Mexico City’s southern neighborhood of Coyoacán, once a separate town outside the city limits, is now a popular area with cobblestone lanes full of art galleries, museums, restaurants and flea markets. For us, though, the real allure of the neighborhood is the opportunity to visit Tostadas Coyoacán, a marketplace restaurant that elevates the humble tostada to dizzying culinary heights.
The taco’s flat and crunchy cousin, the tostada is a fairly simple creation, made from a thin corn masa tortilla that is fried or baked until crispy and golden. With its level (though brittle) shell, the tostada is a versatile thing, a blank canvas that can be topped and adorned with almost any ingredient imaginable. The cooks at Tostadas Coyoacán, it turns out, are more than capable artists.
Located near the center of Coyoacán’s traditional marketplace at the intersection of four main aisles and marked by bright yellow banners, the ever-crowded Tostadas Coyoacán is hard to miss. There are four separate food-prep stations (one at each corner), with menus overhead listing the food and drink choices available. Each serving station is lined with stools and a long counter, which tend to be packed with customers. The atmosphere is one of organized chaos: customers write down their orders on small pads of paper, the servers loudly yell the orders to the prep cooks, and the cooks in turn sling toppings onto the tostadas with remarkable speed. Before long at all, a tray of freshly made tostadas makes its way to the customer.
At Tostadas Coyoacán, the toppings – including plain shredded chicken, chicharrón, or fried pork skin, and cochinita, pork meat that has been marinated in acidic citrus juice and annatto seeds – are piled up in large, colorful mounds at each serving station. With so many options, it can be difficult to choose, but on a recent visit we decided to start with tostadas piled high with pata de puerco (pork feet) and with simple marinated beef, both served with lettuce, cheese, sour cream and avocado slices. (While refritos, or refried beans, are a common component of many tostadas, these were served without beans.) We hadn’t eaten much pata de puerco before, but we found the meat tender and, like the beef, nicely seasoned with hints of chili and a blend of other spices. For customers wanting even more flavor and heat, bowls of various tomato and chili-based salsas were available on each counter. On our second round, we tried the tostada with tinga de pollo, marinated barbecue chicken that was pleasantly spiced, and one with pollo con mole, or chicken with black mole sauce, which came with a drizzle of sour cream and a light dusting of crumbled cheese. The mole was creamy and had a terrific sweet-savory flavor.
The beverage options at Tostadas Coyoacán include a variety of aguas frescas, or homemade fruit drinks, ranging from common flavors like banana, orange and strawberry to more exotic fruit flavors such as guayaba (guava) and yerba buena (a type of mint). Highly recommended is the agua de chía con limón, a healthy and refreshing drink of chia water with lime. The seed of the chia plant, an annual herb that is part of the mint family, was used as a food source by many pre-Hispanic civilizations and remains popular in Mexico today.
Because tostadas are such compact discs, many can be devoured in one sitting, especially when they are as scrumptious and as affordable as the ones at Coyoacán (our bill came to under 100 pesos). Tostadas may not be the most elaborate dish in the realm of Mexican cuisine, but the really good ones – like those at Coyoacán market, which are arguably the best in Mexico City – are worth seeking out.