Mexico City’s famed street food scene wakes up early: by 7 in the morning, many vendors will have the skillet warmed and the coffee ready. As the city’s 20-some million people make their way to work each morning, they stop at the stands that line the streets. Metal carts circle subway entrances like vultures over carnage, older women pat out blue corn treats from low stools on quiet corners, and young men man sizzling griddles. But for the unprepared, the ease with which vendors and their customers enact the daily routine can be intimidating: the stands don’t have signs or menus—an unspoken language of symbols and tools speak the language of Mexico City’s street food breakfasts. But a quick lesson in what to look for will help you find the best way to start the day.
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Shiny, oversized metal pots usually indicate tamales, and you’ll find them next to matching silver jugs, which hold champurrado—a chocolate and corn-flour hot drink that tamale vendors sell. Here, you’ll find corn-husk steamed hand-held tamales, often in chicken, pork, and/or raja (pepper) options. If you spot a giant bag of bread on the table, saddle up for a guajalota—a sandwich with a tamale inside.
Look for big plastic vats of dueling red and green salsas, a small stove, and a vendor shoving tortilla chips into a pan and get hungry for chilaquiles. The salsa-soaked chips make for a filling, delicious start to the day, with toppings like meat, egg, or cheese. If you’re feeling ambitious, order a torta de chilaquiles—the same thing, stuffed inside bread.
Spicy stewed goat meat is the cure to any hangover you might have waking up in Mexico City. Look for simmering pots of red liquid set up next to a griddle—and a pile of meat. Choose between stewed meat in a taco, accompanied by a Styrofoam cup of the magical broth, or meat and broth together in a bowl.
Tacos de Canasta
Canasta literally means “basket” and that is exactly what you’ll want to look for: a basket with a plastic bag inside and a colorful cloth covering it, perhaps mounted on a bike. The soft tacos are stuffed and stored in the basket while hot, which allows them to steam inside until they sell, the flavors of the tortilla and the filling (often potatoes) melding together.
Blue Corn Tlacoyos
Where there’s blue corn masa, there are fresh goodies—watch for vendors perched on a small stool or behind a cart with a griddle full of assorted blue corn dough. Most stands will pat out quesadillas, sopes, gorditas, and perhaps even huaraches. But the best of the bunch is the tlacoyo, a plump football stuffed with the filling of your choice (chicharron and cheese is always a winner), crisped on the griddle, then handed back to you to dress with cactus salad, cheese, and salsas.
Whatever you get, you’re likely to be just a few steps from a juice stand displaying a stack of fresh fruits—mostly oranges—ready to be squeezed into a cup.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Mexico City Guide