Eating out with kids in Mexico DF, Puebla, Oaxaca
In July and August I will travel with my 6 and 8-year olds kids and wife from Mexico DF to Belize. I have searched this site and others but no one seems to have the answer on this: we are keen to try everything from street stalls to high end places (the kids will eat most food too). Which restaurants on the high end side in DF, Puebla and Oaxaca would you recommend where we eat can great food and still come in with sneakers? How long in advance do I need to make reservations there?
Sneakers shouldn't be a problem anywhere, but at high-end restaurants you don't want to go extreme-casual with the rest of your clothing. What I mean is, the DF isn't a beach destination, but is somewhat more dignified at the high end. You probably already know that.
As for children, many restaurants in Mexico offer an option for children, not a kids' menu but a kids' play area if they get bored during a long-ish meal.
Remember that the main meal of the day in Mexico is eaten sometime between 2.30 and 5PM. That's generally when the A Team is on duty in a restaurant kitchen.
Places you might want to try in the DF:
--Máximo Bistrot. You will want to call at least 2 weeks in advance to reserve for either comida or cena.
--Azul/Histórico or Azul/Condesa. You can make a reservation for comida up until 2.30PM, after that they do not take comida reservations.
--Pujol. Easiest to score a reservation online.
--El Bajío in Azcapotzalco. Reserve a day or two in advance.
--Nicos in Azcapotzalco. Ditto.
--Dulce Patria. Two or three days in advance, maybe not for kids.
--Take the kids to Xochimilco on a Sunday, go out on the boats, and eat while you're floating around. It's a blast!
In the city, go to the Mercado 20 de noviembre for the experience of the carne asada hall. Extremely casual and extremely fun. Your hotel will tell you where it is.
Breakfast at Fonda Rosita, Mercado de la Merced. Get the enfrijoladas and the chilaquiles en cazuela. And a hot chocolate made with water, not milk. Ask at your hotel for directions.
--Restaurante La Teca, Calle Violetas #200A, Col. Reforma. A quick taxi from the city center, and supremely worth the ride. Regional food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A do-not-miss. Great for kids, casual, fantastic, and off the beaten tourist track.
There are a zillion other restaurants in the city. I wouldn't give you a nickel for most of them, but others have different opinions.
Outside the city:
--Restaurante Tlamanalli, in Teotitlán del Valle. Combine your trip (it's only about 30 minutes by taxi) to see the rug makers and eat at this incredibly wonderful restaurant. Restaurant is casual, open only between 1PM and 4PM Tuesday through Sunday. Don't miss it--it's one of the best restaurants in the world. Your hotel will tell you where to catch a taxi to go; taxis are very inexpensive.
Be sure to enjoy yourselves in Oaxaca at the Mercados 20 de noviembre and Benito Juárez. You'll love them both. Lots of food stands to choose from.
Take the kids to the zócalo in the city center and let them run a bit. Buy them a cup of esquites (corn off the cob prepared with epazote, etc), a cotton candy, an ice cream. Heaven on earth.
If you look at the link below, put Oaxaca in the search window and a lot more information will come up.
Re: DF I don't think Pujol is a good recommendation for kids, they are far too young for it (look at the menu). They would like the Majestic or Holiday Inn on the Zocolo as the view is lovely. The San Angel Inn has a lovely courtyard but they are picky about footwear! I like the Spanish atmosphere at Meson del Cid and the cafe at the Bellas Artes is nice too. The main Sanborn's in the Centro is delightful and your children would enjoy that.
I think the OP said he and his family are interested in high-end restaurants. IMHO...well, the ones you mention are not so much. The San Angel Inn would be good for a drink or two, but not for a meal. And the views from the Majestic or the Holiday Inn are great, but not the food. IMHO again, the Sanborns you mention lovely outside but is god-awful, both in service and in food. Sorry...YMMV.
I do agree that Pujol might be a stretch for the kids, but given that it is high on the high-end list, I mentioned it.
You seem very knowledgeable, thanks! In our 4 night stay, we probably will only have 1 high-end meal. I assume we can taste dishes of the regions that we don't travel (west of DF) in other, less expensive/posh places. Any ideas, especially in Polanco or near touristic sites except Xochimilco that you already mention? You mention Pujol. What do you think of Biko then? Normally I try to avoid overhyped Top 50 restaurants, but Biko has a Basque influence I read, the region that I most love when it comes to food. We are staying in Polanco so that is convenient. I can’t imagine the quality differs much for comida or cena in such high profile places, please advise as for us eating at night may be more convenient.
Evening dining narrows things down. Neither El Bajío nor Nicos is open at night.
Biko is not Mexican food, as you mentioned, and if it were me and I were in Mexico City (oops, it is me and I AM in Mexico City--LOL), with just a few days to eat here, I would definitely choose Mexican over another nationality's cuisine.
Both Pujol and Dulce Patria are in Polanco. If it were me (again with that!) with two young children in tow, I'd take Dulce Patria. The owner's dishes are extrapolations on traditional recipes, the presentations are divine, and I think you will enjoy it all a lot.
I still say the A team is more likely to be in the kitchen for comida, even in these high-end spots.
All that aside, Máximo Bistrot is all it's cracked up to be AND it's not far from Polanco AND it's open at night. You need to get on it right away, though, if you want a reservation for the time you'll be here.
I'm not sure I understand this: "I assume we can taste dishes of the regions that we don't travel (west of DF) in other, less expensive/posh places." Help me out, please.
That's what I thought, too. But I'm going to wait for the OP to clarify.
Having said that, regional food from elsewhere in Mexico can be kind of iffy in the DF. For example, I have yet to find decent carnitas (no matter that they might be advertised as 'estilo Michoacán') in Mexico City.
Hi Christina and DiningDiva,
You are asking the right questions, thanks! I am totally with you re Mexican so I will book Dulce Patria.
Furthermore: My goal is to sample as many regional cuisines as possible during my trip. Since I will not travel west of DF, I reckoned I have to try that in DF itself. Since it is so difficult to find a good high end place, any cuisine as long as it is Mexican is good.
I counted on the regional cuisines in low and mid range places. If you could also help me there, especially in Polanco or near touristic sites, except Xochimilco that you already mention, I would be very very happy.
Utrechter, I'm not sure I understand why you say, "it is so difficult to find a good high end place". It's not, but you do have to be willing to concede to Mexico's mealtimes and the enormous size of the city. Both El Bajío and Nicos are really fantastic, but they serve only through the comida hour. Neither is ultra-high end (if by that you mean fancy setting, hovering gloved waiter service, and food served under metal bells). I can find you that, too--the St. Regis Hotel dining room or Restaurante Estoril in Polanco come to mind, but I can't in my wildest imagination believe that that is what you are looking for. Most restaurants at that level serve 'international' cuisine, whatever that means. Today, high-end Mexican usually equates to a slick modern room, low lighting, tiny portions of food that has some vague relation to Mexican cuisine, and IMHO is basically unsatisfying, and not truly Mexican.
It seems to me that what you want is real Mexican food, very well prepared, representative of the country, delicious, and well-served--and you want it in Polanco, a high end neighborhood. IMHO (again) Dulce Patria is as close as you are going to come to meeting that criteria.
If you would be interested in another cuisine, go to JASO, one of the DF's most exquisite restaurants--but not Mexican. The husband/wife owner team trained at CIA Hyde Park; he's in charge of savories and she does the sweets. Really, this beautifully designed and appointed restaurant (also in Polanco, at Newton #88) is top of the line, but you could have the same SORT of meal in any world-class city--not necessarily the same extraordinary quality, but the same style food.
If you are willing to travel to the Centro Histórico for an evening meal, I recommend Azul/Histórico, at Isabel la Católica #30. The setting is in the gorgeous courtyard of a 17th century palace, the food (if you order well, and I would be glad to give you some advice about that) can be fantastic, and it is 100% traditional Mexican. Executive chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is in charge--google his name for information about why he is a national treasure.
Finding representative, traditional, regional cuisines in Mexico City is very difficult. Actually, my experience is that it is pretty much impossible. I'm sure you are aware that in many cases, the farther away from your homeland you are, the less well you are able to reproduce its cuisine. Regional cuisines in Mexico are based on regional and seasonal ingredients. In Mexico City, you can't source, for example, Oaxaca *tomate riñón*, Michoacán *nurite* or most of the *maíces criollos* that give regional foods their signature. Without genuine regional ingredients, DF cooks make do with ordinary tomatoes, a dried herb instead of its fresh counterpart, or corn from another region. And the dish loses its tradition, its flavor, and its heritage. Approximation is not tradition. For regional food, your best bet is to go to the regions--and even there, with few exceptions, the best food is produced in private homes, not in restaurants or street stands.
The other difficulty is that you would prefer to stay in Polanco. A neighborhood that prides itself on a Mercedes Benz dealership, a Ferragamo store and a Tiffany store does not simultaneously pride itself on regional cuisines. Regional cuisines are predominately indigenous, and Polanco is about as far from indigenous as you can get.
There is, however, an enormous multitude of places to eat in the DF. In Coyoacán, go to the Frida Kahlo museum and then to the market and try the enormous and delicious tostadas. In San Ángel, go to Bazar Sábado--but first have the brunch buffet at the Fonda San Ángel, just at the corner of the market, on Plaza San Jacinto. In Teotihuacán, go to the pyramids and then to Las Grutas for comida. In the Centro Histórico, have breakfast at El Cardenal, go to the Mercado San Juan, and then explore the zócalo. In the Zona Rosa, poke around for a while and then have a meal (any hour of the day or night) at La Casa de Toño at Londres #144, specializing in pozole and flautas.
That's a start.
Cristina, Although I am not the OP, I am most grateful for your lengthy and erudite responses here. Would you mind elaborating on your preferred dishes at Azul Historico?
Although I am not traveling with a child, I share some of the preferences of Utrechter, and will be spending a week in the DF in the fall of this year.
To clarify: with high-end I mean top notch food, typically more subtle, multiple techniques, higher quality local ingredients than lower end but possibly very good restaurants. It should be local. In Bangkok for instance you can this sort of food extremely well in some places, while the street food is almost equally good but just different. Posh setting I do not desire, as said we will wear sneakers. I was planning to book Dulce Patria as you recommended. But reading all this info maybe I don't get the dining scene in DF. If spending more money does not buy me better/different food but just a more posh setting than I'd rather stick to high quality cheaper restaurants. Re Polanco: I mentioned especially there and near touristic sites, and for must go to places off course we are willing to go the extra mile. I think you advised on some of those so thanks!
To a great degree, basic ingredients are pretty much the same, whether in a high-end establishment or in a market fonda. Beef and some fish may be a better quality at the high end, but chicken, other poultry, fruits, and vegetables will be pretty much the same. There are VERY few local ingredients; in this enormous metropolitan area (if you are flying in a commercial airliner at full speed, it takes 15 minutes to cross the city north to south), there isn't much space for agriculture. Some growers are producing in limited quantities as 'huertos urbanos' (urban gardens), but the quantities are limited enough that we see them in very few restaurants. A few growers are producing vegetables on the chinampas of Xochimilco, but again, not nearly enough to provide for the city's needs--even at the high end. Beef, pork, chicken, and fish are all brought into the city from some distance. So in terms of local ingredients, not so much is available here. Mexico in general has not developed a 'locavore' COMMERCIAL market, although in rural areas, farming for personal family consumption--with a small amount of produce sold at local outdoor markets--still exists.
I guided a small culinary tour of Americans to Oaxaca just a few months ago; one of the men insisted against all reason that there Had. To. Be. locavore, organic, etc, commercial food sources there. Small farmers growing things that met his criteria, markets where those things were available, and on and on. He refused to take my word for it that that does not exist in Oaxaca (or in most of the rest of Mexico) because, after all, such things exist in the United States and we are close to the United States. Despite his opinion, there is no such thing as a locavore movement or organic commercial food in Mexico. That sort of movement simply hasn't arrived here.
Utrechter, if you would be interested in spending half a day with me, touring a market, I would be delighted to meet with you. I think seeing how food is sourced here would help you understand the 'dining scene' in Mexico. Let me know...email@example.com
We are about to go! Thanks for the invite. However, since we travel with children who will suffer from a jetlag, we like to be as flexible as possible. Having said that, we booked Dulce Patria for comida on the last day and my aim is to try as much as possible from the tips in this thread. Thanks and I will share my experiences afterwards.
That was an outstanding reply, and let me add my second for Azúl Histórico. The setting is absolutely outstanding, and while it's not exactly Restaurant Daniel in terms of its high-end snoot factor, it's very nice with excellent service. Oh, and the desserts are surprisingly good.
On the dessert topic, incidentally, opinions vary on La Olla in Oaxaca, but the desserts there blew me away, including a Oaxacan chocolate torte with poleo (pennyroyal mint) ice cream.
Oh, and in the surroundings of Azúl are all kinds of shops and places to explore, including a toy store, so enough to keep kids occupied.
re: Das Ubergeek
Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of La Olla in Oaxaca, but I think it is very uneven. I've had very good meals there and some others that weren't all that good.
On my last visit this past November the service bordered on rude with a waiter (who has been there a long time) actually arguing with one of the members of our dining party...and they were conversing in Spanish so there was on language barrier.
I like the soups at La Olla a lot, their salads are creative and the botanas delicious. If you are staying a Las Bugambillas the B&B to which La Olla is attached, the breakfasts are out of this world.
Erica, I'm sorry not to have answered you before now. Here's a list of several dishes that have been reliably wonderful (at least IMHO) at Azul/Histórico:
--Caldo de Pollo Especial
--Salpicón de Venado
--Ensalada de Pera y Roquefort
--Buñuelos de Pato con Mole Negro (we always order this as an appetizer, if there are 3 or more of us dining. The order is 7 pieces similar in size to small fried wontons.)
--Pechuga de pollo con Mole Negro (gold standard IMHO)
--Enchiladas de pollo con Mole Negro (ditto)
--Pipián Blanco con pechuga de pavo
--Pastel de Chocolate Suave. I order this with vanilla ice cream, as I am not a fan of the gorgonzola ice cream that's on the menu.
--Pastel Tres Leches. The best in the country, out of this world.
IF you are here during August and September, be sure to try the Chiles en Nogada. They are served either salado or dulce, which refers to the mixture stuffed in the chile. Have one of each, you only live once.
I hope this helps!
Cristina is right that the "comida" is the main meal of the day.
The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is a wonderful place. Go for breakfast, too, if you like. Sit at any of the fondas (pick one that has people at it) and order a chocolate de agua con pan de yema, and maybe a tamal oaxaqueño or chilaquiles. The carnes asadas hall is great, though very smoky. Don't forget to buy cebollitas (spring onions) and other vegetables at one end of the other so the guys running the grill can cook them with your meat. Then you get tortillas and go sit and eat.
In addition to La Teca, there is Zandunga for cocina istmeña, which is easy to find, just walk uphill from the zócalo.
Utrechter, I can't guarantee anything. First of all, I haven't been to Restaurant Arroyo (and probably never will), and second, what I like, you may not.
I think you are trying to do the very difficult task of bringing together two very opposite goals: a high end foodie restaurant and a place where kids will be happy.
I think that one place might succeed in meeting your needs: El Bajío; the original restaurant in Azcapotzalco, on Avenida Cuitláhuac. But it's open only for breakfast and comida, not at night. (I see that Cristina has already mentioned this restaurant.)
I like it because it's colorful but not in excess, the food is very good, representing for the most part the cuisine of inland Veracruz and Michoacán to some degree. It's also informal and friendly. I would classify the average price of a meal as moderate, whatever that means. Its location, somewhat distant from the Centro and Polanco, is a long taxi ride.
So, finally I can report back. To answer my own question, dining with kids in high-end places is probably doable anywhere in Mexico, and for sure in Puebla en Oaxaca. In DF I can only judge Dulce Patria and Azul Historico, of which especially the latter is no problem as it is outdoor.
For interpreting my feedback you should take into consideration that this was the first time that I tasted food in the DF-Palenque zone, but not the first time in Mexico. My favourite restaurants are Etxebarri and Elkano in Spain, places that source the best produce and serve it with a minimum sauce, if at all. How different is Mexican food! Especially in Oaxaca the emphasis is on the sauce, not the proteins. In general the quality of the proteins will not pass the threshold for European Michelin stars, in contrast to the vegetables that were very tasty. Moreover, I had the impression one gets served the same meat/poultry that is used to make a broth, which is a.o. used for the moles. All very efficient but this way you don't get the highest quality food. Please be aware that I enjoyed the food in Mexico tremendously, but my comments will may sometimes seem critical as we all try to provide advice for other visitors.
In general I found upper bracket restaurants almost guarantee a few, if not more, good to excellent dishes, cheaper places mediocre (but be aware, a mediocre Mexican meal to me is very satisfying!). If you know what to order you can increase the chances of excellent dishes in more expensive places, as they lack consistency. The more expensive places will cost 15-20 EUR pp with one or two drinks so will not break the bank.
What is special for me is that halve of what is offered is different from what I am used to, far more unfamiliar than say Asia. Tortilla and chiles in all its forms and shapes, insects as well as cactuses are unheard of in Europe, citrus fruit tomatoes and chocolate are different and so on.
The most memorable food I ate were simple, small things like perfect guacamole in a lot of places, quesadillas in Dulce Patria, tacos pastor in Las Ranas, some grilled vegetables here and there, fresh fruit and drinks everywhere, a hot chocolate in Oaxaca.
Now focussing on the restaurants (by the way Christina: thank you very much for all your recommendations, you really helped me to appreciate the place as you can see!):
• Dulce Patria is in a different league from Azul. The cocktails, even the non-alcoholic, are worth going for alone. Presentation is beautiful. This is the only place that comes close to what in Europe would get a Michelin star. It should be more consistent though, for instance enchiladas were mediocre, whilst other dishes really impressed. At Azul the food was pleasant but never reached the highs of Dulce Patria. As mentioned by Christina, they serve a filet mignon, a boring piece of meat, cooked without char, drowned in sauce, which was a pity.
• We loved El Cardenal, indeed a must for foreigners for breakfast.
• We enjoyed the Mercado de La Merced, but for the highest quality you have to know where to order. The same goes for the market in Xochimilco. If you have only time for one market definitely choose Mercado de La Merced.
• Los Panchos, next to my hotel, was solid, rocking actually for Sunday comida, serving traditional dishes.
• Las Grutas is well worth going for the spectacular setting, food mediocre but OK.
• In Puebla, we liked best Fonda de Santa Clara, serving traditional fare in a lively atmosphere.
• In El Mural de los Poblanos, an otherwise fine and pleasant though slightly more formal place, we ordered the seasonal chile en nogada. I am keen to the savoury version of this dish, that I understand some restaurants offer, another time, as mine was far too sweet. Be aware that many restaurants offer this dish, but do not make it from scratch. The same goes for the moles here and in Oaxaca unfortunately. I tasted the moles on the markets and that's what most restaurants buy and serve the customer
• Our favourite place though was Las Ranas. Order your tacos al pastor and arabe here, grab a table near the entrance and see how everything is prepared. I love the efficiency with which this place is run. This is a place that does only one thing, but very well. The best thing is it comes almost for free!
• Los Dazantes, with its fancy decor, has al the specs of a tourist trap but managed to serve surprisingly good dishes, and consistently so.
• Cathedral more or less the same but I preferred Dazantes
• Casa Oaxaca has a fancy rooftop and good food.
• La Olla was inconsistent, with e.g. a boring tamale-style dish but otherwise good food.
• Tlamanalli, in Teotitlán del Valle was certainly not worth the ride. Although the food seemed all prepared at the premises and we really wanted to like this place, it tasted bland.
• The Noviembre Mercado is fun to see but food average. Better to go the Abastos market where I went with Gerardo, my cooking teacher, to see the real deal.
• La Popular is highly recommended for its good food and relaxed setting, very near the Santo Domingo church, with low prices. Top it off with good ice cream with very local flavours opposite the church.
• Teca is an off the beaten track recommendation I thank Christina for. You feel you are dining in the house of a family, with slightly different and sometimes surprisingly refined food and presentation.
• Best setting and food is at hotel Villas Carrizalillo, beautifully appointed on the top of a cliff overlooking the beach.
San Christobal, Lagos Montebello & Palenque.
• Lower your expectations here!
I can't disagree that the focus is always on the sauce and the vegetables. Proteins are never cooked right, and that's not limited to Oaxaca. Everything is always overcooked by US standards (and, by contrast, many Mexicans I have met find our habit of eating rare meat a little odd).
The best food is not in the high end restaurants. Of course there are great restaurants where you can spend a lot of money but the best food in Mexico is cooked by the abuelita at the toll stop or in a little shop tucked away somewhere.
Please forgive my bluntness but in Mexico, no one cares about the Guide Michelin, the Guide Michelin outside of France is for French people who want to eat only French-approved food while they are on vacation.