It’s almost 2020, and Mexico City continues to be one of the best eating cities in the world. So maybe you won’t find world cuisine the likes of New York or London, but instead you will be bowled over by a deep culinary tradition, genius chefs who were self-taught, and a delicious meal waiting on every corner (and we mean every). No “best of” list will ever cover all the deliciousness awaiting you in Latin America’s foodie megalopolis, but here are a few places that we fell in love with in 2019.
I am telling my lunch mate about a current family crisis, but his sage advice keeps getting lost in the burrata brava (a take on the popular Spanish dish patatas bravas), my ears coated in its spicy tomato sauce and smooth-as-silk burrata cheese. And that Linzer torte… what does it remind me of? Childhood? Certainly not, my mother never made a Linzer torte, a classic Austrian pastry, in her life. But there is something familiar as I scoop another morsel up with just enough homemade crème fraîche to balance the torte’s tart sweetness.
Some food refuses definitions and boxes. You roll it on your tongue trying to determine exactly what spice pricks the back of the throat, what makes the velvety consistency that slides over the tip of the tongue, where did this recipe come from? In the case of Niddo, the delightful confusion is encouraged by owners Eduardo Plaschinski and his mom, Karen.
“My family is from Budapest, Vienna, and Prague, and I am a gypsy cook,” Karen tells me. “[On the menu] I have shakshuka and chilaquiles, grilled cheese from Boston and fishcakes from Vancouver. Then we have cheesecake and we have Linzer torte from Vienna.”
Eduardo and Karen are descendants of Jewish immigrants, and after years spent in Canada, they came back to Mexico City, returning to themselves in the kitchen of Niddo. One of my favorite openings this year, the restaurant puts out food that is hard to categorize but a joy to eat.
There’s been a whole lot of press, and there are lines out the door most nights, but I still want to talk about Taquería Orinoco as my obsessive haunt of 2019. The first time my friend Anais took me by the hand and led me through this wonderland of northern tacos, I had a premonition that it would take over my taste buds and my life.
The cash register is manned by one surly and completely disagreeable guy. I know that he’s tired by the time I arrive late in the evening and that he knows that his hairnet looks ridiculous. He probably works long hours for not enough pay. Adding to his misery must be the sh*t-eating grin that spreads across my face (and the face of countless others) as I finally make my way to the front of the line to order my chicharon con queso with a flour tortilla. Just knowing that the mouth-watering blend of crispy cheese, deep-fried pork skin, pickled peppers and onions and some tzatziki-like yogurt sauce will soon be in front of me makes it impossible to come down off the taco high long enough to empathize with sour-faced cash register guy.
After a long night of taco touring I always say to my clients, “Just one more, just wait for it, you won’t regret saving space for this taco.” Regardless of how full I am (and despite my expanding taco belly), I always find room too. Because a good taco cannot be denied, and this is one I dream about.
Pasillo de Humo
This year I had guests staying at my house from Sweden that told me (after a week in the country) they “just didn’t like Mexican food,” especially mole.
I was dumbstruck.
First of all, for them to think that they could make such a sweeping generalization after just one week was plain egotistical. And did you say you didn’t like Mexican food – what are you, aliens? What about cochinita pibil? What about Mexican hot chocolate? What about red, yellow and green mole? Well, they confessed, they hadn’t had any of those things. So I sent them to Pasillo de Humo.
I’m a lover of mole mind you, but unfortunately not the ubiquitous mole poblano (that’s the rich, dark, chocolatey kind) that you find all over central Mexico. I need the variety of Oaxaca’s seven moles to make me happy. So while to truly experience mole you should probably go to the source, a 20-minute walk for some excellent Oaxacan food isn’t a bad second option. Pasillo de Humo’s molotes istemeños (cheese-stuffed sweet plantain) in red mole, fish of the day in yellow mole, and the option of chicken or turkey or beef with red or almendrado (almond raisin sauce) or negro de chilhuacle (a black mole made with chilhuacle chiles), well they are almost too good to be true. (I confess that the fried octopus in huachimole is my favorite, and I’m not even sure if that is technically a mole). Led by chef Alam Méndez, this spot has become my go-to for a Oaxacan fix this year. They have it all: excellent food, breezy ambiance and Oaxacan craft beer, i.e. all the elements that make a perfect meal.
I will never know how those travelers fared as they were the type that spend a day or two in Mexico City and call it conquered – they left before I had a chance to miss them. But I hope they learned a little lesson at Pasillo de Humo – to stick a fork in their mouths before they stick their foot in it.
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