A Street Stall Inspired Walking Tour
When we were shooting a scene for the seventh season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time in Mexico City this past week, we were at one of my favorite seafood street stalls anywhere, Caguamo. Shooting each 3- or 4-minute scene takes several hours, giving me plenty of time to explore places in proximity. Which meant I had time to conger up this great little foodie walking tour of the area:
Start at the San Juan Market for a thrilling exploration of one of the city’s great (and very manageable) markets. Folks in the know refer to it as the chefs’ market because of the wide range of meat, fish, cheese, fruits and vegetables—all of it of breathtaking quality. Then walk the couple of blocks over to Molinería El Progreso (at Aranda and Ayuntamiento) where you’ll find one of the most beautiful displays of mole pastes and powders, spices, nuts and nut mixes (as well as the ones they call garapiñados, candied). This place is a gem. Around the corner on Ayuntamiento is Caguamo, the seafood stall that keeps me coming back. Get a coctel campechano (a mixture of two ceviches with Mexican cocktail sauce, avocado, onions and cilantro added) or simply an order of ceviche (mackerel, crab or octopus). Or go for shrimp with toasted garlic (camarones al mojo de ajo). Or one of the shrimp empanadas. You basically can’t go wrong. Then treat yourself to a coffee at Café Cordobés (the roast coffee from Córdoba, Veracruz—worth taking home). Now, wander down the block (on Calle Lopez, a few shops down from Café Cordobés) to this panadería, a classic, very-good-quality Mexico City-style bakery—the kind where you pick up a metal tray and pair of tongs and choose from among the offerings that line the windows and walls. Great stuff to take back to the hotel for breakfast the next day. Because you want to save your sweet cravings a few blocks away at Churrería el Moro. Sit down, order a hot chocolate and churros (my favorite is the most flavor-packed one they call ‘especial’), and—if you’re anything like me—prepare for an ‘I can’t talk right now’ blissful moment.
Monte Cristo Restaurant
I just finished my second meal at Monte Cristo in the northern part of Mexico City and all I can say is, ‘Go. Go now.’ There is absolutely nothing easy about getting there. Even Mapquest won’t really help. So my recommendation is to give a well-seasoned taxi drive the address (Insurgentes Norte 1980, a simple sounding address), tell him to take the Ticomán exit, immediately turn left to take you on the overpass over Insurgentes, and look to your left. There’s a big sign that says Monte Cristo, even though you’ll have to drive a block or so on before you’ll be able to make a u-turn and return to the restaurant.
Now, all that said, this place serves some of the best traditional Mexican food (with a few uniquely modern touches) I’ve ever had. And the place is 100% beautiful, in that classic Mexican way. The owner, who developed the menu himself (though he’s no trained chef) and took a couple of years to build out the restaurant in his grandfather’s old, then nearly ruined hacienda; all the land had been sold off as Mexico City grew up around it, leaving only the aging hacendado’s home. I think I’ve tried most everything on the menu and can pretty much give it all a thumbs up—wonderful thin-sliced octopus (pulpo rasurado), crispy rolled tacos of wonderfully tangy ricotta, up-to-date salads, wood-grilled skirt steak, a shrimp dish with tamarind and chipotle (camarones trenzados), seafood pozole. The desserts are good, too, especially the guanábana meringue tart with black zapote sauce. But there’s two things I’ll encourage you not to miss: The salsas made tableside by a woman who shows up with practically every ingredient known to have ever gone into salsa, asks you what you want and then makes it for you on the spot (my last one with roasted tomatillos and garlic, morita chiles, cilantro and toasted grasshoppers (!!) was incredibly good); and the sangria service, also done tableside, because, though sangria’s a Spanish drink, it’s fun to watch and the result is classic and very, very delicious.
Great Finds at Bazaar Sabado
If you go to the Bazar Sábado in the San Angel section of Mexico City on Saturday, don’t miss a fellow on the second level of the inside market, nestled into the back corner. His name is Fernando Castro and he works in volcanic rock making molcajetes (mortars) and metates (flat grinding stones), as well as serving and baking pieces. All of his offerings are non-traditional designs (which isn’t what you’d expect from an older guy who travels hours in every Saturday from his rural home in the Atizapan de Zaragoza, Estado de México). You can find small, footless molcajetes and beautifully sculpted ones with four, rather than three, feet. I love the serving platters he shapes from the high-quality, near-black stone. His card reads “Célula Ny’n’yo.’
O Mayatl - The Place for Mezcal
A place I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is located on the square in Coyoacan and called O Mayatl (formerly O Mayahuel), named after the Aztec goddess of the maguey plant—from which tequila is made. And mezcal, which is the focus of this place. Go for a mezcal tasting from many different regions; my last one included several artisanal village craftings from the now-classified denomination of origin, Oaxaca. (Tequila, with its strictly controlled denomination of origin specifying production only within a 5-state area, has been—up until last year—the only denomination of origin given for alcoholic beverages in Mexico.) As the afternoon wore on, I tasted mezcals from Michoacan and Guerrero, from Zacatecas (from the tequilana variety) and from San Luís Potosí. All the Oaxacan ones were made from the espadín variety, which is said to be the parent plant to the famous tequila-producing tequilana. The food at O Mayatl is good, too, if kind of rustic and big and working hard to be modern, but with feet planted firmly in Mexico. If you’re up for it, get the guacamole sprinkled with toasted grasshoppers and the chiles rellenos made from the dried ancho chile filled with skirt steak, caramelized onions and guacamole. Weekends are crowded but fun, since the square is hopping. You can go for buñuelos from the stalls behind the church, or grab an ice cream from one of the famous old ice cream stores around there, or go for a pancake made in your (caricature) likeness from the guy who’s had that schtick for nearly thirty years in the little snacks/pozole market that’s past the buñuelo stalls.