By Carole Reedy
Our own Mexican cuisine always places high on favorite-foods lists. The world craves tacos, enchiladas, tortilla soup, and a refreshing Mexican beer. Most recently, Mexican wines have gained favor among sommeliers. But with variety the spice of life, we who live in or visit Mexico City occasionally enjoy a change of pace.
Here are some of the best places in the megapolis to satisfy your cravings for other popular world cuisines.
The cuisine of the East can be enjoyed in one of two ways: in a restaurant that offers the delights of several Asian regions or in one that focus on the cuisine of one specific country. Two casual eateries offer the first option in the trendy Roma neighborhood.
Sesame (Colima 183, Roma Norte). Specializes in the dishes of Thailand, India, China, and Vietnam. Among my favorites are the tasty lamb samosas, the suave baby back ribs, any of the curry choices, and the pad Thai. Although Sesame is famous for its creative, wildly colored exotic drinks, it also serves a good glass of wine and a variety of beers. There are a few outdoor tables, but the interior is comfy with an eclectic decor.
Mog (Frontera 168, Roma Norte). This very popular Japanese/Thai restaurant is a hit with the young crowd, so you may have to wait before being seated in the open-air, informal setting. Be aware the service is often slow, so give yourself plenty of time to peruse and choose from the large menu selection, including a large variety of ramen, rolls, and brochettes. Despite the inconveniences, the Japanese food here is among the best in the city, according to its loyal customers who ignore the idiosyncrasies. Whatever you fancy to eat, do order a Sapporo beer to accompany it.
Little Tokio (a few little gems on the Rio streets in Colonia Cuauhtémoc).
The streets running on the north side of the landmark Angel de Independencia are all named for rivers, and it is here you will find Little Tokio, a few streets sporting small Japanese restaurants, stores, and even a ten-room ryokan. The Japanese embassy is right there on Reforma, so the area is easily definable, the main streets of activity being Rio Pánuco and Rio Ebro.
Here you will find Rokai (Rio Ebro 87), a tiny space (reservations recommended) with a sushi bar serving sashimi, hand rolls, and appetizers. The chef’s special is recommended.
Looking for ramen? Rokai Ramen (Rio Ebro 89) offers 12 noodle-and-broth combos, a rice bowl, chicken, and spring rolls.
On Rio Pánuco, find Hiyoko (Rio Pánuco 132), another miniature locale serving skewers of meat and fish. Right next door is Le Tachinomi Desu/Enomoto Coffee, a coffee bar (8 am to 3 pm) during the day and at night a spirits bar serving wines, sake, and Japanese whiskey.
If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant, Tori Tori (Amsterdam 219, Condesa) is a good choice, though it serves the usual Japanese fare, nothing experimental or original such as you’ll find at the places above.
The first two recommendations in this section come from the owners of Partimar, the Italian bodega in Colonia San Rafael that imports and sells products from Italy. If you prefer to cook at home or in your Airbnb instead of dining out, shop for your ingredients, including wines and spirits, at Partimar.
L’ostería del Becco (Goldsmith 103, Polanco). To say del Becco serves food with a flair is truly descriptive of the menu. You’ll find all the authentic Italian items on the menu, but prepared with a unique blend of spices and technique for wonderful new tastes. For example, tagliatelle with duck ragoût and mint-perfumed ricotta or lemon zest tagliolini with mascarpone. Or how about rigatoni with a lamb ragout? Yes, truffles are offered also, including a bruschetta of goat cheese and black truffles. The wine list is filled to the brim with fine Italian selections. Located in one of the most exquisite neighborhoods in the city, the prices reflect the locale.
Quattro (Avenida Santa Fe 160, Santa Fe, inside the J W Marriott Hotel). Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit says it best: “Celebrities flock to the black and brown dining room that glows with crystal chandeliers and wine bottles. The atmosphere is typically South Beach, but the food is all essence, thanks to the thirty-somethings Fabrizio and Nicola Carro. The ‘Marvelous Twin Chefs’ grew up in the Piedmont region of Italy, a heritage that is evident in their traditional and rustic menu of northern Italy.”
A majority of the Carros’ ingredients come straight from Italy, and their wine selection is in “constant evolution.” Quattro is a 5-star restaurant and although pricey by Mexican standards, it might not be so for visitors from Europe or the US. The only disadvantage for most visitors, and those of us centrally located in DF, is the location in Santa Fe, which is very far west (at least an hour, depending on traffic) from the center of Mexico City.
If you’re looking for something more reasonably priced, a long-time favorite of mine is Mezzo Mezzo (Río Neva 30, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, not far from Little Tokio). The specialty here is various thin-crust pizzas, my favorite being the gypsy pizza, topped with figs and brie (I have never seen it anywhere else!). The ambience of outdoor dining on this tree-lined street just three blocks from Reforma is most enjoyable, as this area teems with just enough activity to be interesting, but not so much as to make it oppressive. Another advantage is the long hours of service: 9 am to midnight, except Saturday and Sundays which are 1:15 pm to midnight. If you have to wait, ask the waiter for a beer or a glass of wine, stand or sit on the curb, and watch the world go by.
Al Andalus (Mesones 171, Centro Histórico). The most reliable recommendation for this eatery is its status as a favorite among Mexico’s citizens of Lebanese descent. When I dine with these families, we always share several dishes, the best way to sample the large menu. Favorites include Arab tacos, hummus, filled grape leaves, tacos de falafel, all topped off with a strong Lebanese coffee and typical very sweet dessert! Try the traditional arak, an anise liqueur with added water. Or if you prefer wines, Al Andalus has its own Lebanese wine, made from a variety of grapes. Al Andalus also has a branch in the Colonia Nápoles (Calle Nueva York 91).
El Diez (various locations throughout the city). Restaurants serving the famous beef from Argentina abound in every nook and cranny in Mexico City, the arrachera cut being the most popular. One may not think a chain restaurant would have the best food, but here the El Diez restaurants (named for the famed soccer player Diego Armando Maradona) never fail to satisfy an urge for a good steak, salad, and beans. In addition, they have their own hearty and inexpensive red wine.
Many Argentine restaurants also serve excellent pizza, which is unsurprising given the influx of Italians to the country starting in 1857. Citizens of Italian descent account for 25 of the 40 million people in Argentina. With a broad menu from which to choose, don’t hesitate to invite your vegetarian friends to join you. As an aside: If you visit San Miguel de Allende be sure to dine at Restaurant Buenos Aires on Mesones for excellent beef, fabulous polenta dishes, and, a friend’s favorite, the octopus salad.
CREPES AND QUICHES
When you find yourself in Coyoacán for a visit to Frida Kahlo’s house or perusing the artesanía stalls at the Bazar Sábado in nearby San Angel (two perfect excursions for a Saturday) stop for lunch at Cluny’s (Avenida de La Paz y Revolución, San Angel). It is not a French restaurant per se, but it serves four or five luscious quiches and a variety of ten or so crepes. Some of the best are the huitlacoche (corn fungus) with epazote and cheese crepe, as well as the Bombay crepe, bursting with the scent and flavor of curry. Wine prices are reasonable. A Spanish Albariño or a Portuguese vinho verde is a perfect accompaniment to lunch.
If you’re looking for a European-style bakery with croissants, scones, donuts, chocolate truffle cakes, tarts, brownies, or cookies, try any of the Pastelerías Alcazar located in various areas of the city. Although this is a 100% Mexican-owned and operated bakery, you will not find the traditional Mexican sweets here (which to me are too sugary and taste like cardboard no matter how much colored fluffy icing tops them). Interestingly, the original owners named their bakery Alcazar in honor of a Spanish cake made from marzipan, almonds, and raspberries that they loved. Most of the bakeries have seating areas where you can enjoy a cappuccino and one of their sandwiches, presented on an excellent variety of breads.