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There is so much to do in Mexico City, but this post isn’t about that. This is all about Mexico City food. Because if you’re anything like me, food is a huge part of why you travel.
We spent a week in the Mexican capital over the holidays, eating our way through the best street food in Mexico City and hitting up some great restaurants and bars as well.
There were certainly a lot of tacos that made their way into our bellies, but there were plenty of other must-eat foods as well. Some that I had tasted or at least heard about before, others that were completely new delights.
Scroll on, map out some delicious spots to head to, and maybe have a few munchies nearby as well — because your tummy is sure to rumble.
The best tacos in Mexico City
I can’t even count how many tacos we had in Mexico City, but I know it was in the dozens. Tacos al pastor, tacos de canasta, carnitas tacos. Tacos. Tacos. Tacos. Here is a list of where we had the best tacos along with some taco history.
To begin, I present you with an artistic work I call: A Late Night Series: Taco Orgasms.
That was at Taqueria Orinoco, a very popular spot in the Roma Norte neighborhood that always has a line but also turns over tables pretty quickly. The trompo taco was the winner there for me.
Another great stop is Taqueria El Turix in the posh Polanco neighborhood. They serve a mean cochinita pibil. Curious note: they roll the taco right in the pan of meat, so it’s like a wet taco.
Not much of a pork person? Check out Taqueria Tlaquepaque for some muy delicioso beef tacos. My favorite was the beef tongue taco, but if you’re not an adventurous eater, they have “regular” cuts of meat as well.
Tacos al pastor
You can’t actually talk about tacos in Mexico City without talking about the most popular and most symbolic type: tacos al pastor.
The history of tacos al pastor is a love story of international migration and what happens when different cuisines meet. If you go to an al pastor place, you’ll like see a vertical pit that reminds you of a Middle Eastern doner kebab place.
That’s because tacos al pastor are the result of Lebanese immigrants who brought their lamb shawarma in pitas to Mexico City in the early 20th-century. That traditional dish was then transformed with local ingredients into the pork tacos topped with onions, cilantro, and pineapples that we know today.
El Huequito is one of a couple of spots that claims to be home to the original al pastor. You probably can’t go wrong with any of them. (Pro tip: They do say that a true al pastor place will slice the meat directly from the trompo of meat onto the tortilla.)
Tacos de canasta
Another type of tacos that you’re unlikely to see exported frequently is tacos de canasta. Literally, basket tacos.
When I first learned of these, I thought it meant the tacos were shaped like baskets. Nope, tacos de canasta look just like any other taco. The name refers to the fact that the tacos are steamed, hundreds at a time, in these giant baskets.
We enjoyed two at Tacos de Canasta Los Especiales, where the baskets hold 400 tacos each. Apparently these chicharron tacos are among the cheapest options at only 6 pesos a pop, but they were definitely one of my favorites in all of Mexico City.
Tacos de guisado
If you’re like me, you probably thought that tacos are typically filled with some type of meat, salsa, and maybe some cheese and pico de gallo. In Mexico, tacos can be much more than that. The tortillas are really just a means of transporting various types of food into your mouth.
Enter tacos de guisado. Basically, you can put anything on a tortilla and roll it up to be a taco de guisado. Many places will serve a variety of regional dishes such as rajas poblano and chicken mole.
Non-taco Mexican street food you must try
Of course, there’s more to Mexico City food than tacos. It’s time to move onto these other delicious street foods you can find all over town.
I’m getting a bit hungry just writing this, so I’m going to start with my absolute favorite: tlacoyos. This is my #1 must-eat food in Mexico City.
Tlacoyos are masa ovals filled with ground beans, yellow fava bean paste, or other ingredients and then topped with options such as nopales, onions, and huitlacoche (aka corn mushroom).
Because tlacoyos are meant to be eaten immediately (or they get hard), street vendors are the way to go. You’ll find them propping up their anafres (portable stoves/ovens) on sidewalks all around the city.
My absolute favorite combination is blue masa tlacoyos stuffed with yellow fava bean paste and topped with huitlacoche. So damn good. (Yes, I know the latter is a bit of an acquired taste, but I love it.)
Another delicious find is costras. It’s basically a taco, except the shell is griddled cheese. I mean, what? is? this? goodness? in? my? mouth?
This cheesy concoction is especially important to cheese lovers because despite what has been ingrained in us north of the border, cheese is not a given on tacos in Mexico City.
The aftermentioned Taqueria Orinoco has some good costras for those who want to hit up tacos and costras in one sitting.
Speaking about the lack of cheese, even quesadillas in Mexico City don’t necessarily have to include cheese!
Instead, quesadillas are often filled with local ingredients like huitlacoche and squash blossoms. You must request cheese, which is also often an extra charge.
Apparently this is mostly a Mexico City thing, so keep it in mind before you think cheese is a given in your quesadilla order!
If you do want cheese on your dish, tlayudas are a good bet.
This Oaxacan dish is one you’ll want to share. The giant tortilla is toasted and then covered with beans, meat, Oaxacan cheese, and veggies. Ours was so big it had to be folded to fit onto the plate. (We vastly underestimated its size.)
Ready to chow down on this massive thing? Check out Antojitos Sandy in Mercado de Coyoacan.
Antojitos Sandy also has another option for cheese lovers: huaraches.
If that word sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s also a type of Mexican sandal that’s become fashionable. The food item resembles the oblong shape of the sandals.
Huaraches are filled with beans, shaped into an oblong, and then fried to perfection. Various toppings are available, and then the whole thing is capped off with cheese. In other words, sort of like a thin crust Mexican pizza!
Mercado de Coyoacan is also a great place to check out other delicious Mexican food options, including tostadas. Literally toasted tortillas topped with various seafood, meat, and veggie options.
One of the largest tostadas vendors in the market is Tostadas Coyocan Los Originales (you can’t miss their huge yellow signs). The place is always packed at every hour of the day, so grab a seat, figure out what you want, and fill out an order form to give to a waiter.
These little guys are sort of like mini huaraches! Except they’re smaller, filled with refried black bean, and then topped with meats, pickled red onions, and other ingredients.
I quite liked panuchos but didn’t see them too often during our trip. As it turns out, they’re more of a Yucatan Peninsula thing. You can try panuchos at Taqueria El Turix, the place with the fantastic cochinita pibil.
After so many new food items, tamales felt like something I was quite familiar with. But have you ever had sweet tamales?
Tamales Dona Emi is the preeminent place for sweet tamales in the city. They open at 8 a.m. on the weekdays and 9 a.m. on the weekends and often sell out of many options within the first 90 minutes.
So while tamales may be more of a lunch or dinner thing for you usually, make sure to head to Tamales Dona Emi for breakfast. The huitlacoche con queso oaxaca was the most amazing thing, as was the blackberry with cream cheese — so untraditional, I know!
The tamales at Dona Emi’s are more like the ones I was used to back home. For a slightly different take, head to Tamales Chiapanecos Maria Geraldine, which is a tiny stand at the corner of the main square in Coyoacan.
The tamales there are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, and the flavors reflect more of the Chiapas region. For example, there was hierba santa in one chicken tamale, while another chicken tamale had olives, mole, and raisins.
Elote and esquites
Ah corn, the ubiquitous ingredient that’s everywhere in Mexican food. So why not have it in its purest form?
Elote is Mexican street corn, most often grilled on the cob and then slathered with mayo, crema, chili powder, and cheese. It’s a common snack that has found its way into many food fairs in the U.S. as well.
Esquites is its less well-known sibling. Whereas elote is on the cob, esquites is off-the-cob and eaten from a cup or bowl.
We actually didn’t see that many elote or esquites vendors during our time in Mexico City, though it’s possible it’s because our eyes were fixated on other foods. I know there’s a good one in Mercado Jamaica, though I can’t remember the name of the spot (sorry!).
All these corn-based options got you dreaming of flour? You can always pick up a torta, aka a sandwich.
Tortas can be filled with all sorts of ingredients, from scrambled eggs to adobo chicken. I won’t lie, we spent most of our time on other foods since tortas are much easier to find in the U.S.
If you’re looking for a good torta while in CDMX, check out Tortas al Fuego. There’s the food cart that just does tortas as well as a sister restaurant right next to it that has a bigger menu.
If you’re paleo or otherwise cringing at the amount of carbs in all of the above options, well, there’s plenty of insect options for you to try.
Two of the most commonly consumed insects in Mexico are chapulines, or grasshoppers, and chicatanas, or flying ants.
To be completely honest, there wasn’t all that much taste to these insects. They’re pretty plain and just take on the flavor of the rest of the dish. The texture was harder to adjust to. It’s a little hard to digest when you have this many grasshoppers at a time!
Vegan food in Mexico City
If that last section on edible insects just turned your stomach against all meat, no need to worry. There’s plenty of vegan food in Mexico City as well.
That may be surprising. I know I certainly didn’t think there’d be much vegan food in Mexican cuisine. But before the Spaniards came over to the New World, Mexican cuisine was mostly vegan. The Spanish brought the domesticated animals that fill our meat needs these days, along with cheese (remember how I said cheese isn’t ubiquitous?).
If you think about it, I’ve already mentioned a lot of vegan food. Tlacoyos with huitlacoche, quesadillas with squash blooms, veggie tostadas, and more. You just have to keep your mind open to it. (And if you’re interested in learning more about pre-Hispanic vegan foods, consider this hands-on cooking class with indigenous chefs.)
More of a vegan who likes vegan protein substitutes? Check out the Gracias Madre food cart in Roma Norte. They sell quesadillas, tacos, and various dishes with soy-based protein options.
Sweets in Mexico City
Nope, can’t end this post without getting to the desserts!
Mexican bakeries are a love of mine, one that I often have to suppress back home. But since we were in Mexico, it’s no surprise that we sought out some great bakeries.
For a traditional Mexican bakery, you have to go to Pasteleria Ideal in the historical center. Breads, pastries, cakes, and even some savory goods. Walking into that store, I was literally in carb heaven.
They package them so nicely, too! You’ll see people all over Mexico City going home with these packages. We even saw some folks bring these on the plane.
For a Mexican flourish on French baking, go to the equally well-known Panaderia Rosetta. Their signature is the guava roll, and it is as good as they say it is. Panaderia Rosetta is about 4x the price of Pasteleria Ideal, though both are still relatively affordable (~$1.5-$2 USD per item at Rosetta and ~$0.50 per item at Ideal.)
Another very popular sweet in Mexico City is the churro. Imported from Portugal and Spain, churros are eaten for breakfast and as a snack at every hour of the day.
The most famous churro spot in Mexico City is El Moro, known as the first churro spot in the country. Despite having churros at both the original location and one of its other locations, however, I wasn’t impressed.
If you want a churro fix, I’d suggest going to Churro General Republic in Coyoacan instead. Their nutella-stuffed churros are hard to resist!
Coffee shops and bars in Mexico City
One quick addition to cover the coffee shops and bars worth checking out while you’re in Mexico City.
Coffee shops to visit
- Cafe Avellaneda in Coyoacan
- Cafe Negro in Coyoacan
- Dosis Coffee in Roma Norte
Bars worth your time
- La Clandestina for mezcal tasting
- Licorería Limantour for some of the world’s best cocktails
- Pulqueria las Duelistas to experience pulque and the old tradition of hanging out all day in pulquerias. (Not a lot of tourists come here, so make sure your Spanish is ready!)
If you haven’t booked a flight to Mexico City yet, do so asap! With most street food items only costing ~6-40 pesos each, it’ll hardly break the bank.
And if you’re ready to eat all of this but would rather have a local to guide you, I’d highly suggest this fun and affordable Mexico City street food tour with John. There is so, so much food on this tour, and John, as a Mexico City native, has plenty of stories to share about the city and its cuisine.
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