Guide contributors: Agustín Córdova Cuitláhuac, Rulo Luna, Odette Andrea Mireille, Odette Herrera Last updated: 7/11/2017
With almost 21 million people, Mexico City is the fourth most populated city in the world, and at the very top of the list in terms of countries with the greatest food cultures. Indigenous people began cultivating corn and other foods in this area some 7,000 years ago. And so, when you drink pulque, eat tortillas, or taste the different chiles in your salsa, you’re connecting with one of the world’s truly ancient culinary traditions.
Although there are countless great restaurants in Mexico (dozens of which we’ll profile below), the beating heart of Mexico’s food culture is found in the streets. Mexico City’s food stands decorate the urban landscape and range from fixed and semi-fixed stands, swap meets, stalls in markets, vendors selling tacos de canasta from their bikes, small restaurants (called fondas), to even food trucks.
It’s all out in the open and gives a certain rhythm to each day. At sunrise, little clouds of vapor rise all over the city from the tamaleras (large cooking pots where tamales are made). And long after the sun goes down, taco stands transform in rowdy little late night spots that could only exist here.
Unlike other countries, eating in the street is part of Mexican culture and traditions. As Agustín Córdova Cuitláhuac writes, “We are all the same when eating in a street food stand, food unites us and creates emotional ties. Social hierarchies drop away momentarily. Office worker, student, taxi driver, hipster, business professional: we all share the space equally.” As a traveler, in Mexico City, you can enter this special feeling or onda just by getting in line.
Below is a super quick overview of just some of the main Mexican dishes. There are many more to check out in our street food guide. If you can make it to the places listed, you’re going to find the real-deal, Chilango (slang for someone from Mexico City) version of each dish.
Caldo (broth) – Caldos are savory bone broths. Throughout Mexico City you’ll find fondas — small, often makeshift “restaurants” inside the garages or other rooms of people’s houses. Don’t be afraid of them. Instead, go right in, especially at lunchtime, where la doña (the woman in charge) will attend to you for an incredible meal.Suggested place to eat: Capilla de los Reyes near the corner of Av. Azcapotzalco, Col. Los Reyes. Delegación Azcapotzalco.
Tacos de canasta (Basket tacos) – Canasta tacos are very soft tacos stuffed with different fillings including: chicharrón (pork cracklings), carne deshebrada (shredded meat), potato, and beans. They’re kept most of the day in huge cloth covered baskets, and are super delicious with avocado sauce.Suggested place to eat: Unnamed stand on the corner of Monterrey and Álvaro Obregón in Roma Norte just across from the famous restaurant “Delirio”.
Elote and Esquite – Perhaps the simplest but still one of the most delicious foods, elote is just roasted corn on the cob and then doused with lime, chile, and rolled in cheese (and for the truly gluttonous, mayo). Esquites are simply elotes with the kernels shaved from the from the cob and then boiled in a citrusy, spicy broth, then served in a cup.Suggested place to eat: Unnamed stand the corner of Moliere and Ejército Nacional, Colonia Polanco.
Tamales – Tamales are made by wrapping corn masa in banana leaves or corn husks and then steaming them. They’re traditionally a breakfast food and come in both sweet flavors (pineapple, chocolate, Nutella, and cream cheese with blackberry) and savory: mole with almond and walnut, poblano pepper strips with cheese and mushrooms, and chicken or pork in green or morita chili pepper sauce.Suggested place to eat: Calzada Camarones near the corner of 22 de febrero and Santa María Maninalco. Delegación Azcapotzalco.
Tortas – Tortas are Mexican sandwiches. On the gently toasted teleras (white bread) you’ll often find a thin coating of refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avacado, and a variety of meats such as pierna (pork leg) or pechuga turkey breast.Suggested place to eat: Tortas de Antes, Clavería 54, Col. Clavería.
Chilaquiles – Chilaquiles is a traditional dish made with tortilla chips soaked with a spicy red or green sauce until the chips form a chewy texture. Chilaquiles can also be served inside of a torta.Suggested place to eat: Chilaquil corner on the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas, in La Condesa.
Mole Mole (pronounced Moe-lay) is a classic Mexican sauce that mixes various chiles, and ground fruits, nuts, chocolate, and spices into a rich base for various chicken, meat, or other dishes.
Paletas – Paletas are popsicles that come in dozens of tropical fruit flavors you’ve never seen before. They come in two varieties, “del agua,” which is just the frozen natural fruit juice (with chunks of fruit mixed in), and “de leche” which is with milk. You can sometimes get them dipped in chocolate, leading to awesome combinations like mango or lime with dark chocolate.Suggested place to eat: Adolfo Prieto near the corner of Pilares (across from the park “Tlacoquemécatl”), Col. del Valle.
The best tacos in Mexico City are found at stands that have become neighborhood institutions going back decades –places with long lines and loyal followings. In general just look for places with long lines and remember they always move fast. This is just a quick starter; for a more in-depth guide, please see Where to find the best tacos in Mexico City.
El Paisa de los reyes – Tacos el paisa de los reyes has been around for at least twenty years and serves the dense neighborhoods on the outskirts of Coyoacán. Each afternoon they get huge trompas or stacks of pork and pineapple cooking on the rotisserie for that evening’s crush of people ordering tacos al pastor.Calle Europa 32, Coyoacán
El Abanico – Carnitas (fried pork) is one of Mexico’s specialties for morning tacos and can be found in almost every market and tianguis (small, mobile markets, often out of the back of trucks) around Mexico City. A local favorite, El Abanico excels in all of their tacos, but people swear by their carnitas; some even dare to say they’re the best in Mexico. Francisco J. Clavijero 226. Tránsito.
El Túrix – El Túrix has been around for more than 40 years, offering the traditional flavors of southeast Mexico in a small taco stand in the Polanco. Their specialty is cochinita pibil, one of the most recognized dishes of the Yucatan peninsula, made of slow-roasted pork seasoned with achiote and accompanied with pickled purple onions and habanero chiles. Yes, it can be quite hot, but for the full experience, you’ll just have to go for it.Emilio Castelar 212. Polanco
Por Siempre Vegana – Por Siempre Vegana is a tiny taco stand in the middle of Colonia Roma, just a few meters away from Insurgentes. Their menu is quite varied, offering vegan versions of traditional tacos. The staff is super friendly, and always eager to help you decide what’s the right taco for you. Even if you’re not vegan, this place deserves a visit. If you arrive by bike, fresh aguas are on the house!Corner of Calle Manzanillo and Calle Chiapas, La Roma
La Abuela – La Abuela is a brand that has been growing in the heart of locals thanks to their non-traditional take on tacos de canasta. La Abuela’s tacos are bigger, tastier, and more varied than other steamed tacos. You can even buy a whole basket if you’re having a party.Find a stand near you on this map.
El Jarocho – Tacos de guisado (stew tacos) are one of the street food staples of Mexico City. Wherever people gather, there’s always a car with an open trunk full of pots with different stews, rice, and tortillas. El Jarocho is a taqueria specializing in these kind of tacos. They always have freshly-made tortillas and you could easily eat here every single day without ordering the same taco twice for a long time. You can find them in Colonia Roma, just a block away from Insurgentes.Tapachula 94. Roma Norte
El Borrego Viudo – This is the place locals go after a wild night in Mexico City, and opinions on the food are as varied as they come. Personally, I think the tacos are good, not great, but a nice variety, and an awesome tepache (fermented pineapple drink) to go with your order. It’s always packed after midnight and it has that certain after-party vibe that makes you want to keep it going until the next morning.Av. Revolución 241. Tacubaya
El Huequito – El Huequito’s specialty is the gourmet taco al pastor, which lacks pineapple and cilantro, but makes up for it with a huge helping of super tasty meat. Their name literally means “”the little hole” which is a reference to the first stand they opened back in 1959, barely larger than a square meter. Ayuntamiento 21. Centro
3. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants
Photo: Rulo Luna
Getting away from meat in a country with a culinary tradition as strong as Mexico is difficult, but there are some good meatless options around the city if you know where to look. Most of these places offer traditional Mexican food with alternative ingredients that excel in flavor and fresh ingredients. For a more comprehensive guide, please check Where to find vegetarian and vegan food in Mexico City.
Vegetariano Yug – This restaurant is one of the pioneers in Mexico City’s meatless scene. It opened its doors in 1963 and its owners were some of the first to experiment with alternative ingredients to transform traditional Mexican dishes into veggie delicacies. Vegetariano Yug offers a buffet and a menu that includes carnitas, salads, cannelloni, and a variety of homemade dishes.Varsovia 3 b, just off Paseo de la Reforma near the Bosque de Chapultepec, Cuauhtémoc,
La Pitahaya Vegana – Some people say there’s no good taco without meat, but this is because they haven’t tried the menu of La Pitahaya: mushrooms turned into tacos al pastor, jamaica (hibiscus) as the main ingredient of cochinita pibil, tofu machaca, cashew nut cheese, handmade tortillas, and their famous raw vegan taco. You can enjoy all their dishes accompanied by pink tortillas with black sesame seeds.Orizaba 139, Casa Quimera, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte
Vegamo – Vegamo has options for everyone: salads, pizza, pasta, smoothies, waffles, whatever you might want, you’ll find it here. They also have an excellent coffee, a variety of fresh fruit smoothies, and their very own raw vegan version of Reese’s. Visit their takeaway shop, where you’ll find coconut sugar and oil, sweet bread, vegan jello, ready-made dishes, and a lot more.
Pan Comido – Pan Comido has the best veggie burgers in town, and the rest of their menu isn’t bad either. The highly recommended portobello burger with provolone is amazing, but if you want to feel those street food vibes, go for the Juana la Cubana torta. They also have craft beers and combo packages for lunch and breakfast. Patience is recommended when visiting Pan Comido as the place is always packed.Revillagigedo 47 near Paseo de la Reforma
Narciso Comedor Vegano – Just a few blocks away from the Diana Cazadora roundabout in Paseo de la Reforma is Narciso, a restaurant that combines traditional Mexican dishes, state of the art cuisine, and original flavors. Their menu includes colorful main dishes such as bean meatballs, wheat fritters, chickpea burgers, vegan enchiladas, and a vegan brunch (mimosa included) at an amazing price.Plaza Melchor Ocampo No.30
Pan D’Monium – Pan D’Monium is a street stand where you’ll find pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers made of wheat and corn. They also run a bakery specialized in traditional vegan bread as rosca de reyes and pan de muerto. For less than four dollars you’ll get to enjoy a huge vegan combo, including beverage refills. The margarita and choriqueso pizzas are great, but if you’re really starving, go for their hamburguesa gula (gluttony burger), add a chia pudding, and you’ll be satisfied for the rest of the day.Orizaba 83, La Roma
ELK Vegan Bistro & Deli – If you’re getting tired of burgers, pizzas, and salads, here you’ll find a completely vegan international menu. Their options include salmon, tempeh, quiches, pad thai, noquis, paella and some delicious desserts and shakes. ELK also has a little shop where you can do your shopping and the restaurant is totally pet-friendly. Tenayuca 54, Letran Valle
Cafe culture is strong in Mexico City. There are amazing locally-sourced beans and tons of local cafes in every neighborhood. Make sure you also try cafe de olla, which is a sweet-brewed coffee with cinnamon, often sold in the mornings with tamales. Here are a few choices to get you started.
Cucurucho – Cucurucho has three locations but our favorite is on a quiet corner in Cuauhtémoc, which doesn’t have any seating and feels almost like a convenience store — perfect for grabbing coffee on the go. They use only Mexican coffee beans and have incredible pour overs.Rio Nazas#52-A
Café Avellaneda – This is an extremely small shop (just a couple of seats at the bar and only three or four tables) has some of the best coffee in the city. Typically the crowd overflows onto the sidewalk. All their beans are grown and roasted in Mexico. Just a couple of blocks from el zocalo de Coyoacán.Higuera 40, Coyoacán
Casa Cardinal – Casa Cardinal feels like an explorer’s den decorated by Charles Darwin after years of voyaging around the world. Excellent espresso, and close to the popular restaurant Lalo, which has incredible breakfast.Córdoba 132, Roma Norte
Dosis Café – Dosis has plenty of seating inside with tables on the sidewalk as well. They roast their own beans and serve pastries from the famous Rosetta Panaderia.Av. Alvaro Obregon #24 Local B, Roma Norte
Praga 29 – Praga 29 feels like a bit of refuge near the busy Zona Rosa neighborhood. The building is a cool art deco style, and it’s a good spot if you’re looking to get work done as they have lots of space both upstairs and downstairs.Praga 29, near Paseo de la Reforma
Chiquitito Café – Chiquitito is a very homey cafe in La Condesa with amazing baked goods try the Panqué de Plátano and a super friendly vibe. Alfonso Reyes 232, La Condesa
In recent years, gourmet and stylish markets like Mercado Roma have become trendy in Mexico City. Although they offer good quality gastronomic options, they are far from being traditional Mexican markets.
This does not mean that more traditional markets are better than the new ones, they are simply different, as are their flavors, prices, and the overall experience. If you want to go to a real traditional Mexican market and have a delicious meal, here the top 5 in Mexico City (Note our full Guide to traditional Mexico City Markets as well).
Mercado de San Juan – The Fuente de Sodas Rufina, in Mexico City long before the new trendy markets arrived, is considered the gourmet market par excellence of the city. Here you can find top quality products, in addition to some that can’t be found anywhere else.Ernesto Pugibet #21, Centro.
Mercado de Medellín – The Mercado Medellín is located in the middle of the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods. It’s a good option for eating and buying food products from other Latin American countries, especially from Colombia and Cuba.Medellín #234, Roma
Mercado de antojitos de Coyoacán – You can’t say you’ve been in Coyoacán if you don’t go to Mercado de antojitos de Coyoacán and grab a quesadilla or posole. This is one of the most famous spots to eat Mexican antojitos —snacks—, so people from all over the city come here for quesadillas, tostadas, flautas, sopes, pambazos and posole.Higuera #10, Coyoacán.
Mercado de San Pedro de los Pinos – If you are a seafood lover, you should go to Mercado San Pedro de los Pinos.“Mariscos Altamar” is the most famous stand to eat all kind of sea delicacies, but any other spot inside this market will satisfy your cravings and make you happy.Calle 7 and Avenida 2, San Pedro de los Pinos.
Mercado de Portales – In addition to selling food products for cooking, there are stands that offer delights that few can resist: barbacoa, pancita, tacos, quesadillas, seafood, and even sushi. It is worth it to come here to eat anytime, but it’s better to visit on weekdays. On Saturdays and Sundays, it gets very busy and is difficult to even walk through the streets and corridors of the market.Santa Cruz and Juan Escutia, Portales.