Nicholas Gilman is a renowned journalist and food writer based in Mexico City.

Nicholas Gilman es un renombrado periodista gastronómico radicado en la Ciudad de México.

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Down in the Valley: Humbertos & Fonda 99.99 Do Yucatan

Down in the Valley: Humbertos & Fonda 99.99 Do Yucatan

Colonia Del Valle is that quiet, resolutely middle-class, luster-less neighborhood, essential to every big city. Think Queens. There are nice, post-war vintage homes, clean streets, a few tidy parks. You don’t feel the genteel breeziness of Polanco, the buzz of the Condesa, the hipsterism of La Roma, the intellectual vibe of Coyoacán or the walk-on-the-wild-side artsiness of Santa Maria la Ribera.

But there are some cultural and culinary gems hidden in the Valley’s streets. The Centro Libanés is one. Fonda Margarita is another. And there are the two Yucatecan mini-institutions, owned by brothers, that sit back to back on a particularly quiet thoroughfare. These busy kitchens whip up their versions of that most incendiary of Mexican regional cuisines, and are amongst the best in the city.

Fonda 99.99 is the simpler of the two, its décor practically non-existent – it’s bright and clean inside at least –the color scheme is hospital white. The menu is limited to those well-worn peninsular antojitos: cochinita pibil, in its various guises, such as tacos, panuchos and tortas. The sopa de lima has that particularly satisfying savory balance of perfumy and picant. And padadzules, those eggy, blue-green pumpkin seed-thickened concoctions, a rare (in the Mexican lexicon, anyway) vegetarian dish, are creamy and nutty. I asked a manager from whence comes the 99.99 theme – she couldn’t tell me. Avis's old “we try harder” ethic, I suppose.

Humbertos, entered through 99’s driveway or from around the corner, sports warmer decoration. It features a long and intriguing menu. Expectant diners line up for a table – they look happy when they are seated and they eat a lot. Here, the ‘99’ theme spills over, and all prices end in .99, even though we no longer use 1-centavo coins in Mexico. “99 44/100 per cent pure” promised those old Ivory Soap ads. As a particularly cynical kid I always wondered about the other .56 percent.

The missing percentage here undoubtedly refers to the part of the menu that isn’t Yucatecan. Could be ‘spaghetti rojo a los 6 quesos'. Six cheeses! Don’t order it. Stick to the many southern regional specialties, some familiar others less so. The afore-mentioned cochinita is succulent and perfectly complimented by the fiery but aromatic jade-green salsa. Try the delectable but oddly named salbutes de ‘but’ negro: light crispy sopes are topped with ground meat steeped in the salsa called recado negro. While sometimes thin and lacking in complexity, here it works, perfuming the meat with a delicate smokiness.

Tacos de lechón, suckling pig, are addictive - I lusted after my neighbor's huge plate of pure juicy meat. But I had ordered the tacos de cazón, that light baby shark with which the Yucatecans work so well. The classic pan de cazón, is presented here as a pretty stack of herby braised fish, black beans and tortillas swathed in gorgeous red tomato/chile sauce like a Dior model in crimson organdy. Of course you’ll wash it all down with ice-cold horchata or Montejo beer.

Prices in both places are reasonable – a comida will set you back no more than $100 pesos. But be aware that they are only open for lunch - no late night chilli-fests. So go down to the valley - it can get hot there.

Fonda 99.99 Moras 347, between Miguel Laurent & San Lorenzo, 6 blocks east of Av. Insurgentes, Col. Del Valle (Metrobus Parque Hundido) Tel. 5559-8762 Open Tuesday-Saturday 1-8 p.m., Sunday until 6

Restaurante Humbertos Patricio Sanz 1440, (entry from Calle Mora, see below) Col. Del Valle Tel. 5559-8760 Open every day but Tuesday, 1-6 p.m.  
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Roberto Santibanez July 20, 2011 Love Humberto's for lunch!

Nicholas Gilman replies: Roberto Santibanez, the commentator above, is a masterful chef and author; his renowned restaurant, in NYC is Fonda

Rowill July 20, 2011 Great stuff. I actually like going to Valle. It's a nice, ordinary, every day sort of place, where the people are nice and there's nothing too special. You actually see a lot of DF there, in its own way, and I've always found the food there to be really good, interesting and tidy little places to eat.

Jim J July 21, 2011 Your writing gets better and better--this one is great, and will probably have people thinking, for the first time ever, "Let's go down to Del Valle!"

NG replies: It's all those 'ordinary' neighborhoods that make Mexico City so extraordinary. It's hundreds of small towns, all with their own identity. Thanks for pointing this one out.

Ruth in Condechi July 21, 2011 Just in case you're in the area early in the morning - the 99.99 doesn't open officially till 1 PM - but they do sell tortas de cochinita pibil to go before then!

Juan July 21, 2011 Two yucatecan institutions, indeed. The streets of Del Valle are generally quieter than their counterparts in hipster neighborhoods, but they jealously guard more than a few gems like these ones.

Don CuevasJuly 23, 2011 Thanks for the post. I avoid dishes that have more than one variant of the same thing, like "six cheeses", or "three mustards". Isn't one good enough? I like to be able to taste that which I'm eating. Saludos, Don Cuevas

Set July 25, 2011 -(...) the encroaching hipsterism of La Roma, (...) Hahaha Actually, I pass through Moras quite often and have seen a big white sign with 99.99 on it, but nothing too remarkable. Gotta check it out.

First published July 7, 2010, updated October 2017[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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