Mexico City has been a culinary capital ever since the time of Moctezuma. Chronicles tell of the extravagant banquets prepared for the Aztec emperor with more than 300 different dishes served. Today's Mexico City is a gastronomic melting pot, with some 15,000 restaurants. You'll find everything from taco stands on the streets to simple, family-style eateries and elite restaurants. The number and
range of international restaurants is growing and diversifying, particularly in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods like Polanco, San Angel, La Condesa, La Roma, Lomas de Chapultepec, and Del Valle. Argentine, Spanish, and Italian are the most dominant international cuisines; however, you'll also find a fair share of Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and French restaurants. Mexico City restaurants generally open 7–11 am for breakfast (el desayuno) and 1–6 for lunch (la comida)—although it's rare for Mexicans to eat lunch before 2, and you're likely to feel lonely if you arrive at a popular restaurant before then. Lunch is an institution in this country, often lasting two or more hours, and until nightfall on Sunday. Consequently, the evening meal (la cena) may often be really light, consisting of sweet bread and coffee, traditional tamales, and atole (a hot beverage made from corn and masa and sometimes chocolate) at home, or tacos and appetizers in a restaurant.
If having dinner, most locals start out at 9 pm; restaurants serving dinner stay open at least until 11 pm during the week, and later on weekends. Many restaurants are only open for lunch, especially on Sunday. At deluxe restaurants dress is generally formal (jacket at least), and reservations are recommended; see reviews for details. If you're short on time, you can always head to American-style coffee shops or recognizable fast-food chains all over the city that serve the tired but reliable fare of burgers, fried chicken, and pizza. If it's local flavor you're after, go with tacos or the Mexico City fast-food staple, the torta (a giant sandwich stacked with the ingredients of your choice for about $3). Eating on the street is part of the daily experience for those on the go, and surprising as it may seem, many people argue that it's some of the best food in the city. Still, stick to crowded stands to avoid a stomach illness.
Also cheap and less of a bacterial hazard are the popular fondas (small restaurants). At lunchtime fondas are always packed, as they serve a reasonably priced four-course meal, known as the comida corrida, which typically includes soup of the day, rice or pasta, an entrée, and dessert. There are few vegetarian restaurants, but you'll have no trouble finding nonmeat dishes wherever you grab a bite. Vegetarians and vegans, however, will have a more difficult time, as many dishes are often prepared using lard.
Colonia Polanco, the upscale neighborhood on the edge of the Bosque de Chapultepec, has some of the best and most expensive dining (and lodging) in the city. Zona Rosa restaurants often fill up with tourists, so don't expect to be sitting with the locals here. The Condesa and Roma neighborhoods buzz with a younger crowd all week.