More than tacos and tequila: Mexico City’s culinary scene is on the rise

Patrons at a Roma restaurant dine al fresco
Patrons at a Roma restaurant dine al fresco

When one thinks of Mexican food, a number of Americanized staples almost certainly come to mind. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos and, of course, tequila — these are items many first-time visitors to Mexico City would likely expect to find on most menus. And, yes, the city’s eateries offer their fair share of traditional Mexican cuisine.

What first-time visitors to the increasingly more gentrified city might be surprised to learn, however, is that Mexico City’s culinary scene is as diverse and dynamic as the city itself. Mexico City seems poised on a threshold, with roots in traditions both old and new.

The topic of tequila, for example, is sure to spark lively discussion — and strong opinions — among natives. Old-timers are faithful to the spirit, quick to expound upon its many virtues and to eschew its trendier cousin mezcal (a similar liquor distilled from the maguey plant, a form of agave), which the city’s younger and hipper denizens have become enamored with of late. Entire bars dedicated to the spirit, which is similar to tequila but with a smokier flavor (and is becoming increasingly common on menus in U.S. cities as well), have sprung up in chichi areas of the city — ask an older Mexican gentleman, however, and he’ll tell you it’s just a passing fad.

The city’s dining scene is similarly marked by old and new world flavors. Travelers who have dined in culinary meccas like New York and Paris will feel at home in swiftly on-the-rise neighborhoods like Roma (Mexico City’s answer to Williamsburg) where well-heeled, well-dressed young urbanites fill the sidewalk-side tables of hip restaurants and browse artsy (and often pricey) boutiques that would be right at home in one of the aforementioned metropolises.

For foodies traveling to Mexico City, we’ve rounded up a few must-hit restaurants at which both the food and the ambience capture the unique cultural balance that defines this city in flux.

IMG_8426
Eduardo García at work in his kitchen

Maximo Bistrot Local
Be prepared to wait at this bustling restaurant in the neighborhood of Centro. Locals and tourists alike flock to the unassuming eatery (its homey, minimalist design belies its sophisticated fare) where the eclectic, French-leaning menu is marked by gastronomic flourishes that will leave diners pleasantly surprised. Eduardo García, the young chef and owner, is a firm believer in sustainability — he employs his own divers to procure the fresh seafood that graces the often-changing menu and is an avid proponent of the farm-to-table movement that is on the rise in some of the best new restaurants in the States.

C’est la Vie
More often than not, hotel restaurants are forgettable, if functional, providing travelers too exhausted to venture out into the city in search of more exciting cuisine with a quick and easy meal before bed. Not so this sleek restaurant located on the ground floor of Le Meridien hotel. Decidedly modern dishes and surprising flavor profiles mark the menu — a creamy, yet surprisingly light asparagus soup poured tableside from a ceramic carafe and a succulent duck breast cooked to perfection with glistening crispy skin are two standouts. Bonus points for an extensive wine list along with a variety of traditional Mexican beer options.

La Ópera Bar
For more casual dining, try this eatery in the heart of the city’s center. Dark wood paneling, red-velvet upholstered chairs, and low lighting add to La Ópera’s nostalgic, old-school vibe. Locals enjoy long repasts at the no-frills restaurant where, famously, the Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa once fired a bullet above his head and into the ceiling, in a fit of rage over a table of fellow diners he felt were behaving too rowdily. That bullet hole is still there, adding to the sense of history and intrigue in the eatery. The menu, likewise, offers more traditional Mexican fare (try the mole) though more sophisticated epicurean delights share the large menu — among them a heaping dish of tiny sea snails in a savory Chipotle sauce.

Restaurante Tamayo
Another restaurant on the forefront of Mexico’s City’s culinary revolution, this small cafe-like restaurant is tucked away in the shade of twisty trees just across the fairway from the lush greenery of Chapultepec Park (one of the largest city parks in the Western hemisphere, more expansive by far than New York’s Central Park, where residents gather to escape the bustle of the urban city center). Inside, the menu is elegantly written in chalk on a blackboard above the restaurant’s take-out bar and simple wildflowers in mason jars adorn the tables. The locally-supplied menu changes often and offers some surprising options (a fresh Caprese salad, for example) alongside more traditional Mexican standbys.

Azul Condesa
This high-energy, multi-level hotspot brings in a guest chef who spotlights recipes from a different state in Mexico each month. The guest chef’s menu is offered nightly with the restaurant’s regular menu (which offers ancient Mayan dishes alongside more modern Mexican cuisine) and guests won’t go wrong sampling dishes from either (we recommend ordering something from both). Here too, the mole is divine (try the smoky Oaxacan mole, over a protein of your choice) and the service attentive and eager to explain the menu’s more confusing options. Adventurous diners must try the guacamole con chipulines — fresh guacamole served with crispy, roasted grasshoppers. Yes, grasshoppers. (They’re not bad — if you can get around the legs — trust us!)

Guacamole with grasshoppers — it's better than it looks!
Guacamole with grasshoppers — it’s better than it looks!

News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Breaking: Local

Judge rules Tsarnaev can view victim autopsy photos

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can view the autopsy photographs of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

Local

Tsarnaev defense lawyers in court Wednesday, seek family…

Lawyers for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are due in court Wednesday to ask a judge to order prosecutors to hand over more information on the defendant's family.

News

Explosions in new Boston Marathon bomb panic, 'twisted'…

A fresh Boston Marathon terror alert, which caused Bomb Squad officers to order an evacuation while two controlled explosions were carried out, was today being…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 16: 'The Americans,'…

'The Americans' Philip and Elizabeth face "painful turns" in their missions. Maybe next week they'll have a nice easy mission with no moral ambiguity? Probably…

Going Out

Pastoral provides a country feel in the big…

One thing any packrat crafter will note on walking into Pastoral is how much fun chef/owner Todd Winer undoubtedly had in designing this, his first…

Movies

Review: 'Bears' is a cute Disney doc about…

Disney's latest nature doc, "Bears," doesn't completely shy away from the fact that its subjects would devour you (or eachother) if they had the chance.

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

MLB

MLB video highlights: White Sox beat Red Sox…

Red Sox fall on walk-off error to White Sox

NBA

NBA Draft Lottery day is May 20: Celtics…

NBA Draft Lottery day is Tuesday, May 20: Celtics percentage odds for a top overall pick

MLB

Opinion: Major League Baseball replay system shouldn't be…

Opinion: Major League Baseball replay system shouldn't be dumped just yet

NHL

Bruins - Red Wings preview: David Krejci ready…

Bruins - Red Wings preview: David Krejci ready to erupt once again in playoffs

Wellbeing

Could a facelift give you the edge at…

It's not just women lining up for procedures.

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.