Friday, April 20, 2012

Fondas, Cocinas, and Cafes: Casual Dining in Mexico City

On top of the world in Mexico City's Centro Historico 
Mexico City is one of the world's great affordable culinary destinations, a mecca for those of us whose voracious appetites and appreciation for fine food are much, much deeper than our wallets. But I must humbly bow my head and admit that, alas, I did not manage to go everywhere, see everything, or eat all of the things I wanted. Not even close. But I tried. Oh believe me, I tried.

And so, after going through the 900-plus photos that Poppa Trix and I took, for my first (of many!) trip posts I settled on a recap of the casual sit-down eateries we visited. (Except for one that deserves a post all its own. Later. ) I will try not to be too wordy, as I know that most of you are here to look at the pretty pictures. I totally understand.

But I must now immediately break that promise of brevity with a short preamble in which I shall attempt to dispel some myths about Mexico City, aka the Distrito Federal, or the DF. For those of you who know this already, I apologize; however, some of the reactions and questions I have received when sharing my vacation destination have led me to believe that these words must be written:

  1. Mexico City is not near a beach. It is firmly landlocked. Do not bring your bathing suit. But it is over 7,000 feet above sea level and the sun is quite strong, so do bring your sunscreen. Better yet - wait and buy some at Farmacia Paris in Centro. 
  2. Mexico City is a bustling, vibrant metropolis of 20-plus million people. It  is NOT an all-inclusive resort or cruise ship destination. Thank goodness.
  3. Mexico City is not a dangerous hot bed of drug gang activity. That sort of thing mostly goes on along the Mexico/U.S. border. (And you can thank the ludicrous U.S. war on drugs for that.) Mexico is a big, diverse country, and most of it is not located along the U.S. border. Poppa Trix and I walked all over the place and rode the Metro - even at night - and I never felt unsafe. In fact, I felt safer than I do in my own comparatively run-down U.S. city. 
There. I had to get that off my chest. I cannot promise you that it will be my last rant! But ... you came for the food, didn't you?

We arrived, hungry and sleepy, around 10 pm on a Friday evening. Fortunately, we had already picked out our spot for a late meal - Cafe El Popular, a 24-hour restaurant just a few blocks from our Centro Historico hotel.
Though I do not speak Spanish, I had crammed some things into my head in the weeks leading up to the trip, and I was very proud that when I ordered in Spanish, the waitress not only understood what I said, she starting speaking Spanish back to me! Of course I had no idea what she was saying, but I nodded and smiled, which usually gets me through confusing situations.

On the advice of a food-loving guy at our hotel's front desk, we ordered the enchiladas divorciadas, so called because of the two separate sauces:
The first of many amazing dishes in Mexico City
 You can just make out the frijoles in the background. So creamy and good ... thanks, lard!:
 And we got tamales Oaxaquena, or chicken mole tamales. The banana leaf gave them a subtle perfume:
We returned to Cafe El Popular later in our trip for soul sustenance in the form of soup. You may recall the Sopa Azteca I made? This was its inspiration:
 Poppa had this spicy number:
 The most amazing cafe con leche (left) and hot chocolate, scented with cinnamon, right:
 As good as that hot chocolate was, it didn't really go with this next dish, which I ordered by accident because I didn't know what I was getting. Yeah, hot chocolate and ... liver and onions:
Oops! That'll teach me to be spontaneous and risk-taking. Poppa Trix was happy though.

The next day we ventured to the Zona Rosa neighborhood and ate at Fonda El Refugio, which has been around for over 50 years, as you can see from the cute commemorative plate:

I couldn't resist the mezcal tasting, but I didn't expect that our waiter would pour each one and then wait and watch while I drank it:
 This all happened rather quickly, and in short order I was feeling no pain. Weee!
Naturally I had seconds of the mezcal flight. You know, so I could better process the varying degrees of smokiness.

We began with the tacos de lengua. Yes, that's tongue, and it was tender and juicy and wonderful:
 Next up: albondigas, meatballs stuffed with egg, in a tomato/chipotle sauce:

 Finally, chile relleno - not at all greasy like you find all too often in so-called Mexican places in the U.S.:
Regional Mexican cuisine is incredibly varied, as demonstrated by our meal at Coox Hanal, a restaurant specializing in foods of the Yucatan:
 It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and I loved that there was a band!
 Of course we had to have a Yucatanian beer:
 And caldo de pavo  - I have since recreated this dish with great success, using chicken rather than turkey.  A slightly peppery broth with strips of tortilla, heavily perfumed with lime. Liberal amounts of lime get squeezed on just about everything, which I love:
 I am a huge fan of another Yucatan specialty,  cochinita pibil - pork cooked in a spicy sauce, usually accompanied with fiery pickled onions. And of course everything is better on a tortilla, so you know I was all over this:
 This dish, papadzules, was one of the most unusual things (in a good way) I had on the trip. Sort of like enchiladas, the tortillas were stuffed with hard boiled egg and topped with a pumpkin seed sauce. It actually took me back, in a weird way, to pumpkin seed oil dishes I've had in Austria, particularly at Weinhof Wieninger:
 Finally, pan de cazon - tortillas layered with fish in a tomato sauce:
Hello, habanero!
Now, you know I wasn't going to Mexico without finding some great mole sauce. And the mole at Cocina mi Lupita is some of the best stuff I have ever had in my life. And I don't care if that sounds like hyperbole, it's the truth. Classically trained chefs wish they could make something this flavorful and complex, I swear to you.  We went at the traditional time for lunch, or comida, in Mexico, mid afternoonish. And we took our time about things.
 We ordered horchata to accompany our meal:
 And began our comida corrida, as is customary, with soup and rice:
 Waiting for the mole!
 Poppa ordered the enchiladas, and I had a chicken leg. Just look at that black gold:

 We were so full from this, but the woman who makes this magic brew - I assume it must be Lupita herself - saw that Poppa had cleaned his plate and insisted on giving him more mole sauce, from her seemingly bottomless cazuela [update: I recently heard from Miguel Angel Gtz. at Fonda mi Lupita, who let me know that he in fact makes the mole from his parents' recipe, and that the fonda is named after the Virgin of Guadeloupe.]:
Beset by a hankering for tortas - essentially Mexican sandwiches - we settled on the Cafeteria de Cuadrilatero, owned by former luchador El Super Astro in anticipation of our trip to see Lucha Libre. Superstar luchador that he is, we were told  that we could only take 2 photos, but sneaky Poppa Trix managed to  snap an extra one:
 My torta, at left, had chicken and onions and avocado. Poppa's at right, had a bizarre (albeit delicious) assortment of pork products and egg and ... um, hot dogs:
Now, I don't like to chase Anthony Bourdain around, but there were a couple of places in the Mexico City episode of No Reservations that we just had to check out. One of these is Fonda Margarita, possibly the most righteous breakfast place on the planet. By all accounts, it's very out of the way and hard to get to, plus you have to get there at 6 in the morning or all the food will be gone. Well, kids, don't believe everything you read.  We took a short Metro ride, walked 15 minutes, and there we were. And we didn't get there until 8 am and there was plenty of food left.

It's an unassuming place from the outside, but look - this guy serenades diners while they eat. He was awesome. If you go, make sure to tip him on your way out!:

There are so many good smells and cazuelas filled with bubbling stews  ... it's so hard to choose. If ever there was a time when an extra stomach would come in handy, this was it:


But we settled on the pork in salsa verde - one of the best things I had on the trip. The sauce was so spicy and complex, I could eat this every day:
A breaded cutlet in tomato broth:
And bistec (beef) in a rich, dark broth:

And this doesn't look like much, but the refritos con huevos - refried beans with egg - were so rich and creamy. I could have made a meal of just this.
All in all, this is the heartiest breakfast I have ever had in my life. I cannot believe that the people there were actually going to work after this meal. I just wanted to go back to sleep! If we had been in Mexico City longer, we definitely would have made time for another breakfast here.

Now you know that I am not a big sweets gal, but I had to have chocolate y churros for breakfast at least once. And so we headed to Chocolateria El Moro, where we had the Espagnol chocolate - it's thicker and sweeter than the Mexican style, and a whole mess of crispy churros:





Now, if all this doesn't seem like a lot to eat in 9 1/2 days, don't you worry your pretty little heads. There is plenty more coming up - we ate tons of yummy street food, at markets, at cantinas, y mucho mas.

So until next time ... buen provecho!





41 comments:

  1. Oh, you are a woman after my own heart. Extra stomach, indeed. I love your food travel posts and well-executed mole is one of the most heavenly things. Ever.

    I send lots of trucks to Mexico City for work, but sadly have never been (although, I do know exactly where it is located). Field trip time :-)

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    1. Yes, you MUST make a field trip. And then I want to see the post about it. : )

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  2. I LOVE Mexico City, and have fond memories of my time there (for work unfortunately, but still...). It's been over a decade since I was last there, but your food pictures brought back a thousand drooling memories! Honestly Trix, you need to ditch Poppa so we could go on holiday together...what a fabulous time we would have chomping our way through every city :).

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    1. Omg, we would be dangerous! We must do this someday.

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  3. ke28t7ryqwiob

    oops, sorry, my keyboard just shorted out from the drool landing on it. wow.

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    1. I am glad I could be of service ; )

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  4. Would you believe that I can get so many of these fantastic dishes just minutes from where I live? Does that entice you to come for a visit? I have to admit, however, that sometimes it takes me 4 or 5 tastings to process the varying degrees of mescal smokiness. It might have taken a few more, I don't know, I don't remember. I'm glad you got back safely.

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    1. My dear, I didn't need to hear that to want to come visit you, but it certainly is an added enticement!

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  5. Wow. Great photos! Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I know I would have gained 10 lbs if I went there. My last visit to Mexico was in Monterrey and they had such wonderful food and drinks. It looks like your visit was the same. I am about ready for a repeat visit now that I have seen all this. Sweet of you to share your travels with us, now I want some Horchata and churros-yum!

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    1. I would have gained weight too, but luckily we walked around so much that I sort of broke even!

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  7. You traveling again????? Thanks for sharing your foodie adventures with those stuck at home :)

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    1. Ah, haven't been anywhere since December - you know I had the travel itch bad!! : )

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  8. I am in love... this is your best, maybe because it is so dear to me.. love, love, love Mexico and now this makes me want to go there next - I am certainly gonna come back to this post many times, not just to look at the pics, for for inspirations too ... so glad you shared

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    1. Drick, your comment is so sweet! Wouldn't it be fun to meet up in Mexico some day?

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  9. Great photos.. WE have been.. cant eat anything with onions so I had poptarts for the whole trip.. its a joke now pop tarts are the main food in Mexico lol... Everything you had looks divine, glad you had a great time.. being allergic to onions I wont be returning.. the sad part about the area was the kids were begging for money, little kids so sad... did you encounter that? They tried to sell the strangest thing too even in CABO. WE went all over San juan, interesting Ruins to see though Tulum was awesome. Its funny I dont speak Spanish but learned one work Cevioia, onions.. But I said to the waiter hold the Cavolious... which apparently was horses in Spanish... oops... great photos Trix glad to see the great time you both had!

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    1. Hmm, I haven't been to Cancun or Tulum, very different from Mexico City so I definitely didn't have your experience. Aw, you should go back - there are plenty of things to eat sin cebolla, I promise!

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  10. Hi Trixie,

    This is by far one of the very best post I have ever seen, not only on Mexico City but the country of Mexico. I loved your little rant :) There are so many (stupid) misconceptions about Mexico and it's just nice to see that not everyone falls for them. (Now I'm ranting- lol)

    Anyway, You've made me not only homesick but ravenous. There are foods here that even I've never had:) Can you believe I've never been to el D.F.? You'll have to be my guide, I'll pay you in food;) Great photos and article, can't wait to see the others.

    P.S.
    Your FB photos were awesome ;)

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    1. Nancy, thank you SO much!! That means a lot coming from you. Next I will have to go to Jalisco and you can tell me where to go and what to eat!!! : )

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    2. For sure :) Even better would be to join you, hehe. I came to read your post again, and when hubby saw your photos he nearly yanked my tablet out of my hands. He's really hungry now. I also wanted to tell you that the torta with eggs and hot dog, Mexican children grow up on that. I might have to make it for breakfast tomorrow.

      Can't wait to see your next post.

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    3. I wish *I* had grown up on that sandwich!

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  11. What a fantastic trip! I have only visited once and did not have time to really explore. The food looks amazing, and love all these photos!

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    1. Thank you! I didn't really have time to explore everything either ... I would need years!

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  12. Ok, where do I get a cazuela like those in the photo????

    What a trip and what food. We eat such a pale shadow of this food in America. I have long been a Diana Kennedy fan and love the way she taught us about the variety of the food there... to a country that thought the taco was the best of Mexico. You really make me want to go and visit and EAT!

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    1. I want a cazuela as well!!! I have to say, the tacos in Mexico are pretty special ... more on that next post ; )

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  13. This post left me drooling! And you're right: I was in DF recently on business and was surprised just how pleasant it was. I had visions of a smog-choked hell and it was nothing like that at all. And like you I ate really, really well!

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    1. I know - even though the pollution there is pretty severe thanks to its geographic location, somehow that upper level smog didn't sem to affect the lovely blue sky. Weird, huh?

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    2. Out of sight, out of mind...

      And did I mention how very nice the people were? So unusual for such a large city.

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  14. Great to read your post. I'm going tomorrow. Where was the rooftop photo taken? We're staying at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. Your photos are gorgeous, I can't wait to eat there.

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    1. The photo was taken at the Majestic Hotel inCentro - that's really close to where you'll be staying! Have a wonderful time!!!

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  15. A wonderful culinary journey in Mexico city! I definitely need to go visit and experience these delicious eats!

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  16. You brought back memories of a trip to Yucatan I took two years ago with my daughter. The food was just unbelievably good and i cannot wait to go back. Thanks for taking me to a virtual culinary tour around MC:) One of these days I'll have to go!
    Beautiful post! I am a bit envious, but happy that you got to experience so much!
    XOXO!

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    1. I would love to visit the Yucatan, particularly Merida! I will have to ask you for advice before I go someday : )

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  17. Thanks for more GOOD publicity, and excellent photos. And for even more tips see my blog & book.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Your book and blog are invaluable resources!!!

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  18. Holy smokes. All I want to do is fly down to Mexico city and eat a boat load of food now.

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  19. What a feast. So many wonderful meals. I lived in Mexico (and part time in Mexico City) as a child. You've inspired me to return.

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  20. A wonderful culinary journey in Mexico city! I definitely need to go visit and experience these delicious eats! Amazing family vacation in the best all inclusive resorts with oceanside in Mexico. With comfortable rooms, great pools and delicious food.

    royal solaris los cabos

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