Long trip report: Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca
I recently enjoyed a two week trip through Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca with my wife, my brother, his wife and their 21 month old son. This itinerary was a repeat of a visit my wife and I made in 2012, so we visited places largely familiar to us but also some new spots.
Since, for me, traveling is largely about eating, I thought I would post some culinary observations to contribute to this great forum. I used a combination of sources for my pre-trip research (i.e. Chowhound, Nick Gilman, Mija Chronicles, and various other sites). Although I compiled a massive list of places to eat, I only got to a fraction of them, partly because I was usually acting as tour guide and translator for our group. (Also, the logistics of traveling with a toddler were sometimes challenging.) Accordingly, I apologize in advance if some of my details are sketchy or incomplete. Note that any prices I list are for just my wife and I and include a 15-20% tip.
- Our first meal here was at Tacos Gus in Condesa. I have read that this is somehow related to the famous Tacos Hola and serves a similar selection of tacos guisados (about 15 different stewed fillings dished up from simmering clay pots). My wife and I enjoyed tacos of steak with squash, chard with tomatoes (my favorite), cauliflower fritters, and mushrooms, all loaded with black beans and guacamole. The tacos can be a messy affair but everything was delicious, fresh and cheap (125p for 6 tacos and a drink). I could easily have eaten here again. Get here early for the best selection; many items we saw at noon were gone when we returned later in the afternoon.
- La Ostra in Condesa, a Nick Gilman suggestion, was a deceptively large seafood place and a nice mix of families and hipsters on a bustling Sunday afternoon. My wife enjoyed her meal, shrimp in mojo de ajo (garlic sauce), as did my sister-in-law with her "hamburguesa de camarones" (as described, a shrimp patty in a hamburger bun). My grilled fish filet and the side of rice were a bit dry, though. The 350p tab seemed fair for a fresh seafood place in an upscale neighborhood like this.
- Frutos Prohibidos by Parque Mexico in Condesa provided an easy meal when my nephew threatened a meltdown. It wasn't Mexican food per se, but we all enjoyed pretty good wrap sandwiches and aquas frescas that hit the spot in a pinch. (About 175p for 2 sandwiches and drinks.) They bill themselves as a healthy wrap/salad/smoothie venue, so it would be a good choice when you get tired of Mexican food. (You know what I mean).
- Tacos Canasta Especial (Madero just west of the Zocalo) seemed a bit greasier than other tacos de canasta I've had before but the tacos with frijoles, papa, and mole verde were tasty enough. They seemed to run a safe and efficient operation, with separate employees for handling money and food.
- Two visits to Rauxa (Calle Parras by Parque Espana) in Condesa provided some highlights. While breakfast here was good (my enfrijoladas were OK but my wife very much enjoyed her chilaquiles with arrachera; a plate of jicama with amaranth and honey was intriguing), the comida corrida really shined. My fish poached with al pastor spicing was perfectly cooked; the horchata with melon was excellent; and my wife and I loved a complementary slice of flan, even though neither one of us is a big flan fan. (My coffee-despising wife even liked the coffee sauce accompanying the flan.) It is a cozy place with about a dozen sidewalk tables. The staff was exceedingly friendly and we had some long conversations with a couple of them. The comida corrida ran about 110p, I think.
- I wanted to like Filicori (on Saltillo in Condesa), since it was recommended by the otherwise excellent staff at our nearby hotel, but the food was a mixed bag. It is an Italian/pizza/Argentine steak place, and while my brother and his wife enjoyed their panini sandwiches, my wife and I found our salad and pasta to be lackluster, especially for a 430p bill.
- El Beso Huasteco in Roma, another Gilman pick, was great: comfort food in a nicely restored mansion and not overly expensive. I enjoyed bocoles (little masa rounds) with huevos, tinga de pollo, and tinga de res (my favorite). My wife liked but couldn't finish a huge platter with sopes, cecina (with beef, not pork), chorizo, queso asado, guacamole, sour cream and a few other things. My brother and his wife claimed their tacos of barbacoa de res were delicious but I didn't try any. Also, the table was set with a selection of six(!) salsas. With a few drinks each, the total for my wife and I was about 500p.
- Jugos Canada (5 de Mayo west of the Zocalo) was a good, clean place to try fresh juices if the street juice carts make you nervous. My wife's strawberry and orange juice was tasty but my pineapple, banana and grenadine mix was fantastic. (I drank half of hers also and found out that you can have too much juice.)
- Cafe Popular (5 de Mayo west of the Zocalo) was a convenient, comfortable place for a break when we were overly tired and hungry from sightseeing. Open 24 hours, it feels like Denny’s, but with good food. My wife and I ordered breakfast plates for lunch while my sister-in-law got some perfectly good enchiladas. Only about 140p for our share.
- El Parnita in Roma was near the top of my list after reading a great review on the Mija Chronicles blog. Tacos and tortas with viajero (a juicy cerdo and lomo mix) were tasty, as was a breaded shrimp taco with lettuce and cream. (I tried my first chapulines here, in the form of a taco. They were OK, although I had to chew them thoroughly to properly break down the legs. I'm glad I tried them but I can't say I would order them again.) The owner, a gracious older woman, personally greeted us as we left and thanked us for coming, a nice touch. There were plenty of seats when we arrived at 5:00, about an hour before closing, but it was a large space and I’ve read it can get crowded at peak times. Our share came to about 340p for plenty of food and a few drinks.
- At a health fair on Obregon in Roma, I tried tepache, an ancient lightly fermented pineapple drink with cinnamon and sugar. It was nicely fizzy and refreshing. (I figured that an organic food/health fair was as good a place as any to get safe drinks.)
- Super Tortas Puebla (Ave 3 Poniente #311) is a plain sit-down place a few blocks west of the Zocalo. This was one of my favorite meals of the trip in terms of the price/quality ratio. Tortas of pollo pipian verde, pollo milanesa, and pollo adobado(?) were all delicious. An order of flautas was nothing special but eagerly devoured. Interestingly, a few days later when I asked our hotel’s front desk for torta suggestions, they pointed me here. 150p for our share, including drinks.
- Las Ranas - This famous place served my brother’s favorite dish of the trip, a cochinita pibil, which while perhaps not authentic, was delicious. The tacos arabes were smoky and good, some chopped bistec was a little dry but flavorful, and a cheese quesadilla we ordered for the baby was so surprisingly tasty that the adults ate most of it. 150p for a two person share of probably far too much meat.
- The restaurant at Hotel Colonial, where my wife and I stayed, provided some unexciting but reliably solid meals. (I tried my first mole here - mole poblano over eggs - and learned that I’m not really a big mole fan. I think it was well done; it was complex and interesting and I had no trouble finishing it. It’s just not something I would find myself craving.) Huevos rancheros, tostadas, guacamole, tacos dorados and other dishes were just fine (although some spaghetti ordered for the baby looked pretty gloppy and my chicken soup seemed to have canned vegetables). The 400 year old former monastery makes for a very scenic dining setting and the servers were professional but exceptionally friendly. They bent over backwards to accommodate the toddler and did everything they could to make us feel at home. Breakfasts for two ran about 180p.
- La Poblanita (Av 5 Poniente between 16 de Septiembre and Calle 3 Sur) is just a window on the north side of the street, serving pelonas, molotes and other Poblano street foods. We got a couple of pelonas, deep-fried bread rolls stuffed with shredded chicken, lettuce, cream and salsa. They were pretty good but I had to agree with my sister-in-law’s opinion that the crispy rolls almost had a stale bread quality. (Perhaps they are better eaten hot from the fryer; they had cooled off by the time we walked to our picnic spot.) Still, I had no trouble finishing mine. Something like 22p for one pelona.
- Fonda la Mexicana (Av 16 de Sept. #706, with another location on Av. 3 Poniente) is a simple but nice sit-down restaurant with very good food. My chicken enchiladas with mole verde was one of the best versions I’ve had. My brother liked the enchiladas with mole poblano and his wife liked the enchiladas with verde, rojo and poblano moles. My wife enjoyed her lamb mixiote (bone-on lamb cooked in parchment paper); with a stack of tortillas, guacamole and a delicious puddle of juice on the plate, this made excellent tacos. Also, their red (smoky) and green (tart) table salsas were quite good. 320p for our share.
- La Olla - We never got the timing right for their comida corrida which we enjoyed so much in 2012 but had a couple of other pleasant meals here. After a long bus ride to Oaxaca, delayed by construction traffic, a light dinner here proved perfect for our first evening. My wife enjoyed the cream of squash flower soup and my guajillo and tortilla soup was excellent. With a beer and a side of guacamole, it was just the right amount of food for a late (for us) dinner. On another visit, a chicken leg and large vegetable pieces in a light broth was simple and filling but a bit strange as a soup as the large pieces were a little awkward to negotiate with a knife and fork. My brother had an arrachera something-or-other which he liked while the ladies enjoyed bowls of the squash flower soup and a salad.
- Quince Letras - While talking about La Olla with our host at Las Mariposas hotel, she excitedly recommended Quince Letras, calling it "mas Oaxacan" and less "international" than La Olla, so we had to try it. With Slow Food logos on their laminated menus, this place didn't look as rustic as I had expected but the food was very good. My Oaxacan soup (guajillo, tortillas, herbs) and a salad of greens, broccoli, avocado and pesto were tasty, while my wife liked her arrachera and salad. My brother had a mole "trilogy" of almendrado, negro and rojo moles over leg, thigh and breast of chicken. (He pronounced the almendrado his favorite and the rojo the least interesting.) If you go, be sure to press onward to the lovely courtyard in the back, as the streetside dining room looks a bit noisy. Lunch was about 400p for two people.
- Cocina Economica Isabel (Cosijoeza #200, east of Pino Suarez) - My wife and I can't say enough good things about this place. We had breakfast here twice and probably could have eaten here every day. Their enfrijoladas (tortillas in black bean sauce) were simple and delicious, probably one of my favorite dishes so far in Mexico. My wife enjoyed her scrambled egg plates while I also liked their huevos divorciados. Licuados with banana and strawberry were quite good. They have a nice leafy courtyard and it seems popular with locals. With breakfasts around 130p total for both of us, this place probably had the highest quality/price ratio of the trip.
- Oaxacan Coffee (or something like that) is a tiny shop on Gurrion/Constitution across from the entrance to the Ethnobotanical Garden. Their coffee was quite good, including an excellent ice coffee, which I often can't find a good version of in Seattle. They also have a selection of sweet and savory croissants; my wife said the apple croissant was good.
- Casa Oaxaca - This famous place provided a perfect demonstration of how higher prices aren't necessarily proportional to food quality. To be clear, everything we had was good, solid food. It just wasn't two or three times better than other more inexpensive restaurants we enjoyed. (To say nothing of being 10 times better than some tacos or a quesadilla.) My mahi mahi with a tomato/lemon/caper sauce was surprisingly dry, but tasty enough. Meanwhile, my wife's Oaxacan bean soup was the least interesting version we had in Oaxaca (after La Olla and Quince Letras). She liked her shrimp, though. My brother and his wife enjoyed a tlayuda with tasajo and duck tacos but I received no report other than "mmmm". I will say, though, that the setting was spectacular. Arriving around sunset, we were early enough to get a rooftop table without reservations. With a warm breezy evening settling in, mountain silhouettes on the horizon, and a band setting up in front of Santo Domingo down below, it was quite a pleasant dining experience. (Watching the server struggle to light the tea candles in a translucent wax paper bag caused some nervous shifting in our seats. No tabletop pyrotechnics ensued, however.) The 620p tab for two of us was our most expensive meal in Mexico ever.
- La Popular (corner of Manuel Garcia Vigil and Jesus Carranza). This was probably the biggest surprise of the trip. I went seeking some delicious sounding tortas I found mention of here and there. Instead, we arrived to be greeted by one of the "business partners" (it was never really clear what his role was but he was clearly directing things), who informed us of radical new changes in their format. Basically, he told us to act as if we were guests at a friend's home and talked us into four plates served family style. I'm not a big ceviche or sushi fan, so the tuna ceviche was my least favorite item but seemed very fresh and the peanut, avocado, and tomato dressing was tasty. A tlayuda with a generous topping of huitlacoche and queso fresco was good. Finally, we had probably the best seafood of the trip. A plate of shrimp was perfectly cooked and had an interesting sauce but I can't begin to guess at the ingredients. (Our host said that it contained, among other things, something called "pochote"(?) from his Oaxacan hometown.) Lastly, we ordered a second helping of perfectly moist mahi mahi in a delicious tomato sauce. The host made our visit especially lively, as he was gregarious, clearly very proud of their food and highly opinionated about the Oaxacan restaurant scene. (Ask him whether other restaurants overcook seafood and watch the sparks fly.) Our two person share was 450p.
- Marco Polo on Parque Llano provided some reliable seafood in their pleasant courtyard. Filete a la talla, baked with a guajillo mayo, was moist and delicious. The ladies enjoyed salmon with various coverings of cheese, shrimp or bechamel (salmon Verona and Napolitano, I believe). Not my thing, but I heard no complaints from them. My brother was craving Baja style fish tacos, which was not on the menu, but the kitchen improvised some fish tacos which he deemed tasty. I had heard fantastic things about the oven-baked banana dessert, which was good but probably over-hyped. Our two person share was 400p (with a sangria which my wife claimed was the best of the trip).
- Itanoni - I love their mission of using local, heirloom corn, but I think the hype has made me want to be more blown away by the food. Still, it's tasty enough and is a comfortable place to try tacos and other street-type foods. My wife loved her multiple tetelas with mushrooms, cream and cheese. I liked the tacos with pollo in salsa verde (my favorite), huevos in salsa roja, avocado (simple), and cochinita pibil (a little dry). The limonada with hierba buena (I think that's what it was called) was fantastic. We stuffed ourselves for 275p. We took a cab there, as it's a bit north of downtown, but it's a pleasant 15-20 walk back to Parque Llano.
- Mayordomo - Sadly, we didn't get around to trying much chocolate this trip but the malteada (chocolate milkshake) from the Mayordomo in the bus station was 20p well spent.
- Cafe Los Cuiles - Starving on a Sunday evening and finding many restaurants closed, we wandered into and enjoyed some simple but excellent fried egg tortas. It was nothing fancy, but the egg with avocado, lettuce and tomato absolutely hit the spot at the time. Two tortas with a beer and a milkshake was only 120p. On other visits, their coffee was also quite good.
- Cafe Xiguela (east of Parque Llano, maybe on Miguel Hidalgo?) - Another guest at our hotel recommended this cafe and adjoining organic health food store. Our breakfast of enfrijoladas and eggs was good but our ciabatta sandwiches to go seemed to hold more promise. Even when unwrapped on the bus and a bit soggy four hours later, they were very tasty. I would have loved to have tried our cerdo (pork) and mozzarella/tomato/pesto sandwiches when they were fresh. 370p got us breakfast and sandwiches for two.
- Nieves Chongita in Mercado Juarez - I was seeking the famous Aguas Casilda, which was unfortunately closed, but this ice cream stand next door was very good. I tried the leche quemada (burnt milk) with tuna (cactus fruit). I had tried leche quemada in a paleta earlier but the “burnt” flavor was rather muted. In this version, though, it was like eating ice cream over a smoky campfire; I was torn between being repelled by the smoke and wanting to taste more out of curiosity. Very interesting. Also, nieves of mango with chile, pina colada with tuna, and chocolate were all quite rich and delicious.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading!