In La Ciudad de México (CDMX), food vendors are as ubiquitous as bollards and traffic lights. From the crack of dawn until well after midnight, they shill their mouthwatering wares from trucks, stands, stalls, and carts, and the most popular hawkers have lines snaking down the block. And while the city was recently hit by an earthquake, what we’re hearing from our on-the-ground sources is that you shouldn’t cancel your trip—after all, the country needs income from tourism more than ever. If you’re down for a little adventure, these are the street foods you won’t want to miss—along with tips from locals on where to find the tastiest versions.
Stating the obvious, right? But did you know there is a correct way to eat a taco? According to Cristina Potters, the author behind the Mexico Cooks! food blog and culinary tours, tacos should always be held at the top, “pinching the two sides along the curve together, using the thumb and two or three fingers, pinky extended,” as if you were sipping a cup of tea. When travelers are in town and hungry for late-night tacos, Potters sends them to the zero-frills Tacos El Chupacabras, located under a bridge in Coyoacán. The tacos de bistec are the best she has ever tasted, but the stand’s namesake special—a mix of several meats plus salsa, frijoles de la olla (freshly cooked beans), and mashed potatoes—are also “heavenly.” Potters’ other favorite taco spot is Taquería Los Cocuyos downtown. “They offer ordinary meats like saudero, costilla, and maciza, but they also serve tacos stuffed with beef brains or chopped-up eyeballs,” she says. “Not for the faint of heart, but delicious.”
The city’s finest grab-and-go breakfast staple can be found on nearly every block between the hours of 6 and 11 a.m. Traditional versions pack grainy corn masa into a corn husk with cheese, chicken, pork, or mushrooms and then steam it in a big ol’ pot. Some get wild by swapping out the corn leaf for a banana leaf (tamales oaxaqueños), or pineapple and other fruit for the standard protein. Try a tamale with salsa verde, try one with mole poblano, try it on a bun (“con pan”). Whatever you do, order a cup of hot atole as a chaser. The cinnamony-sweet corn drink is sold at nearly every tamale cart in the CDMX. For a five-star experience, look for the Tamales Luis Ángel cart at the corner of Castilla and Ahorro Postal in the Benito Juárez borough.
Tortas are to lunch what tamales are to breakfast: essential eating. You might have to unhinge your jaw to appreciate one of these monster sandwiches, built taller than a Dagwood on a bolillo or telera bun. What goes inside? Whatever the vendor dreams up: chorizo, potato, avocado, carnitas, al pastor, breaded-and-fried flank steak, turkey, bacalao, pierna (pork leg), sliced hot dogs, chipotle peppers, tomato sauce, shredded cabbage, onion, sour cream or mayo, pickled jalapeños, maybe a slice of American cheese, and probably the kitchen sink, too. There are a thousand variations and you can find them all over the city, although consistently near the mouths of subway stations during the lunch rush.
These oblong masa patties stuffed with beans and/or cheese and topped with nopales (cactus), cilantro, chopped raw onion, salsa, and more cheese is a favorite of Lesley Téllez, food journalist, cookbook author of Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas, and leader of culinary tours at Eat Mexico. “They’re almost like thick, stuffed tortillas, and they’re easily one of the most filling foods you can eat on the street,” says Téllez. “I like them because of their array of textures and because they’re almost always made by skilled women who’ve spent years working with masa, or who’ve learned the trade from their mothers. You can taste that skill in every bite.” Tlacoyos can be found anywhere in central Mexico City between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but Téllez’s go-to spot is the stand in front of the Mercado de Medellín in Roma. (Note: Roma was badly hit by the earthquake, so check with local sources once in Mexico to learn more about rebuilding efforts.)
Most of the huitlacoche, a.k.a. corn smut, sold in the United States arrives in cans; finding it fresh is a rarity. In Mexico City, however, the grayish-black mushrooms are abundant during the rainy season (June through September)—and that’s when you want to try it. Stewed with onion, garlic, and chilies, Téllez likens the taste to “mushrooms on steroids—really fragrant and earthy.” Although you can find quesadillas anywhere tlacoyos are sold, Téllez recommends the huitlacoche quesadillas at Mercado de Comida Coyoacán. They won’t come with cheese unless you ask for it, but Téllez says to pass; dairy easily overwhelms the delicate flavor of the fungus.
Elotes y Esquites
With elote, you order an ear of juicy corn, grilled or boiled, slathered in mayo, showered with cotija and chili powder, and squeezed with lime. It’s as messy as it is delicious. Esquites is similar in spirit but easier to eat: The kernels are shaved from the cob, cooked in chicken broth with herbaceous epazote, ladled into a plastic cup, and topped with mayo, queso, and chili. Both are popular late-night snacks, so look for the carts near subway exits, bars, nightclubs, or public parks and plazas.
This is the ultimate guilty pleasure street food, says Jason Thomas Fritz, co-founder of [Club Tengo Hambre] (), a roving supper club in CDMX. This riff on the country’s “loco” snack craze sees a bag of Cheetos slit open and piled high with unlikely ingredients. “It’s a sloppy mix of several types of salsas and chamoys poured over Cheetos, then topped with Japanese peanuts, carrots, cucumbers, cueritos (pork rinds), lime juice, and gummy-like candies,” says Fritz. “It’s a salty-sweet flavor explosion that doesn’t make any sense, until you dive into that bag—and then, your entire world changes.” Fritz’s go-to spot for wacky snacking is off of Avenida Reforma, near the entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología). “It’s a blue stand that you can’t miss,” he says. “They have all the ingredients right there, ready to go. All you need to do is choose the bag of Cheetos: regular or Flaming Hot?”
Raspados y Paletas
Raspados, Mexico’s answer to Hawaiian shaved ice, is a blended drink that comes in your choice of rainbow-hued syrup: strawberry, lime, grapefruit, passion fruit, kiwi, mango with chili, guava, coconut, tamarind, chamoy, grosella (red currant), and rompope (eggnog), to name a few. The best versions have hunks of fresh fruit floating in the slush. It’s more dessert than drink—raspados can be tooth-achingly sweet—but if it’s a proper popsicle you’re after, keep your eyes peeled for a paleta cart. The icy pops are typically made with milk (e.g., creamy arroz con leche) or fruit juice with real bits of fruit.
By: Ashlea Halpern