I was out in Mexico in October for a friends wedding and am really pleased we ventured to Mexico City. We spent part of the holiday on the Mayan Rivera (the eastern coast between Cancun and Tulum) and part in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.
Anyone who knows me knows that all inclusive ubiquitous hotels which pump all of their profit out of the host country are not my idea of an idillic holiday, but for one reason or another that is where I ended up and to be honest, whilst I don't want to make it a regular occurrence, it was better than I expected.
Anyway, I digress, as a result of ended up in all inclusive hotels, I can't comment too much on the food on the coast but I can recommend the place we did eat. Having visited the beautiful Mayan ruins, which nestle the coast at Tulum we explained to a local that we didn't want tourist food and asked a where they would eat. We were directed to a little seafood restaurant called El Camello in the centre of Tulum (a few miles from the ruins) which was little more than a garage or shop open to the road with a few tables and chairs. They also acted as the local fishmonger. I was fascinated watching the huge array of enormous fish being brought in, cleaned and filleted on the metal counters. We only wanted a light lunch and so simply ordered 'grilled fish' not being sure what to expect but we weren't disappointed. First they brought some tortilla crisps and a variety of salsa, guacamole and lime which were all delicious. Shortly after this was joined by a very generous portion of grilled, filleted white fish, rice, refried beans and salad. The fish was melt in the mouth and cooked to perfection, all for about £4!
In Mexico City though it was a different story. We regularly ate out and whilst the quality and prices varied wildly (not always in the direction you'd expect) there are a few places worth a mention. Mexico City is big, noisy, dirty and chaotic but I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed it. We were staying just off Zocalo (the main square) which would have originally been the Mayan city and housed the Temple Mejor (the excavation project can be visited). The square is now dominated by a large cathedral which I believe was created out of some of the stones of the original Mayan temples. We stayed in the Hampton Inn (as we were using Hilton points) which is a former monastery and a fantastic hotel, couldn't fault it!
Around Zocalo, like any major tourist area there is a vast mixture of good and bad restaurants and cafes. A few I would recommend are:
- Cafe de Tacuba This former nunnery is more of a restaurant than a cafe and is beautiful inside, stained glass windows and painted tiles and a very traditional feel. It is very lively and had bands walking around the tables and playing requests. We had chicken with a mole sauce (a traditional chilli and cocoa sauce) and enchiladas. My main criticism is that you could get food of a similar quality far cheaper. In my mind this is a place to go for the atmosphere. Mains around £7
- El Cuatro 20 This was a basic canteen style restaurant, served on plastic plates, but very good value for money. We ended up there twice. They also do takeaway. The Pork Pibil is very good as is the Half Roast Chicken. Arguably the best value food me had whilst were were there. Mains around £3
- El Cardenal There are three branches in the city and we went to the one on Palma. It has several floors and the rooms are quite different. It is more of a formal restaurant but still good value for money, probably around £15 a head for 2 courses and water. To start I had a chicken soup with a traditional Mexican leaf and my main was a steak cooked in a tomato and bone marrow sauce, though delicious I did have slight food envy of the slow cooked lamb which was served with braised cactus leaves.
Not exactly food related but visit El Palacios de Hierro department store is well worth a visit. Its a beautiful store
By far the best food we had in Mexico was from this Argentina grill. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and the service impeccable. For around £15 a head the buffet was brilliant value. The description buffet doesn't do it justice. They brought out a variety of freshly baked empanadas, breads and tarts which were all delicious and then asked what meat we would like on the grill. The grill can be seen from outside so we asked for a mixture and watched it being cooked. The steak was tender, tasty and cooked to perfection, the various sausages were tasty and meaty. I braved the intestines but I really wasn't keen on the flavour at all. I love steak so my next sentence is also a surprise to me, but the star of the show was the vegetables. There was a buffet where you could take your pick of hot and cold vegetables and salad and also choose soups and pasta to be cooked in front of you. If I had to pick my two favourites were a dish of braised large spring onions which had become caramelised and luscious and a cold pickle mixture of carrots and onions. The balance of flavours was just divine and I would love to try and recreate such a master at home.
- La Buena Tierra we chose to have a herbal tea here to rest one day. It is one of several in the city and focuses on natural food. It was a shame we had eaten as the food looked of a good standard. I also would suggest trying some of their neighbours as the whole area had too many nice looking cafes to choose!
Coyacan is a bit south of the city, near San Angel and one of the more fashionable areas. For me, Coyacan itself was a little too gentrified but Francisco Sosa, the road joining San Angel to Coyacan was beautiful perfect for wandering down on a warm day to escape the hustle and bustle of Mexico City for a while.
- Nib Chocolate Is a delightful little chocolate shop. I particularly liked the chilli chocolates and the chocolate tortuga or turtles. They were made from 5 pecan nuts, a blob of toffee and a dollop of chocolate to form the shape of a turtle, very cute!
- Cafe at the Instituto Italiano - we'd read about this tiny cafe but almost missed it as it looks more like a college that wouldn't be open to the public. After an exchange with the security guard in broken Spanish we were waved through to a beautiful garden and an oasis of calm to have the best coffee we found in Mexico and a wonderful slice of Nutella torte
- being in Mexico we also had to take advantage of the churros with plenty of chocolate sauce injected into it.
- washed down with a coffee from Cafe El Jarocho
When in a new country I always like to check out the food markets. They are a fascinating way to find out more about a countries food and culture and La Merced, Mexcio City was no exception. The fruit and veg was particularly interesting and the meat stalls were piled up with tripe.
A Note on Bakeries
The bakeries were fascinating, in fact almost everywhere we went the desserts were very impressive looking, but in my experience that's where it ends. Even in the higher places the desserts and pastries were style over substance and lacked flavour. I'm sure people will disagree with me but that's what I found. Having said that I'll still include a couple of photos as they were very impressive
A Note on Cantina's
If you fancy a drink or two it's likely you will end up in a Cantina. These are Mexico's answer to the pub but with one fabulous twist, for every drink you order you get brought food. So if you have 4 drinks it is likely you will get some form of canapés, a starter, a main and a dessert. They often have minimum drink orders and might be slightly more expensive than drinks elsewhere but still a very good deal when you include the food.
A Note on Street Food
Unfortunately having picked up an infection when I was last in India and still not being fully recovered I couldn't risk getting sick again so street food and any uncooked fruit/vegetables were off the menu for me, to be replaced by antibacterial handwash and wipes. The food did look incredible though, extremely good value and in the main the hygiene standards seemed good, having said that some of our friends who had been eating street food both ended up in hospital very poorly so please be careful!