Mexico City is the country's capital as well as the main cultural and geographic hub, besides being one of the most massive cities in the world. As such a large city, you'll find many local food specialties as well as dishes from the rest of Mexico's varied regional cuisines, and international options as well. There are scrumptious street food and market stalls brimming with delicious treats and the freshest ingredients, plenty of mid-range restaurants that serve up excellent fare, as well as some gourmet restaurants that rank among the world's best. Here are some of the dishes you should be sure to try on a visit to Mexico City.
Tacos al Pastor
Many frequent visitors to Mexico's capital list a taco stand as one of their first stops upon arriving in the city. There is a wide variety of taco fillings available, but one of the most popular options is tacos al pastor. The word pastor means shepherd in Spanish, referring to the fact that this spit-grilled meat was traditionally lamb or goat, though now pork seems to be the most popular option. This cooking style was originally introduced in Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, but over time has come to be considered traditionally Mexican. The tacos usually come topped with finely chopped cilantro and onion, but there is also many salsas and other toppings you can add to your tacos.
Everyone has their favorite taco stand, but there are numerous ones throughout the city, so you won't have to go far to find some great tacos. If you're feeling intimidated about ordering street food, you could take a food tour that will introduce you to the many options available and their interesting history. Eat Mexico offers food tours and culinary walks in different areas of the city and is a great way to learn about the delicious options available.
Tlacoyos are another of the popular street foods that you should be sure to try in Mexico City. These are made up of a thick oval shaped tortilla with various toppings such as nopales (cactus), salsa and crumbled cheese. Although they are similar to sopes, they are different mainly in their oval shape (sopes are usually round) and tlacoyos are filled with some ingredient - either cheese or beans or meat. Tlacoyos are often made with blue corn, adding an additional flavor dimension. Vegetarians traveling in Mexico will be happy to know there are many meat-free tlacoyos, just specify "sin carne, por favor."
Fried tortillas bathed in sauce may not sound very inspiring but getting just the right combination of soggy and crispy and a really tasty salsa makes this dish a popular favorite, and chilaquiles make for a very satisfying Mexican breakfast that will keep you going through lunchtime and beyond (which is ideal, because Mexicans have their main meal of the day between 2 and 4 pm). You can choose either red or green sauce and the dish is topped with crumbled fresh cheese and often garnished with some onion slices and parsley, and sometimes also served with a thick cream that you can put on top. Although you can order them any time of day, chilaquiles are usually served for breakfast along with eggs or meat. You'll find chilaquiles on the menu at most breakfast spots.
Hearty soups are a good option for a late lunch or satisfying supper. Pozole, Sopa Azteca (tortilla soup) or Caldo Tlalpeño are all popular options and widely available, but Caldo Tlalpeño is the one that is most associated as being a traditional Mexico City food. Caldo means broth, and Tlalpeño means from Tlalpan, which is one of Mexico City's sixteen delegations.
Caldo Tlalpeño is a filling soup with chicken, chickpeas, and vegetables such as carrots, green beans, and zucchini, in a chicken broth seasoned with onion and garlic and with a bit of chipotle chile to give it some kick, and served with slices of lime for diners to squeeze in as they please. The soup is said to have got its name from the Tlalpan bus station where a local woman sold a tasty chicken soup that was different from the way it was usually prepared, and she served it with cubes of cheese and avocado. The soup was very popular and soon came to be referred to as Caldo Tlalpaño, as opposed to Caldo de pollo (chicken soup). Nowadays you don't have to go to Tlalpan station to get this soup, as it is offered in many restaurants in Mexico City and elsewhere in the country.
We won't blame you if you're hesitant about this, but there are a few different insects that are eaten in Mexico, and in Mexico City you can sample them in a variety of different dishes. The use of insects in cuisine harkens back to pre-Hispanic times when the diet was mainly vegetarian, with few sources of animal protein available. The only domesticated animals were turkeys and the xoloxcuintle, Mexican hairless dog, which would have been eaten sometimes, but mainly only by the nobility. Some fish and wild game (rabbit and deer) was also consumed on occasion, but insects provided some protein that was readily available to all.
Here are a few insects to look out for on restaurant menus, and sample if you dare:
- Chapulines are most widely available. These are grasshoppers that are fried and seasoned with garlic and chile. They may be eaten on their own - many Mexicans snack on them like peanuts or popcorn - or they may be added to dishes, such as guacamole, or simply put inside a taco along with other fillings.
- Escamoles are widely referred to as Mexican caviar and that certainly sounds more appealing than ant larvae, which is what they really are. You may find them in tamales or sauteed with onions and served up with some other meat or vegetable dish. They're considered quite the delicacy.
- Maguey worms are the worms you may find at the bottom of your bottle of mezcal. The worms are actually a larva that is found inside the agave plant when it's harvested to make the traditional spirit. You can find them served up pan-fried with a side serving of guacamole, or crushed with chile and salt to make sal de gusano (literally worm salt).
Although the thought of eating insects may be cringe-inducing, it's worth putting aside your preconceptions and keeping an open mind - you may find they are very tasty after all.
Once you've sampled all the savory dishes Mexico City has to offer, hopefully, you'll still have some room for dessert. Although there are many popular sweets in Mexico, one of the special things to try in the capital city is churros. These long, thin fried dough pastries are covered in sugar and a bit of cinnamon - and sometimes filled with sweet chocolate or caramel flavored syrup (in which case they're referred to as churros rellenos).
Churreria El Moro on Eje Central Lázaro Cardenas has been in operation since 1935 and is one of the most popular spots to eat this Spanish treat. El Moro is open 24 hours a day and serves freshly fried churros along with different types of hot chocolate (Spanish, French or Mexican).