Where to eat in Mexico City: Café de Raíz

Some of my favorite tamales in the city are sold at Café de Raíz, a tiny Roma café near the Plaza Luis Cabrera.

Owners Pola Carballo and her brother Mardonio Carballo offer a handful of varities daily, and they’re much better than what you usually find on the street or in cafés here. The tamal de arroz — made with actual rice grains, not rice flour — is almost like a comida corrida on a plate, with a thick layer of rice snuggled around a stripe of sweet-and-savory chicken picadillo filling.

The tamal de frijol is one of the best I’ve had anywhere in Mexico. A moist rectangle stuffed into a banana leaf, the tamal emits a heady herbal perfume that pretty much bewitches you into eating more. Pola says it’s a mix of masa, black beans, cilantro, oregano and “un toque de manteca.”

The cafe carries between four or five varieties of tamales daily, with the rice and bean varieties pretty much constant. They also sell atoles (seasonal flavors include guava, pineapple, tamarind, champurrado) and pozole on the weekends. And there’s a breakfast menu. I loved the huevos rancheros, a rustic style with chunky tomato sauce on crispy corn tortillas.

The Carballos are Nahua people from Veracruz. Mardonio is also a journalist and writer, and he hosts a TV show on Mexico City’s Channel 22 called De Raíz Luna, which explores indigenous themes.

Pola says the cafe is meant to be a tribute to corn, and you can really taste the love in the dishes. If you like tamales — or even if you’re so-so about them — this place is worth a visit.

Café de Raíz
Merida 132 Bis between Chihuahua and Guanajuato streets, Colonia Roma
Open daily from 9ish a.m. to 10 p.m., and there’s WiFi.
tel. 5584 8847
No website, but they’re on Twitter

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6 Responses to “Where to eat in Mexico City: Café de Raíz”
  1. Don Cuevas

    Something new to try; thanks.
    How’s the coffee?

    Don Cuevas

    • Lesley

      The coffee is okay. Hot chocolate is slightly better. I haven’t tried the atoles, but I’m assuming that’s probably the best way to go.

  2. Cheryl S.

    Mmmm….wonderful post. Makes me want to book a flight immediately and try them out!

  3. S Obet Mtz Days

    ¡Uh! gracias por la recomendación.

  4. Bere Parra

    I ate at this place in my latest trip to Mexico City. I am 100% Mexican, by the way…Though it was, not horrible, the place is *far* below average. The tamales are not up to standard, at all. The rice ‘tamales’ are NOT real tamales: they’re a lump of cooked rice shaped into a tamal.
    The place doesn’t inspire you to have a nice meal either. The service is not up to par. I could go on and on.
    If you want to try a ‘hipster’ version of a tamal, visit this place. For a MUCH better experience, pay attention to street vendors, taste, sample, pick the one you like and stick with him/her. Café de Raíz can only appeal to those who do not know real Mexican food.

    • Lesley

      Hi there: Thanks for sharing your experience. I will say that I’ve eaten at Café de Raíz three times now and I’ve enjoyed it every time. That said, inconsistency is the curse of Mexico City restaurants — in my experience it’s VERY hard to find a place that consistently prepares the food well. Sounds like Café de Raíz is having some problems which I’m sorry to hear. As for the food appealing to people who “don’t know real Mexican food,” I’m not sure what to make of that, since I’ve seen several 100-percent-Mexican chilangos eating there on my visits, and the few times I’ve gone to drink coffee and not eat. Also, I’ve tried a lot of street vendor tamales in DF and I liked these better! I’ll have to make another visit and see if the quality has slipped.

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