My Favorite Mexican Foods and Where to Eat Them - Part 2
My search for the Taquería Holy Grail, serving either salsas verde or roja, continues to be a major part of my life. Sometimes it takes me to parts of town I didn't know exist and which don't appear in my 1998 edition of the Guia Roji. I've learned to trust no one but myself.
Seafood cocktails, or cocteles de mariscos come in many varieties: shrimp, octopus, crab, and ceviches of various fish and sea creatures. They are one of the joys of Mexican eating. Mexico City is paradise for a seafood lover like me. The Mercado de La Viga, our astonishingly huge central fish market, is stocked by truckers who make the 8-hour trek daily from either coast. The gaps are filled by fresh trout and other odd aquatic creatures such as the crayfish-like acamayas from nearby mountain streams. There are many small and large restaurants there serving undoubtedly fresh seafood, and the shopping is glorious. Best to go early, as by 1 or 2, most of the stalls are closed. This is the only place I have found things like skate or scallops with any regularity. It is located east of the centro, best reached by taxi or car.
When I'm in a maritime mood but don't feel like a long shlep, I head to the centro to the humble street stall El Caguamo (Calle Ayuntamiento, near the corner of López) which I consider one of the city’s best places for seafood (caguamo is slang for a liter-size beer bottle). Half of Mexico City seems to agree with me, as it’s always packed. While common wisdom may tell you not to eat fish on the street, the offerings are exquisitely fresh, set on ice and behind glass--and the turnaround is swift. I have interviewed many devoted customers who swear they’ve never regretted eating here; and neither have I. The ceviches of jaiba, pescado, calamar or pulpo, (crab, fish, squid or octopus), made with chopped tomato, chili, onion and cilantro, augmented with lime juice and olive oil, are out of this world – just the right proportion of sour/herb aroma. They can be eaten as a coctél in a glass or on a tostada.
Alternatively, the sprawling Mercado San Pedro de los Pinos is famous for its seafood stalls. It is located an easy walk from its eponymous metro stop, south of Chapultepec Park. On weekends you are likely to hear live music.
TACOS AL PASTOR
Tacos al Pastor are the most "Chilango" or Mexico City food of all, perhaps the only one really of the capital itself. It appeared in the 1950’s with the arrival of Lebanese immigrants. Pork is marinated in chili and spices (recipes varying from stand to stand) and roasted on a vertical revolving skewer (known as a pastor in Spanish), sliced off by the taquero, and served as an open taco. A sliver of pineapple, chopped cilantro, onion and a selection of salsas top it all off.
One of my favorite places to eat tacos al pastor (sometimes called tacos arabes) is El Huequito (which means “the little hole”), a tiny operation on Ayuntamiento 21, near the corner of López, in the Centro Histórico. Around since 1959, it was among the first places in the city to serve tacos al pastor. At El Huequito, the sliced meat is swathed in a moderately picante salsa of chile de árbol, enhanced with chopped onion and cilantro, all rolled up in a small tortilla. Several intriguing salsas are available for serious chileros. The meat is juicy and succulent, the smoky grilled aroma lingering until you take the next bite. Washed down with an ice-cold horchata or agua de Jamaica, these 9-peso morsels are pure corazón mexicano. A good alternative is El Tizoncito, Tamaulipas 122, in La Condesa (with many branches around town).
The cooking of the Yucatan, with its spicy, tart, and fruity flavors, is among the most distinctive and exciting in Mexico. Fortunately, Yucatecan food is readily available here in the capital.
The Yucatan peninsula is geographically isolated from the rest of the country, so its culture, heavily influenced by Mayan civilization, is unique. Spanish, Caribbean and even Lebanese (who controlled the hemp industry in the 19th century) immigrants have made cultural and gastronomic contributions. The food is characterized by very hot sauces (typical of very hot places) and local ingredients like pumpkin seed powder, red onion, sour orange, sweet pepper, lime, a marinating paste known as "achiote", capsicum pepper (xcat ik), habanero pepper, and coriander, as well as the aforementioned lima . Turkey, wild boar, venison and cazón (a small shark) traditionally provide the protein.
The peninsula’s most famous dish is cochinita pibil. Shredded pork is marinated in a paste of citrus and achiote, then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted until it’s falling-apart tender. The meat is eaten as tacos with pickled red onions and fiery habanero salsa. Alternatively, it is piled on a thick tortilla over a slather of black bean paste, and called a ‘panucho’. I’ve tried just about every venue for Yucatecan food in el D.F. over the years, and none has matched the quality of Coox Hanal (pronounced “coosh anAHL”). This popular restaurant, located on the second floor at Isabel la Católica 83, near Mesones, was founded by ex-boxer Raúl Salazar from Mérida, and it offers Yucatecan fare just as it's done in Don Raúl's hometown. Meaty, spicy, the flavors distinct--the ‘cochinita pibil’ at Coox Hanal hits all the marks.
The best alternative, and a close runner up, is Welik Cochinita Pibil, Campeche 122 (across from the Mercado Medellín) in Colonia Roma . This small simply-named fonda serves excellent Yucatecan food - the sopa de lima, made to order, is as fragrant as it should be, and of course the cochinita is succulent. The beautiful array of salsas is tempting, but watch out: one is more picante than the next.
Anonymous October 11, 2009 I'd love to know if there's still a street stall near Puente de Alvarado and Insurgentes, on the side toward downtown, I think one block, close to the Casa de los Amigos but on the corner with Puente. It started in the late 90s as one stall. In 2004 it had expanded to 3-4 stalls. It was the only place I could find tacos de torta de espinaca, those little omelets. The usually contain shredded pork or chicken, but they did them with spinach. I'm sure there are many other stalls that serve spinach omelets, but they aren't as common as the ones using meat. They're delicious and filling, with the black bean condiment and slices radishes. Yum-o!
glorv1 October 17, 2009 I'm hungry now. Thanks for sharing, great blog.
Carlos Gershenson October 28, 2009 Thanks for the great tips. 2 comments: 1. My grandfather told me that the tacos al pastor were invented by a greek immigrant, aka "El Griego" in the 1930's... Well, it is a variation of the mediterrean shawarma/shaurma, but with mexican spices (adobo) and pork instead of lamb (or chicken, which is used in Russia). I think that the pineapple was a latter adition. 2. For Yucatecan cuisine, everybody should try the Fonda 99.99 (Moras 347, Col. Del Valle; 5559 8762). Great food, great prices.
Fnarf November 5, 2009 I'm so excited to visit now -- I love Tacos Al Pastor off the spit. It's really just Mexican Gyros, pork instead of lamb, tortilla instead of pita, but it's so, so good. Very lame versions we have here in Seattle!
Adam McCord December 3, 2009 For Yucatecan food, I'd also recommend 99.99 in Col. Florida and Turix in Polanco (Emilio Castelar, almost to Masarik)... both are excellent.