A sweet, pineapple-flavored tamale from a street stand in Col. Roma
It’s a myth that eating any street food in Mexico City will make you sick.
But if you’re not used to eating on the street here, you shouldn’t just pick any stand. One of the most common questions I get through my Eat Mexico tours is: “How do you choose where to take us?”
Here are the guidelines I use when planning our Eat Mexico tour routes.
1. Pick a street food stand that looks crowded. This means several people standing up and eating in a cluster around the stand. If the stand is empty, and you don’t have a personal recommendation from someone else who’s eaten there, do not eat there.
2. Glance around and see if the stand looks clean. Are there stains everywhere? Dirty plates and napkins? If so, pass. I also pass on places where the food just sits in one big pile, as opposed to clean clay pots, or tupperware or stainless steel containers.
Plastic buckets are a common way to store various quesadilla or taco fillings in Mexico City. The ones above are quite large, which denotes high volume, which means the place most likely has great food.
3. Who takes the money? It’s a good sign if the person preparing the food and the person accepting payment are two different people. Smaller stands can’t afford this luxury, so make sure they place a piece of plastic over their hands when receiving cash or change.
4. The food must be freshly prepared. Some stands in Mexico City prepare a lot of food beforehand, and it just sits out. They don’t even necessarily warm it for you — it just goes from the container right into your tortilla. (My one exception here is tacos de canasta, which by definition sit out all day, steaming in a basket. They’re still really good.) These stands won’t automatically make you sick, but they just don’t taste as good. It’s a much tastier experience to watch the taquero make your taco right in front of you, or to watch the older woman pat the masa into a tlacoyo.
A woman prepares fresh quesadillas and tlacoyos at a street stand in Col. Roma
5. Feel free to make small talk while you eat, if you speak Spanish. Most stand-owners are nice and they’ll answer your questions, especially if you’re a foreigner. Ask, “Cuántos años llevan aquí, en este esquina?” which means, “How many years have you been here, at this corner?” Many stands have been on certain corners for decades. If you’ve found the tlacoyo stand with the little old woman with the gray braids who says, “I’ve been here 40 years,” you’ve struck gold.
6. Go during peak hours. This helps you get a better idea of which stands are the most crowded. In Mexico City, peak street food hours are generally 10 or 10:30 a.m., or 2:30 to about 4 p.m. (And then perhaps 8 p.m., when folks are getting off work.) Be aware that if you’re searching for street food at 6 or 7 p.m., some stands are closing up for the day, and you’re going to get the dregs of their daily product.
Do you have any tips you use when eating street food, either here or elsewhere? Feel free to share below.
Tacos de canasta with salsa verde, from a street stand in Condesa