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Off-beaten path, delicious food in Mexico City (and Oaxacan Countryside)

I am coming to Mexico from Sept 8-16...it's my first trip there (aside from a visit to Baja California a few years ago), and I'm quite excited. I've been doing some research about places to eat, and I think I'm ready to start asking for some advice

Two of us are flying into Mexico City...we're spending 2 or 3 nights there. Then 3-4 nights in an undetermined location (ideally in the countryside), and then the final 2 or 3 nights in Oaxaca, and then we fly out from there. The total will be 8 nights in Mexico. I speak Spanish, so I am very comfortable going off the beaten path to get the best food. We will be using public transit (as well as taxis and our own feet). While we might be interested in one or two fancier meals, both of us are more interested in hole-in-the-wall places, food-stands, and casual dining.

Mexico City: Arriving on Saturday, leaving on Monday or Tuesday. We are probably staying in Roma area but are fine traveling pretty much anywhere in the city if the food is worth the trip. I've already read this thread, which was super useful: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/844147 and pretty much everything sounds good. Here are places I'm thinking about going…help me prioritize, since unfortunately I won't have much time!

Café el Popular – recommended by kukubura

Coox Hanal for Yucatecan

Lagunilla Flea Market for various snacks or La Merced ? Or both?

Breakfast at Fonda Margarita. This sounded great, but other breakfasts/bakeries would be great too. Almost definitely not looking for a fancy breakfast.

El Hidalguense for bbq?

El Huequito for tacos al pastor….but are there other places that people recommend more?

A friend recommended going to Coyoacan for chocolate and churros, but didn't specifically say where. Ideas? Will this be better or worse than Churros el Convento or Churreria El Moro? Would Sunday evening be OK for all of these?

Contramar – Good option for lunch?

Any other must-stop Mexico city places or certain foods I MUST try? Specific stalls in markets that we should look for would be great as well.

I will probably start a different thread about meals in Oaxaca, and I've already been participating in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/864699 - I'll add in a link to the other thread once I post it.

We are trying to figure out where to go in between the big cities….we're looking for somewhere in the countryside, with opportunities to hike/explore/get off the beaten path. If any destinations had great food, that could definitely sway us….so, if anyone can comment on food (or food-related experiences) in any of these places, that'd be great!

Tuxtepec
Valle Nacional
Ixtlan de Juarez

Huajuapan
Apoala Valley

Pueblos Mancomunados

Thanks very much for any advice or tips in advance!

Dave MP

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  1. For similar trip just after yours in the second half of September--nine days in Mexico City including the weekend of Fiestas Patrias (Independence day when I have no idea of what to do) then 7 in Oaxaca, we're also planning on a Roma Norte hotel stay. Here's a thread on our hotel choice: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/starwo... We chose Roma Norte exactly because its a neighborhood, because it's perhaps not so chi chi as Condesa and for its ease of walking out at night for dinner, a light supper or a drink or ice cream.

    And evolving out of that, is our early stage hotel-centric chow map https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=... This week I hope to have time to get the rest of the chow places on to it with notes/comments then get it loaded on to the phone. Will we hit all these places? No way. But it's good to have some options...

    Not on the map are most of the markets and their stands and fondas--the places where our own plentiful supply of towelettes become essential. And should they ever get pick-pocketed, I'd love to see the thief's face!

    re Kukubara's invaluable trip report thread: nothing beats feet on the street. After such trustworthy chowhounding, is Nick Gilman's blog and March 2012 updated book (or ebook) 'Good Food in Mexico City', especially for up to date reports on street food and market stalls, as well as anything else. This was $3 incredibly well spent, especially as it's on my phone now and easy to carry around should we become unexpectedly peckish.

    In Mexico City, we'll probably nominate a couple of more expensive places like Merotoro or Rosetta, but definitely not any of the alta cucina places as I like food on the plate as opposed to foams, deconstructions or art. For my better half to dress up some, I'm thinking perhaps El Cardenal at the Hilton for a leisurely 'second' breakfast when in the Centro.

    In Oaxaca, so far, La Teca sounds very attractive. Other than that--this thread by Chicago's RST is my touchstone: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/262553 . Sadly, it's very dated. I ache for an update from one of us.

    One of the hardest things we'll have to do is adjust our eating clock to an afternoon big meal and a later lighter supper. But with so many breakfast places, both sit down and in the markets, not opening until after 9 or 10 in the morning, I suspect that we'll be able to reach deep within ourselves and synchronize our eating for when the locals do.

    Thanks for starting this DaveMP, it's very timely!

    1. Your visit is perfectly timed for the very seasonal chiles en nogada- a must!

      14 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        El Huequito is closed right now, though probably temporarily. A surprise raid by the government found that they had no grease trap and were dumping the restaurant grease into the DF sewer system. Same is true for El Cardenal on La Palma.

        I would not make a special trip to La Lagunilla for food, although there are a couple of wonderful stands there. It is sheer madness on a Sunday morning/afternoon. You will do just as well to eat at La Merced, or any of the other markets you visit.

        Remember, please, that Kukubura has been to Mexico City ONCE. Although his trip report was interesting, extensive, and fun, it does not make him an expert on this vast city.

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

        1. re: cristina

          Invaluable 411 re the vagaries of grease traps (of which I've owned more than a few), and an equally great write up on your blog about MesoAmerica 2012. Thank you.

          1. re: cristina

            Thanks for the updates on the places that are closed.

            True, Kukubura has been to Mexico City only once, but it seems like he covered a lot of bases: churros w/ chocolate, traditional mexican meals, pulquerias, taquerias for al pastor, markets. So any ideas of how I could tweak that itinerary, while still covering the bases, would be great! Obviously the other problem is that I am only going to have 2 (or max 3 days), instead of 9.

            cristina (and anyone else): I would love to have a list of meals/snacks that in your opinion are not-to-miss places....while I might not be able to cover all of them, it would nice to have a bunch of things to fall back on if I suddenly find myself hungry :)

            1. re: Dave MP

              Personally, I don't think Cafe El Popular is any big deal. It's basically a 24 hour coffeeshop.

              Chocolate y churros are a snack, of sorts. While they can be a pleasant experience, I wouldn't go out of my way to find "the best".

              I liked El Hidalguense and want to return to explore more of their dishes. Remembver, open only Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

              Not too far away is Con Sabor a Tixtla, specializing in Guerrense food. Unfortunately, circumstances did not permit us to go there on our last visit.

              Not far from Con Sabor a Tixtla is Fonda La Veracruzana, one of my favorite seafood restaurants in Mexico City. It's cozy, low key* and the food is good to very good. We have been there 3 times so far. On Calle Medellín 198, corner of Calle Chiapas, Colonia Roma.
              *It can get hectic on weekend afternoons.
              Link: http://mexkitchen.blogspot.mx/search?...

              Back in the area around el Mercado Medellín are a plethora of hearty, meaty eating places. Inside the Mercado are many appealing food stands. We have had carnitas in the meats department and several meals at Ostionería La Morenita. (But i like La Veracruzana more.

              )

              I was not pleased with Rosetta. I felt it was overpriced and the tables were crowded into the otherwise pleasant dining room. Also felt that the food that we had was for the most part, too "studied" and spare.

              We have only been to Contramar once, in 2004. I may have been in an odd mood, but I thought the place was overwhelmingly loud with noise, and the service rushed and impersonal. I had a very hard time ordering, and so had a very unbalanced and unsatisfactory meal. But I will grant, it might have been me.

              Our favorite, so far, for an upscale meal is El Racó, on Avenida Sonora in Condesa. However, it's essentially Catalán, not Mexican. Excellent food, and warm, personal service.

              Oft mentioned, and rightly so are the El Bajío restaurants. Always good, IMO, both for breakfast and comida. But again, weekend afternoons get crowded and noisy. The service and food are just as good.

              Apart from recommendations here, if you walk around and see a stand with a line of people waiting to order, or happily eating, you should go for it!

              Have a look in the Mercado of Coyoacan and some of the amazing food in the fondas there. Check out the tostadas place, with the towers of fresh toppings from which to choose. Sorry to say, we didn't eat there, but instead, at pricey Los Danzantes, which was a mixed experience of both good to mediocre dishes.

              1. re: Anonimo

                Wow I didn't know that I'm such a topic of conversation! ;) I am definitely not an expert by any stretch and never presented myself as such. DF is huge and amazing and we barely scratched the surface. Glad that folks are enjoying my recaps but obviously there are bloggers (plus Gilman's book) to give much more info.

                Sad about El Huequito on Bolivar being closed! What a shame. We've been chasing al pastor all over the Baltimore/DC region but none are cooked on a trompa. Still, right down the street is Cocuyos Andy their tacos were equally wonderful (although I don't think they have al pastor, but they have all sort of other goodies)

                El Popular is indeed essentially a diner but it felt very homey and was, as CH suggested, a great destination for a weary traveler. On a 2-3 day trip it might not be worth a meal.

                Mercado Coyoacan did indeed have tons of beautiful looking food but we had plans that night (can't recall which night that was) so we just looked. But I'd love treat there. Merced was mostly produce although there were stands around the periphery. Not sure how they stack up. Lagunilla was good but I don't know if it's destination. The blue corn tortillas were a highlight. But maybe Marisceria el Caguamo is the top non-taco stall we tried. And don't forget Margerita and Mi Lupita!

                Wow, what a place!!

                1. re: kukubura

                  It's good to read of others' experiences and to make one's own choices based in part of those. It's also good to boldly go forth and try a place that you "discover" on your own. Not all places deliver a first class experience, but experimenting is often part of the fun.

                  For example: we have enjoyed eating at Cafe La Blanca, on 5 de Mayo in Centro. Would I recommend it? Not really. It's a big, eating hall with an extensive, but not particularly distinguished menu. But it filled a need for us more than once. Sometimes*, you just don't feel like going out and having a big deal, high end meal. To me, El Popular is in a similar category as La Blanca. (In fact, they are less than two blocks apart.)

                  *Most of the time, in our opinion.

            2. re: cristina

              Cristina, which El Huequito is closed? In Centro there's the original on Ayuntamiento, then one on Bolivar and one on Gante. I'm assuming they're not all closed.

              Parenthetically they just opened (as in yesterday) a new one in Condesa at Juan Escutia and the Circuito Interior.

              1. re: Soul Vole

                El Huequito on Bolívar is the one that's closed. Here's a link to the newspaper article.
                http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/ciudad/...

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

                1. re: cristina

                  Interesting, thanks. I think I prefer the one on Gante anyway since the street's closed to cars.

                  I just went to the new one I mentioned and it's going to be of possible interest only to locals. It's quite unappealingly located directly under the overpass there. And it looks like they've greatly expanded the menu, giving the impression that they're "going chain". Still the al pastor was almost as good as I remember, better than I was expecting for day 2.

                  1. re: Soul Vole

                    Are you in the DF now? Email me patalarga@baddog.com

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

              2. re: Veggo

                Any suggestions for where to try chiles en nogada? Either in Mexico City or in Oaxaca? Or in the other towns/cities I mentioned?

                1. re: Dave MP

                  About a week ago my wife and I (and some friends) ate chiles en nogada at lovely Azul/Histórico, Isabel la Católica #30, Mexico City. They are offered as either dulce or salado or mixto. Judy and I both ordered mixtos; she preferred the salados, I preferred the dulces.

                  The difference is in the preparation of the sauce, not in the picadillo filling, which is the same in both chiles. If you order mixtos, the plate is prepared with half the chile covered with the sweet sauce and half with the savory. Both sauces are prepared with fresh walnuts, as they should be. The chiles are served at room temperature, also as is the tradition. The portion (one chile poblano stuffed with picadillo) is huge. The at-table service is gorgeous. I don't remember the price, sorry.

                  Steve Drucker, thanks for the props!

                  And an aside to whoever commented about Condesa being chi-chi: I live in Condesa, and I assure you that it is not chi-chi in any way. Polanco is chi-chi to the max. Condesa is not.

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

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    You will find them as a seasonal special at many better restaurants in D.F. , I had the dish at several spots in Polanco, plus Cuernavaca and of course Puebla. I think it will be widely available. You may want to check menus during daytime strolling as you plan your evening dining choices in some of the towns you will visit.

                2. A few thoughts on Mexico City:

                  Tacos el pastor: Didn't do anything like a pastor crawl when Perry and I were there in December, but we had the perfect experience at El Tizoncito in Condesa. Luck seated us right next to the taquero, shaving meat and pineapple off the spit. We were sweaty even outdoors (maybe also since we were a little drunk), but it was the best seat there. He was white-haired, distinguished, eyeing us for when we signaled to him that we wanted a few more, served up on tiny waxed paper sheets on plates. At the end, the waiter counted up the plates, like at dum sum. Probably could have gone on eating them till we fell off our stools. It was one of those perfect food moments.

                  I loved Flor de Lis, a 90-year-old place on a quiet street in Condesa, known for its tamales and enchiladas: formal, tuxedo'd waiters, very unformal room. Perry was less crazy about it, but to me it felt like I imagined old Mexico City feeling like: ladies eating enchiladas after shopping, a trumpet player and drummer busking through the open grille to the street. If you go, get the bunuelos and natillas for dessert. Good place for breakfast or lunch.

                  We had a splurge at Azul Condesa--they were doing a regional menu from Veracruz. It was OK, though not memorable. Best dish was a seriously spicy shrimp dish that came with crisp little dried chiles. Oddly, the night we were there, we were one of, like, four different gay couples dining in the place. Maybe it's listed in some LGBT travel guide?

                  And though there's a chain-restaurant quality to it, I loved the lamb barbacoa at El Bajio (the one in Polanco).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Jbirdsall

                    Couple of things: I have frequently written here on this board that the original site of El Bajío, in Col. Azcapotzalco, is my favorite--and precisely for the reason that Jbirdsall mentioned. There are 10 El Bajío restaurants now, scattered all over the DF, and the only one that feels old-timey to me is the first, the original. The food is good at the rest, but the ambiance is definitely chain.

                    And re Azul/Condesa: Colonia Condesa is arguably the gay-est colonia in Mexico City. My wife and I joke that the rule for moving into Condesa is that you have to have at least two dogs and be gay. We have two dogs...and we fit the other part of the equation, too. It figures that gay tourists--who often stay in or head for Condesa--and gay couples from hither and thither in the DF would go to eat at Azul/Condesa.

                    And I also like Flor de Lis. It's not the kind of place that wants or draws culinary tourists, but it's just dandy for a very adequate comida.

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

                  2. I second El Hidalguense for barbacoa. The pulque is very good there as well, not as viscous as at other pulque bars, and they often have flavors that no one else has. The grilled-cheese appetizer is lovely too -- wedge of cheese speckled with herbs, thrown on the grill and cooked until golden, served on a blue-corn tortilla. Just remember they're only open Friday to Sunday.

                    Con Sabor a Tixtla is excellent. I'd highly recommend it for a taste of regional flavors that you can't find in other parts of Mexico. (Save if you visited Guerrero in person.) If you go, PLEASE get the taco de chile relleno, which has a to-die-for sweet-and-savory filling, and the tacos dorados in consomme. Tixtla recently started opening for breakfast too, so that can be an option.

                    On tamales, my current favorite spot is Cafe de Raiz in Roma, on Mérida a few blocks from the Plaza Luis Cabrera. (I wrote about it on my blog The Mija Chronicles: http://www.themijachronicles.com/2012... ) They do a really interesting rice tamal with crema, and some of the best bean tamales to be found anywhere.

                    For chiles en nogada, it's worth the trek to Nicos, a family-run restaurant in Azcapotzalco, about 20 minutes from Polanco. It's a few blocks from the original El Bajio. I tried five chiles last year and it was at the top of my list. The chile at the Azul restaurants is a close second.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: danebaxter

                      Con Sabor a Tixtla has moved. The new address is Calle Chiapas #206, Col. Roma. It's not far from the old location, but it is a bit closer to public transportation.

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

                      1. re: danebaxter

                        What are the prices and fanciness levels at Nicos? I see they're on OpenTable, which leads me to believe they are on the higher end?

                        Any good suggestions for more casual places w/ good chiles en nogada?

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Dave MP, Nico's is a homey, comfortable, delightful restaurant--relatively casual dress--and the prices are about the same as those at El Bajío and El Cardenal. Comida for two, probably 700-800 pesos.

                          The other day my wife and I walked over for lunch at El Portalito, our go-to place for comida corrida (http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico...). AFTER we had ordered our meal, Judy noticed that there was a wall sign reading "Chiles en Nogada". Drat. Mid-meal, one of the wait staff brought over a plate holding one of the most beautiful and largest chiles en nogada that I have ever seen. We're going back this week or next to try one. The chile is available as part of the menú del día. Your meal will include soup, a side dish or two, the agua fresca del día, and a completely nondescript plastic cup of gelatin. 90 pesos per person for all.

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

                          1. re: cristina

                            That place sounds great! Would the menú del día be available only for lunch? Or is that something that restaurants extend into the evening/dinner hours as well? I'm curious about El Portalito in particular, and about restaurants in general.

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              Nico's closes at 7:30?

                              Emblematic of the problem of how to fit in several chow events daily in the face of the rhythms of a city that in the main center around the main meal being eaten between 3 and 5 PM, with only higher end restaurants commonly open for evening dining.

                              Los Uruguayos in Condesa, well reviewed within the last couple of months at Goodfoodmexicocity. Detail at http://www.chilango.com/restaurantes/.... It's mass quantities of meat, salad and potatoes...and maybe a nice empanada?

                              1. re: Steve Drucker

                                Steve, here in Mexico almost everyone eats the main meal of the day at the hours you mention. However, what are open at night are taco stands, by the zillion and on nearly every corner of the DF.

                                It's frequently a challenge for estadounidenses (residents of the USA) to get a good grip not only on eating times, but on what's eaten when in Mexico. For example, seafood is a morning and early afternoon food. Tamales are a morning food, or a supper food, but are not much eaten at midday. Tacos (at least in Mexico City) are an anytime food, but nighttime tacos are ubiquitous.

                                There is a lot to learn about all of this. If you can adjust your own mealtime rhythm while you are in the country, you'll find that you can eat almost anything you choose--just at times other than those most familiar to you.

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

                                1. re: cristina

                                  I think the greatest challenge could turn out to be the meal times/food quantity/time of day paradigm change. As to what we eat when--we're pretty catholic. I just wish we could metabolize twice daily tamales.

                                  So fortified with ceviche, sopa sieta mares and shrimp al mojo ajo late morning believe me I'm so there. And I could indeed envision then settling in for a 3 PM main meal and drinks, followed by mid-evening tacos.

                                  My work is set out for me.

                                  1. re: Steve Drucker

                                    I think you'll be surprised at how quickly you adapt to the Mexican eating times.

                                    The first time I came to central Mexico, which was nearly (yikes!!) 30 years ago, it took only a couple days to get acclimated and by the time I left I was a convert to how sensible it really was. If I was't doing the elder care thing with my mother, my main meal of the day would still be in the 2-4 pm time frame.

                              2. re: Dave MP

                                David MP, El Portalito is only open for desayuno (breakfast) and comida (midday meal, the main meal of the day in Mexico).

                                El Portalito is standard-issue comida corrida, but it is consistently adequate (not in any way great) and makes a good place for my wife and me to head for comida if I don't cook. It's just around the corner from our building. The chiles en nogada really did look amazing, though. When you're in Mexico City, give me a heads-up if you want to go and we can meet. patalarga@baddog.com

                        2. September 16th is Independence Day and it starts at midnight...I like to think since it's my birthday and Veggo's too...President speaks in the huge square.
                          It's a huge party scene of great food and hopefully you leave on the 17th, so you can experience it all..
                          Also, streetgourmetla, is fab to follow via twitter or his website to get great recs.

                          www.streetgourmetla.com

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            We're going to be in Oaxaca on the night of the 15th, and then we're leaving Mexico (from Oaxaca) on the 16th. Hopefully there will be some fun festivities (and food) in Oaxaca as well.

                            And happy early birthday!

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              The night of the 15th is when it cranks up, so you will catch a bit of the fever. Buen provecho, y ten un buen viaje!

                              EDIT: and Dave, you can pretend that Mexico is throwing you a farewell party on your last night, as Beach Chick and I pretend they are throwing us a birthday party.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Hola Poppi..

                                A la B, A la Ba, A la Bim...Bom...Ba...Mexico..Mexico...Ra Ra Ra
                                ; )

                              2. re: Dave MP

                                Ask at the place you're staying in Oaxaca where you might find a CALENDA on the night of the 15th. So much fun--street dancing, street drinking, street fireworks, and all before the main events in the zócalo! Then be sure to get to the zócalo in time for the GRITO--ask where you're staying for the time it will take place. Viva México!

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

                                 
                                 
                                 
                                1. re: cristina

                                  Great pics cristina!
                                  Have a drink and dance in the streets for me...hope DD is with you!

                                  1. re: cristina

                                    We'll be in the Roma Norte area over the weekend of Fiestas Patrias.

                                    Other than the the Grito at the Zocalo (I'm NYC born and bred and have avoided New Year's Eve at Times Square except for the night in my mis-spent youth when I drove a Gypsy cab and schlepped back and forth there a half dozen times), any local / nearby food or drink suggestions and 411 for that Saturday night and Sunday would be greatly appreciated?

                                    Will Roma Norte/Condesa restaurants be extra crowded that night?

                                    1. re: Steve Drucker

                                      Steve, if middle and upper-class Mexicans are going to party in a restaurant, the night of the 15th is like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July and Mother's Day all rolled into one. The quick answer to your question is YES.

                                      Many restaurants put on a special soup-to-nuts, wine or champagne included, menu and most places are packed to the max. If you plan to have dinner in a popular place, it's urgent that you have reservations on the night of the 15th. EVERYTHING--bars, restaurants, the works--will be super-crowded on the 15th, and given that Col. Roma and Col. Condesa are extremely popular with the late 20s-30s set, it might already be too late to find a table at your restaurant of choice, whatever that might be.

                                      All of the Zócalo festivities will be televised, so unless you want to be packed into a crowd like tortillas, I would definitely (and WILL definitely) stay home.

                                      Having said all that, if you know where you would like to eat that night, post a list here and I'll gladly call them to see if they have space for you. Tell me how many you will be and what time you'd like to eat.

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

                                  2. re: Dave MP

                                    Thanks Dave!
                                    You'll be in on the party...it starts around midnight or earlier and the whole Country is celebrating..so much great food, drink and festivities..you're going to have a blast!
                                    Heads up on the flying shrapnel with all the guns going off in the air..

                                    https://twitter.com/streetgourmetla

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      Beach Chick, not all the GRITO festivities in Mexico start at midnight. Dave really needs to ask what time things will get underway in Oaxaca. In Morelia, the Grito is usually around 10PM. In Guadalajara, too. In a smaller city or small town, the celebrations can start even earlier.

                                      I'm in Mexico City and will actually be in Morelia for the 15th--DD hasn't said what she's doing this year, but I don't think she'll be here. Drat!

                                      And Dave, be sure to arrange your transportation to the airport in advance for the 16th. The 16th is the legal Independence Day holiday and the taxi forces might be fewer than usual.

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

                                      1. re: cristina

                                        Not sure what I'm doing for the 15th either :-), I just know I won't be in DF :-(

                                        A few of us here in SD are thinking about heading down to the Valle de Guadalupe and Drew Deckman's pop-up restaruant Deckman's at Mogor (the Mogor Badan winery) to see what he's up to before he leaves to head back to San Jose del Cabo for the season.