Delicious DF Eateries with a History: From Pancho Villa’s Bullets to Jack Kerouac’s Mischief

By Carole Reedy

There are hundreds of places to satisfy your palate in DF, casual to elegant, meals from $5 to $50, locations from south to north in the city. The following eateries, among others, all have mouthwatering history to add to the ambiance and good food.
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KriKa’s: Monterrey 122, Colonia Roma

Formerly the Bounty Bar, this corner eatery (at Monterrey and Chihuahua streets) was the hangout of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs in the 1950s. The apartment just above the restaurant is the place where Burroughs shot and killed his wife in 1951. Now the bar has been converted into an unassuming restaurant that serves a tasty comida corrida daily to residents and workers in the area. If you ask him, the current restaurant owner will fill you in on the history of that earlier time in Colonia Roma and the antics of the three literary figures. The comida corrida costs a mere 45 pesos per person and includes a soup, second course, and a main meat or fish course.

Café Tacuba: Tacuba 28, Centro Historico

Since 1912, Café Tacuba has been serving traditional Mexican food in a setting that makes you feel as if you’ve entered another century: boveda-style ceilings, dark woods, traditional tiles, and murals painted on the walls of this 17th century building.   Everyone from backpackers to high-profile politicians eat here. In fact, in 1936 a Mexican politician was assassinated here.

There are stories galore about the former convent that was housed at this locale. Read more about its history on the menu while you’re selecting delicacies. The tamales are especially good, as is the rich coffee with hot foamy milk. In the afternoons and evenings, mariachis playing mandolins roam the restaurant. Live music while eating can seem invasive, but not here. The music feels as if it’s essential to the full dining experience, especially when taken with an icy margarita.

El Gran Premio: Sadi Carnot and Maestro Antonio Caso, Colonia San Rafael

This diner has been serving coffee for more than 50 years to the neighbors and workers in Colonia San Rafael. Peek in to see groups of men and women chatting over tea and coffee. Better yet, join them and feel as if you’ve been transported to another decade, even as you order a cappuchino and other modern coffee drinks. There are also sandwiches and tamales for those who want a snack also. Take home a kilo of the Cubano blend beans, ground or not…it’s the best! A great souvenir for you or gift for a friend.

San Angel Inn: Diego Rivera 50, San Ángel

Elegant is the only word to describe the location, food, and atmosphere of this former 17th century Carmelite monastery and National Historic Monument, but you needn’t be intimidated by its history or elegance. While it would be impossible to list the famous people who have frequented the restaurant over the past century, “everyone should be comfortable” is the philosophy here, so you need not worry that the couple at the next table is dressed to kill while you’re in comfy jeans.

The cuisine centers on an impressive variety of both Mexican and international specialties, ranging from ceviche from Acapulco, cream of poblano soup, Aztec soup, lobster bisque, Rockefeller shrimp, chicken mole, to Bavarian cream.

Ópera Bar: 5 de Mayo 10, Centro Historico

This old-world cantina and restaurant hails from the Porfirio Diaz period (1870). Look up from your menu–rumor has it the bullet holes in the ceiling came from the gun of Pancho Villa. The enormous wooden bar is both elegant and cozy, and the atmosphere is infused with the nostalgia of those early 20th century years. Pop in for an afternoon drink while sightseeing in Centro or for lunch or dinner. In addition to a fine variety of beers, wines, and liquors (ask your waiter for the latest   recommendations), traditional Mexican cuisine is served: seafood and rice, paella, fish fillets, and octopus. Or opt for a delicious spinach salad and simple white wine.

El Cardenal: Palma 23, Centro Historico.

Totally Mexican cuisine is served in this beautiful French-style building with high ceilings and wide cantera (freestone) columns, and there’s a wide variety of selections from the different states of the Republic. Especially recommended are the chile relleno, fish with chile negro, mixiotes (little bundles of seasoned meats), octopus cocktail, and the freshly baked bread and desserts. A real treat is the hot chocolate “Doña Oliva,” boasting a thick nata (the cream formed at the top of the milk) from freshly pasteurized milk. There are seasonal specialties too. In August, September, and October Cardenal serves:

  • Chinicuiles (prehispanic dish made with maguey worms)
  • Cuitlacoche (prepared corn fungus, a prehispanic delicacy)
  • Chiles en Nogada (stuffed pepper draped in a walnut sauce)

With three other locations in DF, it’s easy to drop in even if you aren’t in the centro historico neighborhood: San Ángel (32 Avenida de la Paz), Lomas (215 Paseo de las Palmas), and the Hilton Hotel Alemeda. Each is charming and unique, but all offer old-world recipes and a modern flair.

Gabi’s, on the corner of Dinamarca and Liverpool in the Colonia Juárez

David Lida, Mexico City author and expert on the comings and goings of DF, recommends this old-school cafe. Decorated with ancient coffee grinders, espresso pots, and drip coffee makers, the clientele hails mostly from the neighborhood. On his blog, Lida reassures potential visitors, “You will not find any of the kids with stylishly asymmetrical hairdos who buy their java in Starbuck’s or its Mexican upstart competitors Cafe Punta del Cielo and Cielito Querido Cafe.”

Sanborn’s House of Tiles

Sanborn’s department stores are found everywhere you roam in the city. Now owned by the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, most of the stores, aside from selling the usual department store wares, contain a Sanborn’s restaurant. The most historically impressive one stands between 5 de Mayo and Madero in Centro Historico (close to Bellas Artes). It literally is a house that on three sides is completely covered in the stunning blue and white tile of Puebla, the central Mexico state. This 18th century palace was built by the family of the Count de Valle de Orizaba. At the end of the 19th century, the Sanborn brothers bought it and converted it into a soda fountain/drugstore. Today, Sanborn locations are among the most popular restaurants and department stores in Mexico. In 1931, House of Tiles was declared a national monument. The waitresses wear clothing of the various states from where the food originates: the brightly colored striped skirt of Oaxaca, the white blouse of Puebla, and the scarf and hat from Nayarit. Solitary diners will find comfort and comradery at the counter where chilangos from all walks of life gather.

All Sanborn restaurants serve traditional Mexican food. The shopper-diner at any Sanborn’s will find everything from “an aspirin to a silver tea set, from an ice cream cone to a Swiss watch, from a martini to a fine camera, and from a hamburger to a fine dinner.”

Yet another Sanborn’s: Look for the latest Sanborn’s restaurant in Carlos Slim’s new Museum Soumaya in Polanco. The museum is free to all and open seven days a week. It’s an art museum in the style of the Guggenheim, packed with a variety of styles and artists, notably its Dalí and Rodin sculptures.