Local, Loco, (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City Guide, Part 3
Good Luck to Your Stomach
To dig into how to eat like a local in Mexico City, we asked Uber drivers, born-and-raised chilango friends, our restaurant-owner Airbnb host, and longtime expat acquaintances to spill the (refried) beans and tell us their favorites.
And man did they deliver.
It’s not just tacos and tortas, either.
Well yeah, they recommended a ton of tacos and tortas, but there’s a variety of other foods as well.
And not only Mexican! That’s because—get this—Mexicans don’t only eat Mexican food. CDMX, as they call it these days, is a mega melting pot of cultures and that’s reflected in the cuisine.
So basically if you want to really eat like a local in Mexico City, eat anything and everything. This list will get you started.
Bienvenidos y buen provecho.
Get Hungry for What’s to Come
- Original Mexican Dishes
- Cafes & Bakeries
All the spots mentioned in this post are located on this map, which you can save to Google maps on your phone by following these simple instructions.
Original Mexican Dishes
3-Foot-Long Edible Swords:
Quesadillas from Los Machetes de Amparito
Los Machetes de Amparito serves up the longest and biggest quesadillas we’ve ever seen. They’re in the shape of a machete (hence the name) but even longer—about 60 to 70 (centimeters). Best of all, they only cost 55 to 70 pesos ($2.75 to $4 US) each.
That’s like a peso a centimeter!
Los Machetes de Amparito is like a waaaay better Mexican-style Subway. For your giant quesadilla, you can choose a set combo of ingredients, or build your own with options including chicharron, chorizo, pulled beef, huitlacoche (a delicious mushroom that grows on corn), and zucchini blossoms. And, of course, each quesadilla comes with a heavy dose of of queso.
The ordering process is as unconventional as the quesadillas. First, you have to wait in line out front to order from the guy by the entrance. You then patiently wait to be called to your table while you watch them prepare one machete after another on the grill at the front of the restaurant. The wait can be long. When your name is finally called, you’ll be seated and a waitress will come by. You can confirm or change your quesadilla order (so what was the point of the guy out front?) and add some drinks too.
Tip #1: Avoid the weekends. We went on a Sunday and it took close to an hour to order, be seated, and to get our quesadillas. On the bright side, thigh gave us time to build up our appetite.
Tip #2: Pick your own ingredients instead of a combo but remember to ask them to mix the ingredients within your quesadilla. If you don’t, they will ony put one ingredient per portion of your quesadilla.
The Local Hangover Cure:
Pozole from La Casa de Toño
Almost every local and friend recommended La Casa de Toño, and it soon became obvious why. The place is cheap, cheerful, and local.
Everyone said to get the pozole. It’s a spicy, hearty, corn and meat soup made with pork or chicken. Garnished with shredded cabbage, radish, avocado, and lime. It’s the perfect dish for hangovers, so much so that although we didn’t have a hangover, we kind of wish we did.
At La Casa de Toño the small pozole is 39 pesos ($2 USD), the large is 43 (basically $2 USD too). Splurge on the extra 4 pesos, get the large, and, if you’re with a friend, ask them to split it into two bowls. It seems you get more that way. Along with a side of guacamole and chips, it was a good sized lunch for us.
Tip #1: Instead of choosing between their veggie (zucchini blossoms, radish, cabbage, and corn) and meat pozoles, ask for a combo. It’s the same price and you definitely get more fillings that way. And it tastes better.
Tip #2: La Casa de Toño’s has several locations in Mexico City, but we were advised to go to the original one in Santa Maria La Ribera.
Locals’—and Bourdain’s—Favorite Way to Start the Day:
Breakfast at Fonda Margarita
Fonda Margarita is a busy, no-frills, homestyle-cooking restaurant specializing in homemade Mexican breakfast classics. Even though it’s featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, when we went it surprisingly wasn’t overflowing with tourists. We were the only non-Mexicans. Maybe it’s because of its slightly out-of-the way location.
It wasn’t overflowing with anyone for that matter, despite warnings from our friends to get there before 6 a.m. or else face an enormous two-hour line and sold out specials. We slept in, arrived at 8:30 am by Eco-bici and there was only one couple in line ahead of us.
In no time, we got into the restaurant—past the doorman who doubles as the place’s musician—and found a couple seats squashed between other diners at one of the cafeteria-style communal tables. Everything on the menu was still available. Exito!
Despite the fact that we speak Spanish, our super friendly waiter insisted to speak with us in English. He told us he lived in California for four years picking mushrooms (the edible kind) for Campbell’s Soup.
Everyone seemed to be ordering the frijoles (beans) and eggs dish, so we did too. We also got the daily special meat stews, which are different every day of the week.
The beans were just okay. I thought they were a little too porky (it was made with pig fat) but Chris devoured the dish with ease. The two pork stew specials, pork in green sauce and the chicharron in red sauce, had great flavor. Chris loved the chicharron and got a second order.
And why not get more orders? For three dishes, tortillas, churros, and coffee we only paid about 200 pesos ($10 US).
Veggie Tacos Even a Texan Rancher Would Love:
Broccoli and Cauliflower Pattie Tacos from El Tacoton
Good thing we did.
The portions are huge (no surprise since the name translates to The Massive Taco), and the fillings were uniquely fantastic. We particularly enjoyed the fried cauliflower and broccoli patties and the cheese filled chili.
El Tacoton also has perhaps the most impressive variety of sides and garnishes of any taco stand in the city.
The tacos are only 13 pesos each ($0.70 US), so go hungry and invite a friend. Or your Uber driver.
The Best Deal on Tacos in Downtown CDMX:
Any Meat Taco From Tacos Los Especiales
Despite the name, the tacos aren’t that special at Tacos Los Especiales. What makes this spot a local favorite is the downtown Zocalo location, the 7 peso ($0.35 US) price per taco, and the unlimited guacamole and endless pickled vegetables that you can heap on top.
I was too full to eat any tacos, so I waited outside (a.k.a. shopped at Zara). Nearby was a young kid begging for money to buy tacos. When someone generously gave him 50 pesos ($2.50 US), I didn’t think he’d actually spend the money on food, but he ran inside with a huge grin on his face and ordered three. But that still left him with 29 pesos for who knows what. Maybe the tacos are too cheap!
Fake Meat, REALLY Good (and Cheap!):
“Chicharron” Tacos at Por Siempre Vegana
Since this is a guide on how to eat like a local in Mexico City, you’re probably thinking, “Vegan tacos…really?”
Trust me. I was skeptical too, but Por Siempre Vegana’s tacos are so good even a Texan rancher wouldn’t miss the meat. And it isn’t an overpriced hipster taco shop designed for Instagram-ability, as we feared it would be. It looks just like any other street-side taco stand and the tacos are just 15 pesos ($0.75 US) each, or 20 ($1) for the specials.
Service is fast and their menu is creative and unique. They use “blue” corn tortillas, which are confusingly green (as you can see in the photo). I particularly loved the “Chicharron” tacos made with soy and a delicious salty marinade. Chris’ favorite was the tlaxuache. As per usual we went heavy on the sides which included potato, nopal cactus, black beans, salsa, and cilantro.
Tip: Arrive by bike and get a free agua del dia (flavored water of the day)
The Godfather of Tacos:
Any Taco with Cheese at Tacos Don Juan
At Tacos Don Juan, there is always a line, it’s always smokey, you’ll always get sweaty waiting in the boiling hot shack, and it’s always worth it.
This is not just another taco place. It’s THE taco place to go if you’re anywhere around La Condesa and Roma. The portions are generous, the meat is fresh (the chef cleavers off the chunks and throws them right on the grill right in front of you), and the cheese is perfectly melted and crispy.
The prices seem relatively expensive at first glance (about 30 pesos or $1.50 US each—I said relatively), but you won’t complain when you see how generous the portions are.
Tip #1: Don’t wear white. There are no seats, so you eat standing up and the tacos are big and sloppy.
Tip #2: Don Juan’s tacos have almost too much meat. But since each comes with two tortillas, you can divide them into two still-heaping tacos.
Cafes & Bakeries
$0.30 of Bliss:
Caneles from La Boheme
Caneles are small French pastries made with vanilla and rum, with a custard-like center and a thick caramelized crust. The small ones at La Boheme are only 6 pesos ($0.30) a piece, so there’s no reason not to try one…or a dozen. I brought an entire box home with me to Canada and they were gone within a day.
Like Eating Emojis:
Three Cheese Bun at Marukoshi Bakery
Appropriately located on Tokio street, Marukoshi is a Japanese-run bakery that makes authentic buns and rolls. The space is TINY (even for Mexicans) and packed with delicious treats.
Go early – they open at noon. Go as soon as they open because you get the buns fresh out the oven and they tend to sell out quick. The so-cute-you-almost-don’t-want-to-bite-its-head-off Totoro bun is the most popular with the locals but our favorite was the three cheese bun.
Tip: Ride down to Marukoshi on an EcoBici shared bike, then spend the afternoon exploring Coyoacan and San Angel. Go to our EcoBici guide for more details.
A Taste of History:
Churros & Hot Chocolate “Especial” at La Churreria El Moro
Churros first came to Mexico through a Spanish man named Francisco Iriarte. Back in his hometown, he used to remember this man selling the most delicious crispy and sweet fried dough treats, out of his traveling cart. When he moved to Mexico in the early 1930s, he decided he would try selling churros just like “El Moro” as he used to call the man, because they were nowhere to be found in Mexico. He began selling them out of a stall in the Zocolo, which eventually lead to La Churreria El Moro.
What makes La Churreria El Moro so good is that the churros are always fresh and warm, service is excellent, and the dipping sauces make the experience a decadent and indulgent treat. If you go to the original location downtown, there are old photographs on the walls telling the history of how El Moro came to be.
Order one of the “paquetes” which will set you back 72 pesos ($3.78 US). The Chocolate Especial (which means hot chocolate) is semi-sweet hot chocolate with subtle cinnamon flavors. Your “package” includes four churros and a dipping sauce (we chose cajeta – a milky caramel) to go along with.
Tip: Don’t get the churros to go. Grab a table and enjoy the experience.
Too Good for Just a Fancy Restaurant:
Rol de Guayaba at Panaderia Rosetta
Rosetta opened as a popular Italian restaurant in Mexico City with a focus on pasta and fresh, seasonal, dishes. But what the diners raved about most were the pastries. People came just for them.
The owners, seeing where their bread was buttered, so to speak, jumped on this opportunity and opened up a separate bakery: Panaderia Rosetta.
The European-style bakery (which now has 3 locations) is outstanding for a couple of reasons:
- Everything is made with real butter. Most other Mexican bakeries use animal fat or margarine.
- The unique flavor combinations. Think savory and sweet rosemary buns and guava-cream danishes.
- Quality and price. With standards of a Parisian cafe and cheaper than Starbucks pricing, you really can’t go wrong here.
We went to Panaderia Rosetta twice in our most recent week-long trip to CDMX… by accident. The first time was on purpose but the second time, at a different location, we thought we’d gone to another amazing bakery. But then after we ordered and asked around, we realized it was a sister restaurant and cafe, Cafe NIN.
Tip #1: Go to the Cafe NIN location, which is more spacious and less busy but, as we noted, has the same stuff.
Tip #2: Order the Rol de Guayaba
Fruit Salad with a Kick in the Pants:
Spicy Mexican Fruit Cups
Mexicans don’t just like chili, they love it. They love it so much that they put it on everything including candy, ice-cream, and even fruit and vegetables.
So to eat like a local in Mexico City, you gotta literally spice it up.
Fruit cups are a healthy way to start. Street vendors in CDMX slice up fruit (green mango, papaya, and coconut are the go-tos) and vegetables (cucumber and jicama, a mild, Mexican turnip), squeeze some fresh lime juice and add a
sprinkling shower of salt and chili.
One of the best I had was at San Angel’s Saturday Market, El Bazar de Sabado. A fruit cup is the perfect portable snack to take with you as you check out the local artists selling art, jewelry, ceramics, prepared food, and other handicrafts. And it only costs 40 pesos ($2 US). Easy on the bank…but maybe not so easy on your stomach.
Tip: Unless you’re Mexican or you can handle spice, go easy on the chili the first time around or you’ll be making a b-line for the baño.
Sweet and Spicy Delights:
Again, chili is making an appearance. See a theme?
Mango enchilado is a combination of two Mexican favorites: sugar and chili. It’s the perfect between-meal pick-me-up.
The tangy, sweet, and spicy flavors are so reminiscent of Mexico that every time I visit I bring back a pound or two tucked into my carry-on.
You can find mango enchilado at just about any market or supermarket in the bulk food section.
The Straight Goods from the Street:
Unlike the previous two snacks (and most other Mexican snacks) there is nothing spicy about street churros. And they won’t be as fresh as the ones from El Moro. But if you need your fix of fried, sweet, dough, the churro street vendors are here for you.
Is Mexico the Best Country to Visit for Eating?
We think so.
Get some travel inspiration and see what we think 15 other countries are the best for on our post of the Best Countries to Visit for 16 Unique Types of Trip.
Built Up An Appetite for CDMX?
Hopefully this post gave you some ideas on how to eat like a local in Mexico City. Mexico City is one hell of a city and this is just a taste of what you can hope to experience on your own adventures in CDMX.
If you have questions about any of the places we mentioned or have suggestions to add to the list, leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
More Local, Local, and (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City
This guide to where to eat in Mexico City was Part 3 of our 5-Part Local, Loco, and (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City Series.
Don’t miss the other four parts to get fully prepared for your visit:
- What You Need to Know About CDMX in 12 FAQs
- Mexico City Travel Tips: 20 Dos and Don’ts to Know Before You Go
- How to Explore Mexico by Bike (and Why It’s Not Crazy)
- A Guide to Mexico’s Kombucha on Steroids: Pulque
Where to Stay in Mexico City?
As we explain in part 1 of our Local, Loco, and (not) local Mexico City blog series, Condesa / Roma is the best area to stay in in Mexico City.
This cool tool can help you find the best places at the best prices in that neighborhood: