Mexico City’s culinary revolution

From delectable traditional fare to cutting-edge fine dining, the capital’s food scene rivals the world’s best. 

Mexico City’s culinary revolution

Currently enjoying a well-deserved moment in the limelight as a culinary hotspot, Mexico City has changed profoundly over the past few decades—in look, in feel, in taste. There has never been a lack of good food here, but what makes it such an exciting foodie destination now is the variety of options available: a mélange of modern and traditional, local and international, street food and fine dining.

Locals aren’t the only beneficiaries—international travel to the city is on an upswing, with gastronomy cited by a growing number of visitors as a key attraction. Market and street-food tours, cooking classes, mezcal tastings and dining at the city’s preeminent restaurants are top activities. “As well as an interest in fine dining and star chefs, we’re seeing a distinct trend towards more authentic, rustic culinary experiences,” says Zachary Rabinor, founder of luxury tour operator Journey Mexico.

Street food is a reliable marker of a population’s tastes and culture, and Mexico City’s is abundant, diverse and often superb. Most vendors sell only one or two items and excel at them. However, deciding which stands to try can be tricky. Taking a guided tour through a company like Journey Mexico or Eat Mexico eliminates the confusion and enhances the experience. Eat Mexico arranges a number of excursions, one of the most popular of which is its “taco crawl” through Condesa and Roma, two of the city’s more fashionable and attractive neighborhoods. On this tour, guests stop at six locales to try different types of tacos (including the al pastor—pork shaved like a shawarma and topped with onions, cilantro and pineapple), and go behind the scenes at a traditional nixtamal tortilla maker.

Visitors who prefer classic fare such as enchiladas and chiles relleno will enjoy restaurants like Cafe de Tacuba (beloved for its beautiful interior, evocative of Old Mexico) and El Cardenal (renowned for its breakfast and especially its signature hot chocolate). But for those who wish to branch out, there has been a notable movement towards combining Mexican ingredients with the cuisines of other countries. Japanese is a particularly popular choice; prominent examples include the reopened Pujol’s omakase taco bar, which serves sushi-inspired tacos, and the birriamen—a cross between Japanese ramen and Mexican birria (a spicy mutton stew)—served at Caldos Ánimo.

This trend is also apparent in the city’s markets. While more conventional venues such as Medellín and La Merced remain popular, a new crop of gourmet food halls has been steadily popping up since 2014, when Mercado Roma debuted its sleek space. Locals flock here to purchase specialty items such as grasshopper salsa and socialize over private-label mezcal, fair-trade coffee and organic quinoa bowls. Similarly, a number of hip café-cum-gourmet shops have opened in neighborhoods around the city. These include celebrated chef Enrique Olvera’s Eno—with breakfast items including French toast drizzled with organic honey—and culinary star Mónica Patiño’s Delirio, which sells nationally produced olive oil and wine, charcuterie and homemade jams in addition to serving sit-down Mediterranean-Mexican meals.

“A lot of chefs are embracing the foundational elements of Mexican cuisine—corn, beans, chilies—and reinterpreting them for a modern audience,” says Lesley Téllez, founder of Eat Mexico. This is plain to see at best-list stalwarts Pujol, Quintonil and Máximo Bistrot Local, which serve creative, thoughtfully constructed dishes such as Máximo Bistrot’s deep sea shrimp in a spicy chicatana ant vinaigrette with sherry, Quintonil’s molten chocolate “pot” with sweet corn ice cream, and Pujol’s acclaimed take on traditional mole, mole madre, mole nuevo. “Food is really woven into the fabric of Mexico City,” says Téllez. “The quality of the ingredients is wonderful, and some boundary-pushing chefs are re-examining what it means to make Mexican food in Mexico. Locals are enthusiastic, and it shows.”