me, sipping an adult beverage at eleven am, I had found the essence of vacation on a busy street in Mexico city.
So yes, I’m sure there are tons, hundreds, thousands, of street foods in Mexico City that we missed, but this is a little tour of the ones we found, and they made us very happy. And if you’d deign to tell me what I missed, I’ll be sure to go back and try it–I certainly need no more motivation than that!