At exactly the right moment, and not a minute sooner, lunch will be ready at La Cocina de Q.B.D.O. Generally, the magic hour of comida corrida – affordable, multi-course midday meals offered on weekdays and often Saturdays – is between 2-4 p.m., the typical lunch hour for Mexican workers.
The comida corrida, also known as menú del día, is a fixture across Mexico and especially common in Mexico City. These dining options run the gamut from humble to gourmet, often depending on the neighborhood you find yourself in. But there is never a doubt that it will be satisfying – and quick (comida corrida can be roughly translated as “food on the run”). This is the meal that should fill you up for the day, and portion sizes are often generous, especially considering that the average comida corrida goes for between 50-80 pesos (US$2.50-4, respectively).
The comida corrida set-up is pretty standard and consists of four courses: First is soup, usually called consomé, a chicken broth with vegetables and the occasional chunk of meat, and possibly an alternative such as a crema of some sort, a creamy soup made of puréed vegetables (carrot, corn and bean are three common crema options).
Second up, rice (often prepared with a tomato or chicken broth and served with fresh-sliced banana or a fried egg for 5 pesos more) or spaghetti (usually just noodles topped with cream and sometimes Parmesan cheese). In an effort not to fill up too quickly, you can order your second course “en el mismo plato,” on the same plate, with your third.
Which brings us to the guisado, the heart of the meal. You get your choice of guisado, or stew, of which there are typically three to five options per location. It could be huazontles (a native herb) fried and doused in mole, pork in salsa verde, chuleta (pork chop), picadillo a la mexicana (ground beef with pico de gallo), to name a few. Everything is served with corn tortillas and often black or brown (bayo) beans, of course.
For dessert, expect gelatin, strawberries or apples with cream sauce and shredded carrots, or perhaps some marzipan goodness. To wash it down? An agua del día, or agua fresca, essentially a watered-down juice with a bit of sugar added. If none of the guisado options suit your tastes, you can almost always get a grilled chicken breast, milanesa de rés (breaded steak) or quesadillas. It’s a good chance to test your Spanish and see what the chef can come up with for you.
The comida corrida can be found at restaurants which also serve other menu items, but most often you’ll see it featured at little fondas, small storefronts with outdoor and indoor seating often right next to the kitchen. These fondas are quite numerous in the city, often with a few per block, depending on the neighborhood. Everything is prepared in bulk so it comes out hot and fast. There are typically two or three cooks in the kitchen and at least one server, depending on the size of the fonda. Your server will approach your table with your option for primer tiempo, or first course. Pro tip: Many comida corridas also offer breakfast packages and chilaquiles, doused tortilla chips topped with meat or eggs, cheese, cream and salsa, which are almost always available at any time of day.
There is never a doubt that [comida corrida] will be satisfying.
Here are five different comida corridas that we visited while going about our daily que haceres (tasks) in the city and can recommend wholeheartedly:
La Cocina de Q.B.D.O.
Our regular spot, we try to get to Q.B.D.O. before 2:30 p.m., to ensure that our beloved chile relleno is still available. It’s a small space several blocks south of Coyoacán’s historic center, so it fills up quickly. With seven tables and a few chairs along the sidewalk for those who are waiting, this spot is always busy. Located near schools and businesses, Q.B.D.O. gets a lot of children and a lot of solo diners on their lunch break, so be prepared to share your table with other solo uno diners. The price for the daily menu is 55 pesos. We go frequently enough that the staff knows we want our beans and rice to come together with the guisado. It’s a good day when the agua del día is guanábana, a massive, spiky green fruit with thick, white meat inside which yields a mildly sweet, milky liquid.
La Divina Culpa
With ample seating, La Divina Culpa brings in large family groups, yet tables turn quickly. Located along one of the city’s main arteries in Portales Sur, there’s no shortage of traffic, though it’s quite calm during the middle of the day. The guisado on the day of our most recent visit was pork in salsa verde or a vegetarian option, Oaxaca cheese (a stringy, mild cheese not so different than mozzarella) wrapped in sautéed chard (acelgas) and covered in tomato sauce. Our dining companion ordered enchiladas filled with shredded chicken and topped with mole and cream, frequently called enmoladas in Mexico City. The agua del día was orange and the price was 60 pesos.
Offering one daily menu item, which can also be prepared vegan, this small vegetarian diner attracts a laid-back crowd of plant lovers. Just one block north of Metro Eugenia in Narvarte Poniente, it’s in one of the quickly trendifying neighborhoods of the city – mostly residential but well located to reach just about anywhere in the city in a reasonable amount of time. On this occasion, we were served a flavorful poblano broth soup with a chunk of corn cob, black beans and nopal (prickly pear cactus). The second course was seitan ceviche served with fresh cooked totopos (tortilla chips), followed by the main course which was a grilled wheat patty stuffed with vegan turkey and cheese. The meal was rounded off with pineapple and ginger agua fresca and a vegan lime gelatin for 85 pesos.
Laurel y Tomillo
Nestled along a quiet street of Colonia Escandón, this narrow fonda seats about 12 comfortably (possibly more can fit, but much less comfortably), and serves up a variety of plates each day, with special emphasis on Venezuelan delicacies. With the world as it is and migration from all points south heading northward, Venezuelans make up a big portion of the expatriates in the city. Service here is friendly through a thick Venezuelan accent. Order some South American specialties such as breakfast arepas and empanadas, or stick to the daily lunch menu which is something exquisite. For 132 pesos, we downed nearly an entire jar of strawberry water and ate a flavorful consomé before the main plate arrived, which included a nicely seasoned salad and a hefty serving of meat lasagna. To top it off, we ordered a coconut flan, which was completely unnecessary but utterly divine, and more strawberry water.
We visited this popular Colonia Nápoles restaurant, located just a few blocks from the World Trade Center in one of Mexico City’s main business and financial districts, during the height of chile en nogada season. The temptation was too great, and we opted to go for the deluxe option of the comida corrida, which included a sinfully delicious chile en nogada, stuffed with ground beef, pears and peaches, and topped with a semi-sweet walnut cream sauce, fresh mint and pomegranate seeds. It was served with agua de jamaica, hibiscus juice water, and sopa de fideos (a noodle soup in tomato broth). At 2:30 p.m., the line to enter Fonda Dakota extended down the block, and we invited a couple of women on their lunch break to take up the remaining seats at our table. For 150 pesos, we stuffed ourselves to the gills on one of Mexico’s most ephemeral dishes, all while enjoying the sights and sounds of the well-oiled machine that is a classic Mexico City fonda.