Hot Lunch: Comida Corrida in Mexico City
You will see these words implying ‘cheap hot lunch’ all over town in fondas, those little mom & pop eateries that cater to working class Mexicans looking for an economic home-cooked repast. The literal definition of a fonda is a “tavern, inn or small restaurant.” But like the terms bistro and trattoria, the meaning has become blurred. There can be high end fondas like the Fonda del Refugio, an elegant restaurant with white tablecloths. But here I refer to the simple kind attending to Marx’s lumpenproletariat. At around 2PM, Latin lunch time, these places fill to capacity. Some - presumably the good ones - have lines in front. It’s a Mexican custom which happily refuses to succumb to the invasion of US-style fast-food down-the-hatch-and-pay slop houses. People in a hurry stop at street stalls. Mc-chains which tend to be a lot more expensive, languish half empty.
The term comida corrida implies an economical mid-day meal served, in the civilized European manner, in three or four ‘tiempos’ or courses. The word ‘corrida’ which literally means a ‘run’, here refers to the fact that the dishes are brought out successively; it does not, as is sometimes supposed, allude to the ‘corrida de toros’ or bullfight. Comidas corridas are often run by women, making those who don’t have access to a mother or grandma feel right at home. The show opens with a sopa aguada, which, as it sounds, is a soup. It is then followed by a sopa seca or ‘dry soup’ – rice (with or without beans) or sometimes, pasta. The curtain then rises on the plato fuerte or guisado (prepared dish) most often meat cooked in a sauce accompanied by tortillas. The variety of main dishes is infinite, ranging from plain milanesas to vegetable fritters. A dessert may be added, often an unremarkable jello or flan. Aguas preparadas, made from fresh fruit with water and sugar added, are provided (normally at no extra charge) in a pitcher or by the refillable glass.
There are thousands of comida corrida joints in the city. Many serve dull, cheap but filling food – lots of starch, a bit of chewy meat in watery salsa. But a few stand out. And there are gems waiting to be discovered. It would take several lifetimes to try them all; everyone has his or her favorite. Send me yours - here are a few of mine.
Doña Juana, Mercado San Juan
Calle Ernesto Pugibet, Centro (Metro Salto de Agua)
Doña Juana is the San Juan market's best cook. Her stand is across from La Catalana--look for no. 283 on the green column. A sharp cookie with eyes at the back of her head, Doña Juana leaves no details unattended – your drink will be refilled and tortillas replenished. Her food is hearty, spicy, and varied. Recently on offer were huevos ahogados (literally ‘drowned eggs’) and cochinita pibil, the ruddy yucatecan classic. And at 32 pesos you can't beat the price. On Saturday she does one of the city’s best pozoles, mischievously trying to fatten you up with crema-slathered tostadas.
La Olla de Abundancia, Mercado San Juan de los Arcos de Belén (nearby but not the same as the San Juan market above) Corner of Izazaga and López, Centro (metro Salto de Agua) Open daily
Recognizable by its red counters, this sprawling fast lunch counter serves just about every Mexican classic and their 35 peso comida corrida is indeed abundant. I like the enchiladas verdes, but you never know what will be on the extensive menu.
Corner of Juan Escutia and Pachuca, Condesa (metro Chapultepec)
Open Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday
This is a neighborhood taquería specializing in carnes a la parrilla or grilled meats. The fragrance of charred meat, garlic and hot tortillas that greets you on entering is maddening. A little ameuse-bouche of black beans starts things rolling here, followed by the usual soup and my favorite, tacos de costilla(rib) which sing of smoke, fat and everything porcine-good.
The Mercado Medellín ‘food court’ Entrance on Coahuila between Medellín and Monterrey, Colonia Roma Open daily
These stalls, whose tables run into one another are always busy; signs announce the days offerings while proprietors shriek at you as you walk by, trying to pull you in to their stall. Be patient and choose the one that offers what you want.
A purveyor of juices and aguas will come by taking orders – remember to pay for this separately.
La Mony Calle Zacatecas between Tonalá and Jalapa, Colonia Roma Open Monday – Saturday
This reliable little spot, popular with local workers, is the favorite of longtime DF resident Jim Johnston, author of Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler. They just raised the price from 28 to 30 pesos, making it one of the cheapest places to have lunch in town.
The Mercado Coyoacán (Walk up calle Aguayo from the main plaza; the market is between Malintzin and Cuauhtemoc)
This famous market is haunted by Frida and Diego’s ghosts - they undoubtedly ate here on occasion. Several stalls in thecomedor section offer giant bubbling cazuelas of good things, all chile-laden.
A note to my readers: See my piece in the New York Times on Santa Maria la Ribera: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/03/06/travel/20110306-SURFACING.html?ref=travel
And, DFers, don't forget to visit our budding organic market, The Mercado el 100now entrenched in the Plaza Rio De Janeiro, colonia Roma, Sundays from 9-2 See: http://www.mercadoel100.org/
Don Cuevas February 24, 2011 Thanks. Although our last trip to el DF focused on higher end eating places, it's good to have reliable reviews of economical ones. I did have a big, freshly squeezed orange juice at a stall within the Mercado San Juan. Saludos, Don Cuevas
Joe Basurto February 24, 2011 I remember it on menus in Mexico when I was a child and never knew what it stood for. Thanks for posting this article.
Devany February 27, 2011 Nicholas... this is a great article. Thank YOU!
Jane Anne Evans February 27, 2011 I have only eaten a comida corrida in a couple of 'fondas' in Mexico City but there are several great ones in Queretaro and a new one which is amazing in San Miguel de Allende...."Sabores y Salsas" on Calzada de la Luz ...Chef Ma. Auxilio Trujillo is a fabulous cook, the food fresh, her portions are large and the flavours completely addictive.
cocina52 March 19, 2011 Thank you for this Great post! I'll definitely will try at least a couple of these. Another great spot is Los Cocoteros, 636 Avenida Colonia del Valle, I found it through another blog an I can asure you it was worth the trip.
Anonymous March 20, 2011 Thanks for the info on Bukhara. Went yesterday, and I must stay, it was quite good. We ordered the tandoori chicken, a goat dish, samosas, delicious garlic naan and basmati rice. All were great. On top of that, the host was gracious and the prices were fantastic. I will try the buffet next, which looked quite good in itself. Alan, Roma Norte
Patricio July 21, 2011 That food looks amazing, I am really in the mood for tacos de costilla!!! Patricio el Top Dating muchacho.