Foodie Mexico: Our favourite restaurants in Mexico City

Vibrant and soulful with a storied past, Mexican cuisine mimics the nation in which it was born. And where better to discover the tortilla-wrapped gift of Mexican food than Mexico City, a place 21 million people call home. Within this sprawling urban area, you’ll be spoilt for choice, torn between the ancient ruins of the Centro Historico and the laid-back cafés of Condesa, popping by the art markets of San Angel to grab a bargain. No matter where you end up, however, there’s always time to browse a menu or ten, from no-fuss street carts or fancy prix-fixe restaurants, sampling the very best Mexico City tacos, tortas and tamales, or otherwise going international with Chinese, Italian and Indian options.

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Mexico Ciy | Photo: Jezael Melgoza

Foodie Mexico

Salivating in anticipation, we dive into the world of foodie Mexico, covering cuisine so good it’s been recognised by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage to Humanity. Underlying the magic of all Mexican chefs are several key ingredients, namely; beans, chilli, cilantro, corn, nopal (prickly pear cacti), piloncillo (raw cane sugar) and tomato. Other fruits and vegetables important to the culture of Mexico food include squash, sweet potato, avocado, mango, pineapple and more, as well as meats such as beef, chicken and pork. Digging a little deeper you’ll see that the term chilli refers to a number of varieties, among them jalapeño, poblano, serrano and chipotle, with added complexity from herbs and spices like thyme, cumin, cinnamon and cloves.

Mexican traditional food history can be traced back to the ancient Aztecs who settled on the highlands of Central Mexico in 1325 and ate a largely plant-based diet of frijoles (beans) and maíz (corn). Indigenous ingredients such as chia and huaútli (amaranth) were banned upon the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s because of their use in religious ceremonies, but today their revival is seen on menus across the country. Since Aztec times, Mexican cuisine has transformed from outside influence, becoming more dependent on meat and dairy thanks to the Spanish and incorporating shawarma-style spit cooking to juicy pork dishes such as al pastor tacos having learnt from Lebanese settlers in the 1800s.

Mexico City is home to some of the world’s best restaurants, from Michelin-starred eateries to family-run ‘fondas’ and, across the spectrum, you’ll find a balance of signature dishes that do justice to the heritage as well as innovative creations that keep up with global food trends. Below we list some of our favourite takes on fresh Mexico traditional foods and modern twists, plus some exciting fusion and international cuisine thrown in to keep you guessing. Beyond food, discover the very best of CDMX attractions and accommodations with our Mexico City City Guide.

Photo: Los Muertos Crew

1. Pujol

The virtues of Pujol have been extolled by many a food critic, most recently the Wall Street Journal and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking, for which Pujol places 12th. Headed by celebrity chef Enrique Olvera (famous for Cosme and Atla successes in New York), Pujol brings a refined approach to indigenous cuisine, serving up contemporary versions of staple dishes such as the mole madre with hoja santa (pepper leaf) tortillas and Oaxacan black mole. The omakase taco bar is another reason to make an advanced booking, to enjoy the eight- to 10-course tasting menu with cocktail pairings. The restaurant has been operating for some 20 years around town but its latest location is over on Tennyson in the swanky Polanco district.

Pujol Mexico City

Pujol | Photo: Araceli Paz

Pujol Mexico City

Pujol | Photo: Araceli Paz

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Ranked on the World’s 50 Best for several years now, Quintonil articulates the earthy flavours of Mexican cooking across locally sourced dishes

2. Quintonil

Quintonil is another essential Polanco booking for diners who want the foodie experience of chef Jorge Vallejo’s à la carte tasting menu. Also ranked on the World’s 50 Best for several years now, Quintonil articulates the earthy flavours of Mexican cooking across locally sourced dishes such as adobos with grasshopper and beans, artichoke tamales and nixtamalized tomato braised in meat broth and vegetable reduction. Chef Vallejo previously worked over at Pujol, an influence you can see across the 10 tasting courses, though Quintonil showcases a more playful side to refined dining – as with the burnt corn ice cream – and an injection of warm hospitality from Vallejo’s wife who runs front of house.

Quintonil | Photo: Martin López

Quintonil Restaurant | Photo: Martin López

3. Garum

Bringing the Mediterranean into international waters, Garum specialises in colourful European classics across an ever-changing menu in Polanco. Named after the Roman fermented fish sauce, Garum is less of an acquired taste than you might imagine, serving up innovative Mediterranean fare sourced from seasonal local produce. Some of the classic dishes carefully crafted by Michelin-starred chef Vicente Torres include cold entrees such as salt-crusted beetroot with pistachio mayonnaise and balsamic ice cream, followed by meaty mains such as the orange and honey-roasted duck served on duck ragout ravioli with onion tatin, date and ginger puree. In keeping with local custom, corn also features on the menu such as in the cornbread dessert served with dulce de leche, bourbon and truffle cream.

4. Amaya

To enjoy some of the best foods in Mexico in an unassuming setting, Amaya is ready to take you in, serving farm-to-table fare under exposed ceiling ducts and concrete columns painted with murals to create an urban ambience. Based in the aristocratic enclave of Juárez, an area also home to the gay-friendly Zona Rosa, Amaya draws all types of diners with its creative approach to modern Mexican cuisine. Top dishes from chef Jair Telléz include fried soft-shell crab, roasted rabbit for two and ricotta gnocchi, paired with an eclectic mix of natural wines, many of which are made by local producer Bichi.

Amaya | Photo: Paul Braun

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Led by chef Elena Reygadas, Rosetta brings a seafood-heavy menu of Italian home recipes, elevated with Reygadas’ French Culinary Institute training and Mexican accents

5. Rosetta

Over in a Porfiriato-era mansion within the trendy Roma district, Rosetta makes a space for itself in the Italian-Mexican fusion dining scene. Led by chef Elena Reygadas, Rosetta brings a seafood-heavy menu of Italian home recipes, elevated with Reygadas’ French Culinary Institute training and Mexican accents. Besides the dreamy homemade pasta, the green mole with quelites (wild greens) is a creamy delight while the homemade white cacao and hoja santa is a finisher set to please any sweet tooth. Despite its grand locations, Rosetta is more welcoming than you might expect, with attentive, down-to-earth service to mimic the elegant (but not brashly so) menu that in recent years has shifted to reframe traditional Mexican fare, such as tamales and mole. Alongside Rosetta, there is a spin-off bakery café – Panadería Rosetta – that supplies bread to many of the city’s leading restaurants, just one of many of Reygadas’ operations.

Rosetta | Photo: Ana Lorenzana

Rosetta Restaurant | Photo: Ana Lorenzana

6. Blanco Colima

Next up on your foodie day itinerary is Blanco Colima in the colonial Roma district. This all-day eatery certainly keeps up appearances, based in an early 20th-century mansion renovated to all its former glory. Enjoy morning coffee and pastries in any of the house’s grand spaces, or settle on the oyster bar for the freshest local catch. Come evening, Blanco Colima shifts gear to host music concerts and a long-form cocktail menu, providing the social lubricant for art exhibitions, film screenings, talks and workshops upstairs in the salons beside the design boutique.

7. Sud 777

When on the prowl for authentic food in Mexico City’s Pedregal neighbourhood, Sud 777 can help. This restaurant kitchen run by local chef Edgar Nuñez operates out of a traditional townhouse to provide a seasonal tasting menu amongst stone and wood interiors, with vegetables from the Sud 777 gardens. Try dishes such as pepper stuffed with dark chocolate and cacao or octopus in a crust of ashes, piquillo pepper and xcatic mayonnaise to find out why Sud 777 is ranked 16th on the World’s 50 Best list, following up with a cocktail or glass of wine on the terrace lounge.

Restaurante Pujol | Photo: Carlos Aranda

8. Masala y Maíz

The clue in the name tells you that Masala y Maíz isn’t your average Mexican restaurant. Rather, this establishment explores the migration of people and the fusion of culinary heritage across South Asia, East Africa and Mexico. The menu is short but always flavourful, harking back to family recipes and the intensely personal stories of chefs Norma and Saqib. Come to Colonia Juárez to enjoy dishes such as East African esquites (corn kernels simmered in cream, Kenyan masala spices and coconut milk), beetroot salad with fennel and masala shrimp with yam and caramelised peanuts. Built on years of research into the intersection of shared cultures and ingredients, Masala y Maíz serves mestizaje food – or organic fusion – dishes that were first dreamed up in response to colonization and displacement, yet celebratory in the fact that these dishes bring people together.

Masala y Maíz | Photo: Claudio Vandi

9. Lardo

More fusion is in store at Lardo, a little Mexican-European joint setting trends in Condesa for its croque monsieur sandwiches, pizzas and Tuscan charcuterie. Run by the people behind Rosetta (Elena Reygadas really has been busy!), Lardo is a great spot for all-day Sunday brunch, though you may have to sign up and take a stroll through Parque Espana before your name is called. Despite the wait, Lardo’s home-cured salami and side nibbles such as chilaquiles (corn tortilla chips) with burrata soft cheese will make it all worthwhile.

10. Limosneros

Right in the heart of the Centro Historico, in a restored Spanish colonial build, Limosneros offers some of the most popular foods in Mexico, fought over by tourists, wealthy locals and couples keen to impress. The popularity of Limosneros comes with a reason, primarily the expertise of chefs Marcos Fulcheri and Carlo Meléndez who opt for seasonal produce and the odd insect in their innovative and daring dishes. Examples of twists on common Mexican fare are the tender rabbit carnitas and wagyu beef tacos, two parts of a six-course taco tasting menu. The range of mezcal, tequila and agave distillations are also reason to join the fray, though domestic beers are also available to wash down the cocopaches (edible beetles).

Photo: Los Muertos Crew

Photo: Los Muertos Crew

11. Rokai

Lay off the cilantro for an evening to try the dishes over at Rokai, a tiny sushi bar in the Colonia Cuauhtémoc neighbourhood. You may not imagine Mexico City as the place to go for Japanese cuisine but Rokai and the Edo Kobayashi Group are trying to change that mindset. At the original Rokai, you’ll find exquisitely presented nigiri, maki and sashimi, affordable and predominantly made with fish from local waters. The omakase tasting menu can give you all of this alongside soup and tempura, and optional genmaicha (green tea) cocktails. Rokai Santa Fe and Rokai Ramen-Ya are alternative choices in the same vein, both with all the traditional sake and Japanese precision you could ever want.

12. Azul Histórico

A charmer based within the 17th-century Downtown Mexico Hotel, the Azul Histórico is arguably the best of chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s gamut. Step onto the rustic patio of the house to be transported to the past, finding women handcrafting tortillas in the corner and unadorned wooden tables bearing dishes like mole negro de Oaxaca or cochinita pibil (Yucatán-style slow-roasted pork served in tortillas). Azul Histórico hosts a foodie festival every month celebrating new ingredients but it’s the classics and sippable tequilas that’ll have you coming back mid-week.

Photo: Rodnae Productions

Mexico City | Photo: Bhargava Marripati

13. Carmela y Sal

A boozy spot in southern Polanco, Carmela y Sal is our final treat. Chef Gaby Ruiz heads up the Tabasco-influenced menu, prepared using the best Mexican ingredients, such as in her plantains stuffed with black beans and topped with a tomato reduction. Fish and meat feature generously on the menu (the short ribs and fish ceviche included) though Carmela y Sal also offers a taste of Mexico vegan food with the faux-meat ‘liar’ tostados. Other not so dairy-free delights however include the caramel banana with whipped cream and mango tapioca, matched with native wines and post-dinner cocktails. Need a hand?

Quintonil | Photo: Fernando Gomez Carbajal

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