Editor’s note: We asked writer JJ Goode where he heads first for food when he lands in Mexico City. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Gourmet, Bon Appétit and many other publications. He is also the co-author of Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand, with Andy Ricker; A Girl and Her Pig, with April Bloomfield; Truly Mexican and Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, with Roberto Santibañez; and Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking, with Masaharu Morimoto.
Mexico City is such a huge place that I don’t usually trek across town in traffic just for a meal. You don’t need to – there’s great food everywhere! I also tend to stay away from the fancier places, even though I like Contramar and El Cardenal.
The neighborhood I typically stay in is Coyoacán, in the south of the city. In the morning, I wiggle through the winding streets and little plazas toward the zócalo to eat Ana Pastelin’s tamales. She sells them from a few big steamers under umbrellas on Avenida Hidalgo between Lecaroz and El Globo bakeries. My favorite is the almost custard-like Oaxacan tamales with mole verde. Then I’ll look for the folding table with a basket lined with blue plastic, inside of which are some of my favorite tacos de canasta. But really, any time you see tacos de canasta, get some, because they’re amazing. Basically, they’re tortillas dipped in hot fat, folded in half over potatoes or beans, then stacked in the basket to steam. A couple of these and a bit of salsa is what I wish breakfast could always be.
Then I’m stuffed and I walk more in the beautiful neighborhood and consider lying down on the grass somewhere in Viveros, the park in Coyoacán where people are running and doing yoga and otherwise making you feel guilty for eating so much for breakfast. But I’m really just being sneaky going to Viveros, because just north of the park is my favorite taco place, Super Tacos Chupacabras! Located right near a Sanborns, the little stall is always packed and always awesome – little tortillas infused with just the right amount of grease and topped with the tastiest chorizo or cecina (salted beef) or bistec (steak) or all three! As if things couldn’t get better, there are half a dozen cazuelas on the counter filled with stuff you can top your tacos with: cactus, beans, spiced potatoes, sweet cooked onions and great salsas.
And when you’re in D.F., you have to go to a market. Each neighborhood has one, and Coyoacán’s is great. But even more exciting is a little further down south in Xochimilco, which is known best for the canals and stuff but should also be famous for its market, which spills out of two buildings and onto the nearby streets and lots. There’s so much here: chileatole, a savory version of the typically sweet hot drinks, made with chilies, herbs and masa. There are incredible tamales and quesadillas and dueling taco vendors selling parts of pig heads. There are even tiny crayfish-looking things (with lime and chile, obviously), called acociles, that provide a window into the cuisine of the city when it used to be an island in a big lake. It’s one of those markets that remind you how much about Mexican food you don’t know.