Nicos, a neighborhood spot off a busy avenue in Azcapotzalco. Chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo has presided there for seven years, and his menu of traditional-but-creative Mexican food has turned the place into a citywide destination. He sources some of his recipes from colonial-era cookbooks; others might highlight a lesser-known chile or dish from a particular region. Vásquez's parents opened the restaurant in 1957, and the neighborhood clearly adores the place -- it can be impossible to get a table during the average weekday lunch hour. My last visit took place a few days before I left for New York. My friend and I decided to start with mezcal, and a waiter wheeled over a little cart with at least a dozen bottles. "Do you like your mezcal smoky, aromatic, or herbaceous?" he asked. He began opening several bottles and passing them to me so I could smell them, and eventually poured the desired choice into a silver carafe. It was an elegant, thoughtful little detail that I hadn't seen in any other restaurant. Chef Vázquez was among the first that I could remember to use edible flowers on his menu, and among the first to plant a garden on the restaurant's rooftop. Usually I like to get some sort of edible-flower dish when I dine there because he uses them so artfully -- the tostada duo, for instance, is almost too pretty to eat. I always, always order the sopa seca de natas, a colonial-era recipe that smashes together layers of crepes in a creamy tomato sauce. It's like eating most comforting Mexican rice or fideo, the decadence level ratcheted up about 20 notches. For my last meal there, we chose crabs coated in amaranth and pumpkin seeds and served with green mole, and conejo al chile piquín. The menu said the rabbit was raised in Tolimán, Querétaro, by a group of indigenous women. Both entrees were stellar -- the amaranth, almost like a savory brittle, added a toasty-meaty umami to the mild crab. The rabbit fell easily off the bone and had just the right kick of heat. We scooped hunks of the meat into corn tortillas, which are made on-site. While we ate, a band played Beatles songs and rock hits from the 1970's. (Live music at lunchtime is one of my favorite Mexico City restaurant quirks.) Most folks in the dining room looked like business workers on a break, in dark suits and dresses. On the weekends I've seen mostly families. I'll be back in Mexico City again at the end of this week, and I know where I'll be dining. Who wants to come with me? Nicos Cuitlahuac 3102, near the corner of Clavería, Col. Claveria Note: Nicos is only open for lunch, and it's not open on Sundays. The restaurant is about 20-minute cab ride north of Polanco. If you're skilled at using public transport in DF, you can also take a pesero from Metro Chapultepec and get off right at the corner of Cuiltlahuac and Clavería. After you eat, make sure to take a look at the restaurant's organic food shop, La Nicolasa, across the street. More on Nicos: Nicos, Mexico City Treasure (Mexico Cooks) Restaurante Nicos: A Family Affair (Culinary Backstreets) A Q&A with Gerardo Vásquez Lugo (Wine Enthusiast)One of my favorite restaurants in Mexico City, for most of the time that I lived there, was
The conchas at Mexico City's Rosetta bakery are quilted in dark, chocolate-sugar diamonds. The rolls are dense but somehow airy; yeasty, but not too chewy or sweet. On a recent visit, I gobbled almost en entire chocolate concha before my coffee had even arrived. The secret to these conchas is slow fermentation and a small amount of yeast, which creates a soft, airier crumb, says chef and owner Elena Reygadas, who was hanging out at the bakery recently and answered a few of my questions. “We don’t put a lot of butter,” Reygadas says. “We want to respect the Mexican village-style bread.” Mexico City is undergoing a bakery renaissance, and Rosetta -- a sister establishment to the Rosetta Italian restaurant a block away -- is among those leading the pack. The narrow, warm Colonia Roma cafe invites you to sit and stay awhile. Creamy subway tile covers the walls, and fresh-baked loaves stack neatly inside wooden crates. (One of those loaves is pan de pulque, which is a rare find in Mexico City.) Croissants and chocolatínes mingle in a glass display case near the entrance, along with bulbous popovers bursting out of their little accordion-shaped paper cups. The overall effect is sort of European. But due to the small, sausage-shaped size of the place -- the bakery was once the driveway and garage of a fancy Roma mansion -- it's also quirky, pleasantly chilango. Get there by 8 a.m. on a weekday to snag one of the spot's few coveted seats and to try the conchas. (At 10 a.m. one morning, they'd already disappeared.) The shop's vanilla conchas also contain real vanilla bean. Reygadas admitted it was a little expensive, but I'm hoping she continues to spoil her customers. Rosetta Bakery (the sign says simply "Panadería) Colima 178-A, at the corner of Orizaba Colonia Roma Read about my other Concha Taste Tests in Mexico City here.
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
El Parnita, a fonda in the Roma, calls itself an "antojería." The word antojito can mean two things in Mexico -- a corn-based street snack, or a little craving. So an antojería is a place where you'd find those two things. And fulfill your cravings, of course. The menu here is stocked with Vitamina T: tacos, tortas, tlacoyos. The presentation and flavor are more thoughtful than what you'd find on on the street. Stalks of jicama, a free appetizer for customers, arrive in a perky cluster doused with Valentina sauce. Another dish -- a smoky, stuffed chile meco -- comes bathed in a lagoon of piloncillo sauce. It's eye-wateringly hot and sweet all at once. The staff is friendly, too. Bertha Acra, who owns El Parnita with her children Paulino, Nicolás and Jorgina, greets almost everyone who walks in the door. She's an elegant woman with black eyeliner and silver hair. The word Parnita comes from her late husband's nickname, "Parner." (As in John Wayne-style pardner.) I took my friend Martin to lunch there several months ago and went back again this week. Both times the food was excellent, especially for the price point. Nothing is over 75 pesos. The idea here is to order a lot of small things, so we started with a grasshopper taco and a cup of the cream of chard and purslane soup. Sometimes cream soups in Mexico City can be heavy and greasy. This one tasted like real vegetables, with just a hint of butter underneath. The grasshoppers, meanwhile, were limey and tart, almost mouth-puckering. A thin stripe of the red salsa added the mandatory heat and fruit and salt. Did I mention how good the salsas are here? The habanero salsa is always on the table and the rest rotate out. "We don't want to bore people with the same salsas," owner Paulino Martinez said. The soups change daily, too, and there's a daily taco special. This week it was shrimp sauteed in a chile canica sauce. After the appetizers, Martin and I went on an ordering spree: tlacoyos, a salad, a quesadilla, three types of tacos. The waitress kept asking, "Do you want to try this?" and we kept saying yes. The tacos viajeros were standouts. Juicy, falling-apart lomo and pierna de cerdo sat in a peppery, citrusy sauce, kind of like cochinita pibil but tangier. Juice dripped onto my plate and I lapped it up with a piece of tortilla. It's worth ordering the breaded shrimp "Carmelita" taco just to spoon the habanero salsa on top. One bite made my nostrils sting, but the garlicky, burned-chile taste melded perfectly with the pickled red onions and mayonnaise in the taco. I sneezed and coughed and spooned on some more. At this point we probably should've stopped eating (I haven't even showed you pictures of everything we ate), but the waitress enticed us with the offer of a torta. The sandwich was small and dangerous-looking. I squeezed it a bit, and meat juices oozed out. I only wanted a bite but ended up eating half. The bread -- crisp on the outside, soft in the middle -- and meat and avocado were too voluptuous to pass up. Martin pronounced it "a good proportion of meat to bread." We ended the meal with amaranth-cajeta pudding. It tasted like a slightly grainier version of dulce de leche. Martin wasn't a fan, but I liked it. It was sort of like eating cajeta frosting (for those of us who like that kind of thing), and the amaranth gave a fun pebbly texture and cut some of the sweetness. El Parnita did a remodel in December, adding nearly double the space to the restaurant. Before you used to have to arrive before 2 p.m. to get a table; now, if you get there by 2 or 2:30, you should be fine. El Parnita Avenida Yucatán 84, #E2 (Near the corner of Yucatán and Monterrey) Tel. 5264 7551 Hours: 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday El Parnita on Facebook (their website is under construction)
Chiles en nogada season starts in Mexico City toward the end of July. By two weeks ago, I hadn’t even tasted one in Mexico yet, which I considered a personal flaw. (I’m hard on myself.) Then I met a new friend at the end of one of my mezcal tours. He's a food enthusiast, too, and he suggested that we gather a group and spend the day tasting them. I loved this idea. I wrote him back: "Me encantaría!!" So he created a Google Map and we both added restaurant suggestions. Our criteria were that the restaurants needed to be places we’d never been before. And they should be more or less in the same area, since we’d be trying them in the same day. We decided we’d try four chiles in one day, with a fifth option. Of course we knew the chile en nogada is not a light food. So there'd be four of us, which meant a total of one chile per person each at the end of the day. We'd also order appetizers and drinks. (I stayed at the gym an extra-long time that morning, just to have some space.) Here’s how the tasting went down. For more on what exactly comprises a chile en nogada, check out the post I wrote on it last year. ...
UPDATE: See the reader comments below. It appears this restaurant has closed. A few weeks ago, my friend David mentioned a new Haitian restaurant he’d heard about in Santa Maria la Ribera. I think I’d had a little too much wine, so I crowed, “Oh my god, Haitian food! We have to go! Haitian food!” Not that I even knew what Haitian food was. One thing about Mexico City is, we do not get a lot of ethnic foods. There’s a growing Korean neighborhood in the Zona Rosa with fantastic cuisine; other than that, it’s Mexican and some mediocre attempts at Thai and Indian. I wanted to try Haitian food out of pure curiosity, so David, Jesus and I stopped by the fonda last week. Jesus originally found the place and wrote about it on his blog. It turns out Haitians eat a lot of fried things. Every plate on the menu had some sort of fried meat, fried fish or fried plantain. The food was fine. My favorites were the flaky fried fish, and the spicy coleslaw that accompanied everything. (I later found out the coleslaw contained either habanero or manzano chile.) The service, however, was outstanding. Our waitress Alejandra had a lovely smile, and she asked where we were from and what our names were. She told us she’d been in Mexico for almost 3 years, and that she was a doctoral student at the UNAM. She spoke lilting, French-tinged Spanish. The food wasn’t so spectacular that I’d recommend making a special trip here, based on eating fried Haitian delicacies. But if you’re curious about Haitian food, and you want to support a family that’s getting its first foothold in Mexico City, this place is worth seeking out. The vibe here is comfortable and friendly. Le Bon Gout, a Haitian fonda Manuel Carpio 99 #1C, near the corner of Dr. Atl Note: The entrance is on Dr. Atl. From the corner of Dr. Atl and Manuel Carpio, walk toward the Oaxacan cafe (away from the park). The fonda is just past the Oaxacan café.
Taco Tour, when I saw a chalkboard menu propped up on the sidewalk. Colorful tables and umbrellas had been spread out in a neat row, and baskets of paper flowers dangled underneath the awning. The cheeriness of it all made me stop. And so did the menu. This place offered “tacos guerrerenses.” What were those? As soon as I sat down, the waiter dropped off a little bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds. They didn’t taste like any pumpkin seeds I’d had before. Sheathed in their papery armor, they were crunchy and warm and tasted like the sun. Then came a little bowl of beans, another botanita provided by the house. And then, on the waiter's recommendation, I ordered a mole verde taco. Like the pumpkin seeds, this mole was unique -- herbal, assertive, not subtle as green moles normally are. (Marilau would call these pipianes.) The waiter explained that the mole contained a mix of hoja santa, avocado leaf, pumpkin seeds and something called hoja de mole. Most of the ingredients were brought directly from Tixtla, a small town in Guerrero state. Then this man, whom I'd later find out was Alfredo, one of the owners, volunteered another nugget: his mother cooked all of the food. At that moment, I felt really, really lucky to be living in Mexico. I ended up adding Con Sabor a Tixtla to my Taco Tour, and I’ve since gone back several times. It's right around the corner from my cooking school and Mercado Medellín, so when I'm in the neighborhood, I like to stop and say hi to Alfredo, who runs the place with his brother Juan Patricio. Once I even saw Yuri and Edmundo there -- they're big fans of the place, too. The food, prepared by Alfredo and Juan Patricio's mother Enedina Bello, consistently tastes like it’s been cooked with love and care. The menu focuses on typical items from Tixtla, so they're items you rarely see anywhere else. Besides the herbal mole, there’s fiambre, a mix of marinated meats and crunchy bits of chorizo served with white bread; Tixtla-style tostadas with sweet-and-sour dressing, and pollo enchipotlado, or chicken stewed with tomatoes, raisins and chipotle peppers. And the salsas -- the salsas! The ensaladita de rábano, made from hoja santa stems, lime, onion and radish, waps you over the head with its simplicity. A smoky, creamy salsa de jalapeño con aceite tastes like it contains avocado, but it’s actually just jalapeños fried with onion and garlic, and blended with olive oil. I wanted to gulp it down like milk in a cereal bowl. Con Sabor a Tixtla recently added a list of platos fuertes to the menu, and they do a special pozole guerrerense once a week. But if you go, you must get the fiambre. The meat is falling-apart tender, and seasoned simply but dazzlingly -- the kind of seasoning I wish I could emulate as a home cook. It's served on a bed of lettuce that's dressed the same salsa agridulce that comes with the tostadas. The dressing tastes like something you'd get at an Asian restaurant, which makes sense, considering Acapulco (Guerrero state's biggest city) was Mexico's major port to Asia and the Philippines for 250 years. On my last visit to Con Sabor a Tixtla, my friend Martin and I found ourselves sopping up the fiambre sauce with hunks of bread, even though we were stuffed. Here's the plate before we tore into it. Here are a few more photos of the place. If you're in the mood for a visit, it's located at Manzanillo 45b, in between Coahuila and Campeche. They don't have a website, but they do have a Facebook page. UPDATE: Con Sabor a Tixtla has moved! You can find them now at Chiapas 173, near the corner of Medellín. They're right next door to the pastes shop. The fonda also now has a website. ...I stumbled on Con Sabor a Tixtla by chance. I’d been wandering around the Roma neighborhood, looking for a few new places to add to Eat Mexico’s
Several months ago, a new friend mentioned she had a favorite restaurant in Polanco. I pride myself on keeping up with the latest restaurants, but she threw out a name I didn’t know: Dulcinea. The friend said it was kind of casual and cute, and she went there at least twice a week for fish tacos. She also said it was in Polanquito, which is the local name for the area south of Masaryk, encompassing Julio Verne, Oscar Wilde and Virgilio streets. It’s crammed with trendy restaurants and shops. My friend Martin and I had lunch at Dulcinea a few weeks later, and I liked the place right off the bat. While some of the restaurants in Polanco seem a little too hip (like, could I even go here without my heels on?), Dulcinea seemed casual and chic, like a little bistro you'd find on the beach in Tulum. Sky blue cushions decorated the seats and a chalkboard menu hung on the wall. Homespun touches adorned the tables: napkins looked like tea towels, trimmed in blue. Thin pewter plates reminded me of the type we used to take camping when I was a kid. Photo above by Martin de la Torre ...
My friend Nick Gilman tells me that Casa Mexico -- the restaurant I raved about earlier this year for its unique, regional Mexican dishes -- has suddenly closed. Apparently the head chef, Enrique Briz, left sometime back and the restaurant slowly went downhill from there. It's too bad. I really liked that place. Shame that they were only open for less than a year.
Chef Carmen "Titita" Ramirez walks a straight, firm line when it comes to Mexican food traditions. She scoffs at chefs who think carnitas can be made with Coca-Cola and milk. Or any chef (even if he is American and famous) who promotes such a thing as "Mexican chimichurri." Mexican food has a base and that base should be followed, says the chef, who runs the El Bajío restaurants in Mexico City. "This idea of fusion, it's confusion," Ramirez said in Spanish, while hosting a four-course meal at her restaurant's Polanco location. "Yes, I'm a purist. Yes." Ramirez learned her recipes from her mother and her nanny, while growing up in a small town in Veracruz state. I was lucky enough to try some of the food last Sunday, as part of the Ruta Aromas y Sabores tour. The tour runs through June 10 and is specifically for food writers, chefs and photographers from all over the world. It's sponsored by various arms of the Mexican government, and organized by Izote chef Patricia Quintana. The idea here is to show off Mexico's culinary history and culture, and its wide variety of regional dishes and flavors. The tour started in Mexico City on May 29; today it moves onto the state of Mexico, and then Guanajuato and Michoacán. I was originally scheduled to attend the whole thing, but unfortunately I had to cancel. My health hasn't been top-notch lately and I'm dealing with our recent move. But it was really neat to attend even one event. At El Bajío, our group of about 10 included writers and photographers from Mexico, Spain and Germany. Titita sat with us the whole time and answered any questions we had. I'd eaten at El Bajío once before and thought the food was okay. Guess I ordered the wrong thing back then, because this meal was among the best I've had in Mexico. Everything tasted like it had been prepared carefully and lovingly, from the homemade corn tortillas in the basket (Maseca has been the downfall of tortillas, Titita says) to the sweet potato pudding with pineapple, to the agua de guayaba speckled with bits of pulp. I really wished I could follow Titita for a day, watching her prepare some of these things that she's so passionate about. Some photos of the meal... ...