Friday, May 15, 2009

Where To Eat In The D.F.

Having lived and worked here for almost 20 years, I still consider myself to be a stranger in a strange land.  There are things I will never “get”, cultural barriers that I will never cross, and Mexican restaurants I think are quite good that no “chilango” would even consider frequenting, unless it is with me, who they would be humoring, because I am, after all a foreigner, who doesn’t understand “real” Mexican food.  There are people I have known for years, and eaten with on many occasions, who still begin every meal we have together with the question, “Do you like chile?”   

I do.  I arrived in Mexico without a centavo in my pocket and survived on street food and “splurging” on cheap restaurants for longer than I care to remember.  Chile helps dull hunger pains.   Padre Kino (probably the cheapest  Mexican wine there is) became my best friend.  With age and a bit more income, my eating habits have become more upscale, but on occasion, I can still be found in questionable condition, eating tacos al pastor at Selene at 3 in the morning. 

 I am constantly asked by friends, or friends of friends, or by people who got my name from someone who knows me, where to eat when they visit Mexico City, and I am only too happy to provide some recommendations.  But before I go on, I need to say again that the best Mexican food I have ever had is prepared by my housekeeper, who has kept me well fed and versed in Mexican cuisine for many years now, and once you have tasted her huachinango a la veracruzana, mole verde, sopes, chiliquiles, and my favorite, grilled pork ribs marinated in tequila and diced poblano chiles, a recipe we developed together, food in most local restaurants pales in comparison.  That is why I go to them infrequently, or when I have guests in town who want to eat “authentic” Mexican.  But when I do go out locally, I tend to go to the places that are listed in guidebooks and discussed on boards like Chowhound; Izote, Fonda del Recuerdo, Villa Maria, La Valentina and Contramar continue to wow me on occasion and almost always leave me feeling satisfied.  For tacos, I like El Tizoncito in Condesa and Lago de los Cisnes in Lomas (especially on Sunday afternoon, the official maid’s day off,, where upscale housewives who have no idea how to boil water can be seen devouring tacos along with their families).  My corner taqueria, Las Costillas on Juan Escutia and Pachuca, makes great quesadillas and their pork chop tacos are always a hit with me as well, as is the friendly staff.  

Eating in traditional “international” restaurants that include some Mexican dishes on the menu  (Bellinghausen in the Zona Rosa and Danubio in the Centro) is like slipping into a pair of sweats and beat up sneakers…comfortable, easy and familiar.  For more modern Mexican, I also like Los Canarios in Sta. Fe, especially the duck tacos, as well as La Guadiana.   

For non-Mexican dining, Jaso in Polanco is about is good as it gets, and the understated Basque restaurant Bakea in Lomas de Barrilaco always leaves me wishing I was back in San Sebastian and wondering whether it is in fact, the best restaurant in the D.F.

L’atelier de Quim Jardi in Colonia Roma is the perfect bohemian pizza joint run by a quirky, unique and talented chef; I go about once a week and usually order “The Lynch”, named after the famous director, which is not yet on the menu but will be whenever they print a new one.  The jazz is always hot, the pizza at times, not.  Still my favorite pizza place though.  50 Friends in both Condesa and Polanco has good pizza as well, always with a large crowd that is reflective of each neighborhood.  

I try not to eat much beef these days, but when I do, El Zorzal on the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas is a fine place to do it.  I prefer their casual, neighborhood vibe to the big ticket Argentine places like Rincon de Argentina, which always feels to me like a huge Rustler.

All that said, here are three simple places that don’t make all the discussion boards or guidebooks (although occasionally they do turn up) that I find myself returning to for Mexican food and always enjoying.  I can recommend them to just about anyone and everyone.


Selene (behind the Camino Real in Anzures).  Go very late and very drunk.  You will fit right in….and you probably won’t notice (or at least remember) the cleanliness factor.  It's all about the tacos al pastor here, although I have ordered a "milanesa" taco from time to time and loved every greasy bite.


El Turix (Emilio Castelar 210 in Polanco).  Stuff yourself on cochinita pibil tacos and panuchos, down a few Montejo beers, and bliss out.



La Gurufa (Michoacan 91, Condesa).  I don’t know why I like this place so much, but I do.  Sit outside, watch the happening locals, order the blue corn quesadillas with goat cheese or another contemporary Mexican option and chill.  Saturday and Sunday late mornings are best, because you are sure to spot someone more hungover than you are.  

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