Dining in Mexico City is sophisticated, with cuisine that spans the globe. From high chic to the standard Mexican comida corrida (blue-plate special), the capital offers something for every taste and budget. The Polanco area, in particular, has become a place of exquisite dining options, with new restaurants rediscovering and modernizing classic Mexican dishes. The Centro Histórico led a resurgence of popular restaurants and bars open for late-night dining and nightlife, which has spread to the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods -- which you can easily stroll to find a number of small restaurants and a myriad of cuisines. San Angel houses some of Mexico City's finest traditional restaurants. Cantinas, until not so very long ago the privilege of men only, offer some of the best food and colorful local atmosphere.
Everybody eats out in Mexico City, regardless of social class. Consequently, you can find restaurants of every type, size, and price range scattered across the city. Mexicans take their food and dining seriously, so if you see a full house, that's generally recommendation enough. But those same places may be entirely empty if you arrive early -- here, remember, lunch is generally eaten at 3pm, with dinner not seriously considered before 9pm.
Note: Many establishments add a "cover" charge of $2 to $4 per person to the bill.
Taking It to the Streets
While Mexico City is home to some of the world's best upscale restaurants, the real culinary adventures can be found sizzling in the street. If you're on a budget, street food can also keep you sustained for cheap. Just about every colonia has its own street food puesto (stand) of choice. The best way to find good street food is to ask a variety of different residents and note when the same answer repeatedly comes up. If you make it to only one street food purveyor while you're in town, Super Tacos Chupacabra in Coyoacán is your best bet. It's located under the Viaducto Río Churubusco (no phone) near the posh Centro Coyoacán shopping mall. Don't be scared away by the fact that it's located under a freeway bridge. You came to Mexico for the ambience, right? The tacos are delicious, and toppings include everything from spicy mashed potatoes to jalapeño-flavored carrots. The place is always hopping with university students and locals headed to and from the Coyoacán Metro stop. If you're watching your weight, you can order a "Chupas light," which is made with one tortilla instead of two. You can have a feast for less than 50 pesos.
Some other great finds are Tacos Gus, on the corner of Michoacán and Amsterdam in Condesa (tel. 044-55/1384-3077); El Califa (tel. 55/5271-6285), on Altata 22 in Condesa; Beatricita (tel. 55/5511-4213), on Londres between Florencia and Varsovia in Zona Rosa; or, for a surprisingly rare treat in Mexico City, a big juicy burrito with almond chipotle salsa at the Los Burritos stand on the corner of Insurgentes and Havre (tel. 55/5208-8737).
Mexico City has several other unique street food offerings, which can be found in just about every neighborhood. Tlacoyos consist of a thick, oval-shaped blue-corn tortilla stuffed with beans, cheese, or fava beans and topped with cream, lettuce, and any number of meats. Unique to the capital are tortas de tamal, which are essentially tamal sandwiches with salsa on top. Another favorite is elotes, or corn on the cob served on a stick, popsicle style. If you add all the possible toppings -- mayonnaise, cream, Oaxacan cheese, chile, lime, and pepper -- you can easily double the weight of your delicious cornsicle. A good place for street food is the antojitos (little snacks) market off the main square behind the Guadalupana church in Coyoacán.
¡Café, Por Favor!
In Mexico, the preparation and consumption of espresso have been considered an art form for generations. You can find the best coffee in small cafes with a crowd of regulars who congregate to catch up on the local chisme (gossip).
Café La Habana, downtown at Bucareli and Morelos (tel. 55/5546-0255), is one of the most famous, a long-standing cafe with a rich history -- and a reputation for strong coffees, all roasted and ground in-house. Ask the waiter and he'll tell you how Fidel Castro and Che Guevara planned the Cuban revolution while sipping an espresso cortao. Strangely, it's Mexican and not Cuban food served here. The cafe is open Monday through Thursday from 7am to 11:30pm, Friday and Saturday from 7am to 1am, and Sunday from 8am to 10pm.
In the Centro Histórico near the Zócalo, Mumedi, Francisco I. Madero 74 (tel. 55/5510-8609), is a hip designer cafe popular with artists, architects, and graphic designers. Attached to the cafe is a bookstore and gallery featuring contemporary art objects and changing exhibitions. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 8am to 9pm and Monday from 11:30am to 9pm.
The Condesa is another top cafe zone and El Péndulo, Nuevo León 115 (tel. 55/5286-9493), close to Insurgentes, is a favorite. It combines its cafe setting with a book and music store and tends to draw intellectuals, writers, and students. It frequently hosts live music and poetry readings. It's open Monday through Friday from 8am to 11pm and weekends from 10am to 11pm. Another branch is in the Zona Rosa at Hamburgo 126.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.