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9+ days in Mexico City: Where should we EAT?!

We just booked our flight to Mexico City for a 9+ day trip that gets us arriving around 8:30pm on a Friday and leaving on Monday morning, over a week later. Our original dream trip would have been longer and included three destinations but the more we read about Mexico City the more we decided to focus there with possible day trips. We want to try as many varieties of regional Mexican cuisine as we can during that time. And we want to run up and down the scale of casualness and fanciness. We love everything from street food to chef's tasting menus. (I've posted VERY long recaps of our trips to New Orleans and Prague/Krakow/Vienna). I was in Mexico City once as a child but have only vague memories of it and my wife has never been.

So what are some indispensable places to try? We're probably going to stay in Centro Historico but will be running all over town. We would like a place that stays open late right in the neighborhood for our first night, since we probably won't go too far afield then, but that can wait until we work out exactly where we're staying. And also what are some recommended day trips that could include fabulous food destinations? We're Very excited!

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  1. Poke around on this board, there are a lot of posts about Mexico City restaurants. Here are some recommendations, though:

    High-ish on the $$$ scale--and be sure to make reservations!

    Azul Condesa, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's terrific restaurant in Col. La Condesa. Open late.
    Azul y Oro, same menu different location--far south, at the UNAM campus. Early closing. There is a recent thread about getting there on public transportation. EITHER Azul is out of this world, but there is alcohol available only at the Condesa location.
    Azul Histórico, the newest addition to the family (in the Centro Histórico). It opened on Wednesday so there may still be some kinks to work out with the new staff. We're going on Saturday and will post back.

    El Cardenal. http://www.restauranteelcardenal.com/ My personal favorite is the one inside the Hilton Hotel on Av. Juárez across from Parque Alameda. The food is out of this world.

    JASO, Newton #88, Col. Polanco. http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico...

    El Bajío in Col. Azcapotzalco. http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico... This is a do-not-miss for traditional food, attentive service, and lovely folkloric decor.

    Restaurante Nico's, also in Azcapotzalco. Wonderful.

    Dulce Patria, in Col. Polanco. http://dulcepatriamexico.com/ Simply stunning in every respect.

    Izote de Patricia Quintana, also in Polanco. http://www.izote.com.mx/

    Much lower down the $$$ scale:

    La Casa de Toño. The one in Zona Rosa is closest to the Centro Histórico. Fabulous pozole! http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico...

    Café El Popular, 5 de mayo #52, Centro Histórico. I think this is just the spot for the night of your arrival. It's open 24 hours, it's a Mexico City institution, it offers a full menu even late in the evening, and it's right in the middle of the Centro HIstórico.

    Market fondas (food stalls)--email me for more info. patalarga@baddog.com

    And by all means read more on Mexico Cooks!:

    Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com.

    4 Replies
    1. re: cristina

      Thanks for all that great info! We have definitely been reading Mexico Cooks but it always helps to get the CH perspective. I'll be pouring over past threads, for sure. And Cafe El Popular looks to be practically around the corner from where we'll likely be staying, so you may have hit the nail on the head.

      As for food stalls, I like the off-forum communication technique... Very secretive... We take our travel-eating very seriously, as you can see on my wife's food blog Tasty Trix.

      1. re: kukubura

        Your email just vanished into the ethers. Please send it again! Thanks...

        Oops, never mind. The ethers spit it back. I have it.

      2. re: cristina

        <El Cardenal. http://www.restauranteelcardenal.com/> Important to know that you should go there for breakfast (at 10 am)! It's a very important meal in Mexico city, and El Cardenal is famous for breakfast.

        IMHO Pujol is a CAN'T (not don't) miss. It's expensive, but not compared to high priced US restaurants, and the food is out of this world fabulous. Ditto for the ambiance and service.

      3. El Tajín in the Centro Cultural Veracruzana in Coyoacan is well worth a visit.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kcward

          You are so right! I forgot about it--mea culpa. Owner/executive chef Alicia Gironella de'Angeli is the grande dama of Mexican cuisine and one of the big forces behind the UNESCO award to Mexico and Michoacán of Intangible World Heritage status.


          Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

        2. I second the recommendation of El Cardenal and Dulce Patria. At El Bajío, make sure you get the empanadas de plátano and the mole de Xico -- they're both fabulous. If you're looking for regional Mexican food, I love Con Sabor a Tixtla in the Roma. The family is from Guerrero and they make an amazing, herbal mole verde and sweet-and-savory stuffed jalapeños. Actually everything on the menu is good there, so you really can't go wrong.

          For your first night in the Centro, I really like Al Andar, which is on Calle Regina. It's a tiny place with murals on the walls and good tacos and salads. Plus they've got a great mezcal selection and Mexican microbrews. (What better way to ring in your first night in town?) I think they close around midnight or 1 a.m.

          On food destinations, I'd recommend Puebla, although it's not really a day trip. Xochimilco -- about 45 minutes southeast of Mexico City's center -- is also a fabulous place to eat, especially if it's at the market.

          You sound fairly adventurous on your own, but if you're up for a guided street food or market tour, I organize them through my company, Eat Mexico. My email address is lesley@eatmexico.com if you want more details. Have a great time on your trip!

          1. All this info is awesome. Thanks!

            I know this isn't necessarily a food question but is it common with late arrivals for hotels to not have your room available anymore and to shuttle you off to some other hotel? As you know, we're getting in late and the hotel that we were otherwise excited about booking has a lot of negative comments regarding people arriving in the evening only to be told that the room is gone. We definitely want to avoid that. And their reservation email person has been tough to communicate with. Is this a common issue?

            6 Replies
            1. re: kukubura

              Lack of response to an email is common here. Email isn't yet the accepted way of doing business in Mexico, even in Mexico City. A phone call is always best. If you need someone to make a call for you locally, let me know via email and I'll take care of it for you. I've talked to hotels and restaurants for other CH-ers.

              And another restaurant to add to your list: Azul Histórico on Saturday was FANTASTIC. There were a couple of very minor service glitches, but considering it was only the third day it was open--omg. The place was jammed, too.

              Oops, and yet another restaurant: for high end seafood, there is nowhere as good (IMHO) as Contramar, Durango #200, Roma Norte. Open for comida, pricy and they don't take reservations, but you'll be glad you went.

              Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

              1. re: cristina

                Thanks. Do you have a hotel that you recommend that reliably holds your room if you're arriving late? Our flight won't arrive until 8:15 and a lot of places seem to give your room away if you arrive in the evening. Frustrating!

                1. re: kukubura

                  Disregard my hotel questions. After reading too many crazy things about people checking in when we will be and being bumped we went with a major hotel brand. Not our usual style but we don't want to live that dangerously!

                  Back to the food!!

                  1. re: kukubura

                    If you have the opportunity, stay at The Red Tree House, it is really, truly the best B&B for anyone, anywhere; they reply to emails and they would not give away your room! And to keep on the correct side of the board, the breakfast which is included is really great, with the world's best churros along with other pastries, fresh fruit, strong coffee and a daily Mexican specialty like huevos motulanos, etc. The fabulously friendly hosts will take care of you and recommend more restaurants for you, plus the location is great for Condesa restaurants.

                    1. re: foodeye

                      Here's the link to the Red Tree House - http://theredtreehouse.com/ . I tried to make a reservation there for my trip last July but they were already booked. I've only heard really great things about them, so I was disappointed not to be able to stay there.

                      Instead, I stayed at the Villa Condesa - http://www.villacondesa.com.mx/villac... - which I can also recommend. When I sent them my reservation request I had a reply in less than 12 hours. I highly doubt they'd give your room away if you arrived late. The owners are on the property almost all the time and they have a fantastic staff, including a night person on the door and front desk who takes care to ensure that guests are safe. Since they knew I was in town to attend a wedding they asked if I wanted them to arrange for someone to come in and do my hair and makeup!

                      Breakfast is included in the room price and it was quite good when I was there. The kitchen staff was very attentive and the chef even came out and let me practice Spanish with him.

                      Neither of these 2 places are large or corporate. I think both of them are more like being a guest in someone's home. If you feel like you want a more intimate experience, especially since you're going to be in one of the worlds largest cities for 9 days, staying at one of these places, if only for a few days, might really provide a much different experience. While I am looking forward to being able to try the Red Tree House on my next trip to D.F., I'd stay at the Villa Condesa again in a heartbeat.

              2. Since you'll be there for a while, do hit Bar Opera as well, not for the food, but perhaps after dinner drinks. Don't believe folks who think the dent in the ceiling right inside the door is Villa's gunshot, that's more towards the back where the bathrooms are.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: kukubura

                    That's it. Hadn't seen the website, thanks for that. The food is meh, but it's still worth a visit.

                1. I would like to suggest street food. You can find many examples at Casa de Toño (Cristina suggested it), but I think that the experience of eating food on a busy street should be in the list. I don't know what other CHers think of this suggestion, as there are always more food safety concerns than when you go to any restaurant... But I think it will give you a sense of what we locals eat, in addition to the info shared by Cristina on market stalls.

                  I am a local and I have only eaten so far at three of the places mentioned in this thread (granted, I'm a student without a job and I don't get to pick where my family will eat meals). I think you should hit as many as possible (many people come back and give great reviews about those places), but also I think something can be gained from planning a couple of meals to get a sense of how locals live.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: veryconsumista

                    Busy street food is definitely going to be a staple! We are up for it!
                    We saw Anthony Bourdain's episode recently and everything they had looked awesome. They went to El Huequito and Taqueria Los Cocuyos in Centro Historico. They also got blue corn quesadillas from Doña Anastasia that looked awesome. Plus she seemed to be on a stretch with a lot of street food.

                    They also went to Fonda Margarita early in the morning for some unbelievable looking dishes and Cantina La Mascota for free food that magically appeared as they drank booze.

                    I don't mind following Bourdain around (we did it in Prague to some extent and had some pretty awesome experiences) but we aren't wedded to these specific places. Still, if folks say they are great and are great representations of their type of places then we'll certainly check them out.

                    1. re: kukubura

                      El Huequito (the one on Bolívar, just south of Uruguay in Centro) is one of our favorite places for tacos and grilled meats. Open late, too.

                  2. So many great recommendations especially from Cristina, food maven blogger ... and here a few more from neighbor and frequent dining companions Nick Gilman and Lesley Tellez
                    titled The Urbanist’s Mexico City: Where to Eat


                    check out their blogs as well... they are definitely worth "following" around.

                    FYI - Fonda Margarita has daily specials best to try mid week for largest selection, also hours from 5 AM till 11 AM meand that by 10 AM all the great dishes are sold out.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ruth in Condechi

                      Sounds good! Thanks for the link. And I'm definitely up for being first in line at Fonda Margarita, although Trix might take some cajoling.

                      1. re: kukubura

                        kukubura: You should really book Ruth in Condechi (http://www.mexicosoulandessence.com/ ) for a tour of the Xochimilco market. It's a fabulous and delicious experience. She knows where all the best food is!

                    2. I recommend Paxia in San Angel which happened to win the peoples choice award at the Travel and Leisure Gourmet Awards 2011. I had a great lunch there after visiting the Saturday market. Although the service wasn't as polished as I'd expect, the food was outstanding and prices were reasonable given the quality and attention to detail.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: kwl

                        Thanks for the rec. We'll definitely consider it!

                        On a related note, if there's one thing this thread has taught me it's that restaurants in Mexico City have REALLY crazy websites!

                        1. re: kukubura

                          I also recommend Taqueria El Califa in Condesa for tacos. Their steak and cheese taco is amazing. And yes, they also have a crazy website.

                          Tacos Alvaro O in Roma is also pretty good, and a bit cheaper than Califa.

                          If you're looking for a change from Mexican food Parilla Quilmes in Condesa has really good pizza as well as steaks.

                      2. Resurrecting this because the trip is looming! I think we've settled on Dulce Patria and Azul Historico. We've also picked up Nick Gilman's book (2012 edition) and are even talking about planning some non food/drink activities (such an afterthought) like taking in some lucha libre.

                        Question about ATMs since I've read conflicting things. Do they tend to belong to international systems? I expect that we'll have a fee, but I've read that often ATMs give a better exchange rate than banks. Either way, we're arriving after banks will have closed so we'll need to withdraw some cash for the first day or so at the airport (which must be a very common thing...) It's always tough to know how much money to bring, especially since the food costs vary so wildly when you plan to eat the way we do.

                        VERY EXCITED!!

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: kukubura

                          You will find many discussions on ATMs, their pluses and minuses, on the LonelyPlanet.com Thorn Tree, Mexico Branch.

                          1. re: kukubura

                            Kukubura, if you don't love el D.F. I will be surprised. It is an extremely dynamic city and there is so much to see and do.

                            ATMs are pretty easy affairs, just like in the U.S. There are many in the airport, and yes, they often do give better conversion rates than banks or casa de cambios. You should also notify your banks - ATM and for whatever credit cards you intend to use SOB - that you will be traveling in Mexico so that they don't decline your transactions.

                            Many ATMs, particularly in areas with an active tourist trade or ex-pat community, offer their services in English. If you happen to get a Spanish ATM, just follow the prompts, the sequence is pretty much the same as in the U.S. When the ATM gets to the part where it asks you how much you want to withdraw, the amounts displayed are in pesos, not dollars. So when the ATM offers $4000 as an option, that's 4000 pesos (about $325 +/-) not $4,000. A lot of U.S. banks limit foreign withdrawals to $300/day. If you think you need a higher daily limit you will need to make arrangements with your bank to honor the higher limit. They are under no obligation to raise the limit and can be pretty stingy about doing so.

                            Most of the major Mexican banks do have affiliations with American banks. If one of them is affiliated with your American bank you may, or may not, get a break on the international transaction fee they all seem to charge. Your bank should be able to provide you with the rate that it charges for the international transaction fee.

                            If you're concerned about arriving late and having to convert money, you could convert a few hundred dollars at your bank before you leave home. The bank's exchange rate often isn't that good but if you want the peace of mind, then it is an option. I've used the ATMs at the airport in Mexico City many times and have never had a problem. They are safe. However, you should use the same precautions at a Mexican ATM that you would use at home. Pay attention to who is around you, don't flash your money around, etc.

                            Don't bother with Traveler's Checks. Lines in banks tend to be long (and often slow) if you want to convert them at a bank. Some hotels will still convert Traveler's Checks but don't offer a very competitive conversion rate. I haven't used a Traveler's Check in Mexico since 2002. I've relied solely on ATMs ever since with no problems.

                            If not paying cash, credit cards usually offer a very good exchange rate. For major purchases (such as hotel rooms) credit cards often give the best exchange rate.

                            Some Costco stores offer money exchange services. If there is one near you, you might want to see if they offer that service. Not all of them do, but it can't hurt to ask. Their exchange rate is better than the banks, but not usually as good as an ATM.

                            Have a great trip.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              If you have a Bank of America account, use your ATM card ONLY at Banco Santander and Scotiabank. They have an agreement with BofA and charge NO international transaction or currency exchange fees for BofA card use. The exchange rate that I normally get from Santander or Scotiabank is usually better than the bank's advertised rate.

                              You will see any number of *casas de cambio*--money exchange booths--at the airport and in the city. Their exchange rates are awful--use ATMs instead, even at the airport.

                              Be sure to notify your bank BEFORE you leave home that you will be in Mexico from XX date to YY date. Otherwise they will stop all use of your ATM and credit card for what they think is fraudulent use. Ask your bank to up your daily ATM withdrawal limit, too. You may be limited in individual ATM withdrawals, but with a higher daily limit you can make multiple withdrawals from the same ATM every day.

                              Be very, very careful about using credit cards here. Your credit card company will add between 1 and 3% as a foreign usage fee to the price of anything you buy--and unlike what DD mentioned above, my experience is that the exchange rate when using a credit card is really not as attractive as the exchange rate from an ATM. Plus, if you don't pay your credit card in full each month, you'll have its interest charges to deal with.

                              I have never seen a Costco anywhere in Mexico that offers a money exchange service. If you pay cash or use a debit card at a Costco (in pesos, of course) there is a small price reduction on your purchase. If you pay with a credit card, you are hit with a 3% price INCREASE. On the other hand, why would you buy a 36-roll package of toilet paper while you're here? LOL...

                              Don't bother with travelers' checks. They are a major hassle here. For example, many banks won't cash them any more. If you manage to find one that does, the exchange rate sucks. And furthermore, if your signature on your travelers' checks does not PERFECTLY match the signature on your passport, you will not be allowed to cash them. Mexico is very picky about signatures.

                              I once again offer a market or other tour; email me if you like. patalarga@baddog.com Many CH'ers have toured with me and loved it.

                              And by the way, your two major restaurant picks are fabulous. I just dined at Dulce Patria on Thursday--it was stellar in every respect. Suit and tie, though, and really good but not fancy clothes for women. Bring $$$$. Have your hotel make a reservation for you. The average check for one diner is about 650-700 pesos, plus drinks and tip.

                              Ah, and one last thing: at the airport, you will find taxi booking booths just to the side of the baggage claim area. Book and pay for your taxi to the hotel at one of those booths. And remember that when you arrive at your hotel, the driver expects no tip and you should not offer one.

                              Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                              1. re: cristina

                                Wow, thanks to you both! Amazing info. I read about BoA earlier this morning and considered getting a checking acct there just for this, but I have a feeling I wouldn't get my ATM card in time. Anyway, I expect to spend a few bucks on most meals so I'm not worried about losing a few here and there to fees. I mean, it's vacation! And Dining Diva, there's no doubt in my mind that we'll love DF intensely. We always fall in love with places that we visit but even taking that into consideration I think that this is going to be extra awesome.

                                1. re: kukubura

                                  Let me clarify about Costco...some Costco stores on the *U.S.* side of the border are offering money exchange services.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva


                                    Apparently ATM fraud is fairly common and while most banks will help out victims M&T Bank in the US has a "go to hell" policy for their members. That happens to be my bank and I'm not surprised. I hate them. I am going to try to get a BoA acct tomorrow and if they can't get me an ATM in time I'm just going to bring some cash and withdraw the rest from a credit card. It's not that I don't trust Mexican ATMs, it's that I don't trust M&T to give me any assistance if something happens. Seriously, they are the worst.

                                    1. re: kukubura

                                      Kukubura, the ATM fraud situation you describe was at the time of that thread unique to the region along the north shore of Lake Chapala--a string of small towns catering to the foreign community--and no longer exists as described in your link. You are not going anywhere near Lake Chapala--Mexico City is eight hours east of there. ATM fraud is no more prevalent in Mexico (the country) than it is in the USA.

                                      Acquiring a BofA account is a good move, but using a credit card to obtain cash is not. You will be charged up the wazoo for using a credit card for cash advances and/or purchases in Mexico.

                                      Naturally you will make your own choice about how to deal with getting cash in Mexico, but please note: the large foreign population at Lake Chapala is largely ignorant of other parts of Mexico outside its enclave, gets hysterical over certain things that have relatively simple solutions, and is not representative of Mexico as a whole. Trust me, I lived there for several years and personally know many of the people who posted on that thread.

                                      I have used an ATM card for cash withdrawals all over Mexico and have never experienced fraud. Naturally YMMV, but...

                                      Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                      1. re: cristina

                                        Gotcha. Like I said, it's M&T that I don't trust, not Mexico. Hopefully BoA can fast track me a card.

                          2. Trip is coming up VERY soon! Can't wait! Thanks again for all the info. Sure to be awesome.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: kukubura

                              We´re here now and thoroughly in love with the city! Last night we did indeed drag our sleepy selves to Cafe El Popular, which we loved. Today we spent about 6 hours walking the Centro and Zona Rosa and ate at Fonda El Refugio, which was also outstanding. We also stumbled on some amazing experiences that I´ll write up when we get home. Now we´re heading out for some tacos al pastor!

                              1. re: kukubura

                                I can't wait for the rest of your report. We're going at the end of April, I'm so excited! Where are you staying?

                                1. re: budlit

                                  We´re staying at the Hampton Inn in the Centro and recommend it highly. Great location, great free breakfast, great staff...

                                  Yeah, I´ll write up an epic report after. Although we haven´t been having as many meals as we expected because the food has been so filling! But everything has been amazing.

                                  1. re: kukubura

                                    Pujol - absolutely loved them, would have returned every day but we left it at the last moment :-(

                            2. HEY KUKABURA! We're waiting for your trip report!

                              Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: cristina

                                I'm going in a couple weeks, would love to hear your report before I go!! We have reservations at Pujol, but now I'm wondering if it's worth it with all the great street food.

                                1. re: budlit

                                  Budlit, if it were me, I'd skip Pujol and head straight for Dulce Patria. Make it your one big splurge, you won't regret it.

                                  http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico... (Permalink)

                                  Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                  1. re: cristina

                                    Thank you Christina. I was debating between Pujol and Dulce Patria. Approximately how much is a meal at Dulce Patria?

                                    1. re: budlit

                                      Price information is at the end of the article, where the address and phone number are.

                                      Link: http;//www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                      1. re: cristina

                                        Thank you so much. Just from pictures, Dulce Patria looks much warmer than Pujol. How would you compare the two? Also, if going to Dulce Patria for a 2:00 meal, is the dress code as dressy, suit & tie?
                                        Thanks so much for all your help

                                        1. re: budlit

                                          Dulce Patria is a very warm, sensual environment. The decor is black, white, and a lot of wine-y red (as you can see in the photos), with lots of flowers, lots of gorgeous upholstery, and the emphasis on the client's comfort and delight in the food. Service is attentive but in no way obtrusive. Every detail of the decor has a Mexican cultural significance.

                                          The Pujol environment, IMHO, is much harder-edge--for example, plastic chairs rather than upholstered chairs, tables much closer together, etc. It looks like a generic albeit upscale restaurant.

                                          I can best tell you the difference in the spaces by saying that the flowers on the tables at Dulce Patria are gladiolas. The 'flowers' on the tables at Pujol are cacti.

                                          For comida (Mexico's main meal of the day), the dress code at both is absolutely suits, dress shirts and ties, and leather shoes for men. For women, it is not flashy but extremely high-end, high quality dresses, pantsuits, and very good shoes. And don't go at 2PM--go at 3PM, when 'everyone' eats.

                                          If you are staying in a hotel, have your desk personnel make reservations for you at either restaurant.

                                            1. re: cristina

                                              <The Pujol environment, IMHO, is much harder-edge--for example, plastic chairs rather than upholstered chairs, tables much closer together, etc. It looks like a generic albeit upscale restaurant.>

                                              Cristina, I don't think you and I could have dined at the same Pujol. There is nothing generic about that restaurant. And you say "cacti" as though they used dandelions for their floral offering.

                                              What do you have against Pujol? I've had two of the finest meals of my life there, and I've dined in fine restaurants around the world.

                                              1. re: ChefJune

                                                Some people seem to get a bee in their bonnet about certain places after seemingly just one experience. I'd say they're not doing themselves nor their credibility any favor and they're not doing the community any service.

                                                1. re: Soul Vole

                                                  I'm also thinking of Nick Gilman and Azul Condesa.

                                                2. re: ChefJune

                                                  Pujol is very different from Dulce Patria, just as cacti are very different from gladiola. IMHO, one restaurant is harder-edge than the other, just as one plant is spinier than the other.

                                                  I have nothing whatsoever against Pujol, I simply prefer Dulce Patria.

                                                  Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                    2. re: cristina

                                      I know, it's awful. I came home to major commitments and changes at work and have barely had a minute to breathe. I will try to post my thoughts soon. Sorry for the delay!