Mexico City is unarguably one of the top food capitals of the entire country. From savory, traditional tacos to highbrow ant larvae, the gastronomic scene is well worth exploring. While visitors will have a culinary field day with the street vendors, check out our list of can’t-miss restaurants—suiting all types of budget—that are known to impress locals and visitors alike. You’ll be more than likely to ask for an extra serving.
W Mexico City
Locals don’t share a bowl of guacamole here because it’s easy; it’s common knowledge the guacamole is a must at the W Mexico City. The avocados in Mexico City are notoriously sweeter, more buttery, and more rich—the reason why they export more from Mexico than anywhere else in the world. Executive chef Mauricio Leon prepares the guacamole in a stone bowl and adds his magic touch with pepper and chile to give it a spice only the W could be known for. Take the appetizer in your room, the signature Solea restaurant, or outdoor terrace and wash it down with mezcal for a truly authentic experience.
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Can’t-Miss Dish: Guacamole. With mezcal, less than $10 per person.
Taqueria El Califa
Hotel concierge, taxi drivers, artists, government officials: Ask anyone (seriously, anyone) where to find the best tacos and they’ll direct you to Taqueria El Califa. This institution in the Condesa neighborhood has the one-up on tacos. After a few servings here, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a taco that measures up. What makes a good taco? It’s all about the sauce and the chef’s secret ingredient to make it perfect. The freshness of the tortilla is also key. While the pork tacos here are all the rage, Califa makes their own cheese, sauces, and even variety of juices.
Can’t-Miss Dish: The beef tenderloin with Oaxaca cheese taco is their specialty. Two tacos with a drink, less than $20 per person.
This new-ish restaurant, open since January 2011, is a nice change of setting in Mexico City. Azul Historico is part of a new outdoor complex—a former 17th-century palace—surrounded by high-end shops and centered with laurel trees. The executive chef, Ricardo Munoz Zurita, is highly acclaimed in the country. Dine on his staple dishes like mezcal made from chicken breast juice, grasshopper guacamole and chilaquiles rojos con arrachera (fried tortilla pieces cooked with steak slices).
Can’t-Miss Dish: His take on the chiles en nogado, a traditional dish. It’s an enormous chile poblano stuffed with pork that’s cooked with raisins, pine nuts, apple, pear, and topped with salsa nogado, a walnut-based sauce with cream cheese and port. It’s seasonal, so if it’s on the menu when you get there, it’s a must! With appetizer and margarita, less than $40 per person.
Chef Daniel Ovadia is one of the country’s most famous chefs, thanks to the innovative dishes at his award-winning restaurant Paxia in the colonial neighborhood of San Angel. While it borders on molecular gastronomy, meals are a little heartier and tasting menus are quite extensive (lunches can be up to three hours here). But it’s all worth it. The contemporary restaurant is elegant and spacious with dishes highlighting North to Southern Mexico. Expect quirky plates like octopus smoked with a mezcal spray and clams with an edible shell, and his mole with chocolate from Oaxaca is a staple. Check out the store’s gift shop that sells soaps, jam, olive oil, and more.
Can’t-Miss-Dish: Sweetbread cooked in Mexican honey. Paxia only makes 100 liters a month, so it’s quite special. Tasting menu is $60 per person.
Often touted as the best restaurant in Mexico City by locals, Pujol will make foodies swoon. Internationally acclaimed executive chef Enrique Olvera’s innovative approach to traditional Mexican cuisine made from fresh, local products with a truly contemporary flair is impressive, given his atypical food pairings and whimsical creations. Tasting menu (land or sea) is $75 per person.
Can’t-Miss-Dish: Ant larvae, often referred to as the Mexican caviar.
Jimmy Im is a freelance travel writer based in NYC. He’s hosted programs on the Travel Channel and LOGO, and makes regular appearances on morning news shows as a "travel expert." He teaches travel writing courses and is also cofounder of OutEscapes.com.
Photo Credits: W Mexico City: Courtesy of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.; Taqueria Califa: Courtesy of Taqueria Califa; Azul Historico: Courtesy of Azul Historico; Paxia: Courtesy of Paxia; Pujol: Courtesy of Pujol