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Mexico City Food, Pt 2 (Pujol, Contramar, Mirotoro, El Cardenal, …)

29 Jan

During much of our late-2015 Mexico City trip I was eating tacos and street food, but we also had some really excellent sit-down restaurant meals. The ones that stand out most are:

Pujol

We knew from the beginning we’d have to come here for an extended small-bites tasting menu.

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Looking at my phone, I apparently emailed myself some notes later that evening when back in our B&B because I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal (what a dork), so I’ll just copy them in here:

  • “tortillas!!– creamy corn center– skins on either side– very soft”
  • “Great ‘new and old mole’ dish– a fresh 1-day mole and an aged 786-day. Fresh was more acidic, tart, distinct spices, chocolate. Old was more mellow, umami, less acidic, a bit oxidized, smoky.”
  • “v. good taco w/ 7 kinds of mostly wild mushrooms (rain mushroom taco) that were just being found at this point in the season– some morel-like smoky/meaty”
  • “Baby corn smoked w/ corn husks in a gourd, w/ a savory, earthy sauce– a chile mayonnaise made with coffee and ground red ants”
  • “chicken w/ crispy skin and interesting beans– good w/ tortillas”
  • “escamoles (ant larva) in a pea pod– a bit eggy, rich, nice acid balance, mellow”
  • “great dessert mix– amazing spiral churro, crispy outside, thin, cinnamon. choc/corn drink was OK. Tamarind ice cream (tart not too sweet!) w/ cilantro cream? Anyway, excellent”
  • “such a good evening. Not too fancy or stuffy-feeling, just a refined / interesting take on various aspects of Mexican cuisine and ingredients.”

Contramar

This was A+ seafood, in a bustling, social, cheerful dining room where there were many large groups, with people showing up to join friends at dinner mid-way through a meal and ordering rounds of small and large plates.

The highlight was a whole red snapper ‘Contramar style’– grilled and split open, half covered with an amazing parsley butter, and half with a red sauce I don’t remember the details of. Accompanied with tortillas, picked onions and peppers, escabeche, and a great jalapeno sauce.

The ceviche was also excellent.

This was about twice as much food as we could eat– we should have invited our other two friends who were in town. But getting the snapper with parsley butter was definitely worth it.

 

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Ojo de Agua was a great low-key pit stop when feeling dehydrated, overheated, or tired from walking the city– there are several locations around the city including on a little park in Hipodromo and they serve revitalizing agua frescas including an amazing coconut milk (they also sell coconut water, but the coconut milk was especially creamy, rich, and rehydrating) and some decent breakfast chilaquiles with avocado.

Just nearby, the cafe Maque served a great breakfast– I loved the chilaquiles divorcados (half and half green chile verde and red salsas — probably my favorite of the trip) and the fresh biscuit with cheese and honey.

I had a great crispy, tender lamb and a hibiscus-mezcal sorbet at Merotoro.

Finally, at El Cardenal we had a good poblano mole chicken breast (though next time I visit I want to explore mole more broadly– a friend recommended Fonda Mi Lupita for mole and I never made it there). El Cardenal was especially notable for excellent tortillas (perhaps freshly-nixtamalized corn?)

Tacos, Tlacoyos, and other street food of Mexico City

22 Jan

In late 2015 I took a week-long vacation to Mexico City, and spent much of that time eating tacos, tlacoyos, and other food around the city (whether in restaurants or at street stalls).

I’d done some initial reading on others’ experiences with the tacos of Mexico city (e.g. Serious Eats 2014, Thrillist 2015, The Mija Chronicles) which gave me a list to start from, and I also spent a day just biking around the city looking for street food carts and taquerias. I can’t claim any deep Mexico City or Mexican culinary expertise as a one-week tourist with very poor Spanish, but I had a great experience and jotted down a lot of notes, for future trips or friends. A year later (when feeling under the weather at home one evening) I’m finally transcribing a few.

A quick summary of my favorites:

  • El Vilsito must-east al pastor tacos (evening/night only, Avenida Universidad in Narvarte)
  • El Jarocho tacos guisados (stew) on Tapachula at Manzanillo in Roma
  • A blue corn tlacoyo pop-up street stand I found on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of Jalapa
  • Pop-up stall La Esquina del Chilaquil (or the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) selling a “chilaquiles sandwich” (time it right– a line forms before 11AM and they will sell out)
  • Tacos Gus for more unusual tacos guisados (huitlacoche, chile relleno, etc) in Condesa / Hipódromo
  • El Califa bistec tacos and nopales (afternoon/evening, Condesa / Hipódromo)

THE VERY BEST

El Vilsito (neighborhood: Narvarte)

A++, best al pastor I’ve ever had (it’s not even close), beating my distant memory of the transformative first-amazing-al-pastor in Mexico a decade ago.

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Such crispy-edged, delicious pork. A nice piece of pineapple. A thin red salsa that covers it with a bit of heat and keeps it moist. M$14/taco (about US$1).

El Vilsito is only open in the evenings (and open until late)– they’re located in what by day appears to be a large auto garage / repair shop. It took a taxi to get here as it was a bit out of the way, on a strip that seemed mostly dark / closed other than it, but even at 11:30pm there were about 50 people milling about, ordering tacos from the three men working the spits, and more people arriving every minute by car, bus, foot– very bustling.

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Blue corn tlacoyo street stall (unknown name, Roma neighborhood)

I’d read a travel diary that included eating excellent made-to-order blue corn tortillas at a street stall in this area, but I couldn’t find any photos or a name or map, so I biked back and forth over a 5-block grid looking for something that matched the description.

At the intersection of Av. Álvaro Obregón and Jalapa I saw a stand that looked promising, with a woman scooping balls of blue corn masa out of a bowl into a tortilla press… (specifically, here, on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of the intersection, in front of a sign that said “Salon Mercurio”)

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IMG_4823.JPGI give this a strong A grade. They were making a few different things based on blue corn including tlacoyos, but I had trouble understanding the options so pointed and got something like a quesadilla with “chicharrones” (in this case meaning pork sausage and chunks of potato) that was delicious– the toasted blue corn really stood out (the cheese was overkill– next time I’d skip it).

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This was a busy but social stand, with people dropping by, ordering food and eating standing up, all while laughing, chatting, making jokes with each other. A number of people bought one to eat on the spot and then another 2-4 to go for friends or coworkers.

Taqueria El Jarocho (Roma neighborhood, on Tapachula at Manzanillo)

I gave this an A+ in my taco notebook (doesn’t everyone have a ‘taco notebook’?). They primarily serve tacos guisados (filled with stews), with enough filling that they give you  a second tortilla on top of it.

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I got three of them for M$36 each, but they were big– I could have easily only ordered one or two. The sausage and egg taco was good, but the other two were the stars of the show.

The chuleta y papa special was amazing– hearty chunks of slightly chili-spiced pork with chunks of potato. So good.

And the Mole Verde was an A+, with chunks of tender pork starting to come apart into fibers, potatoes, and a savory green sauce (with I think tomatillos, some ground nuts or seeds, and some flavorful but not very hot chiles).

The salsas were also excellent– the red was tomato-based and not very hot, but the green was a perfect instance of a bright green, very fresh/uncooked-tasting hot salsa– I wonder if it was as simple as pureed fresh jalapenos, onions, and a little oil?

VERY GOOD

Still some of the best tacos or street food I’ve eaten.

La Esquina del Chilaquil (“the corner of chilaquiles”, Condesa / Hipódromo)

This pop-up stand (when I visited, located on the South corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) sells a remarkable chilaquiles sandwich.

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But wait, you ask, aren’t chilaquiles already tortillas fried in sauce? They put that in a roll?

Even better– it starts with a soft roll with a crusty outside. Then they line it with a chicken breast pounded very thin, breaded, fried, and folded into a U, fill that with chilaquiles (very soft, tender chips soaked in either red or green sauce), and top it with cheese.

The chicken acts as a barrier between the sauce and the roll, keeping the bread from getting soggy and making this a very portable lunch. All for M$30. I preferred the red version but both were good.

Even before they arrive and set up a stall (around 11AM?) people start lining up down the block in anticipation since it can sell out. We got there just as they were arriving and waited about 40 minutes in line.

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El Califa (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo, on Alfonso Reyes)

The bistec taco I ordered wasn’t messing around– just a thin, well salted, delicious piece of steak on a tortilla. It didn’t even need any toppings.

I ordered nopales (cactus paddles) and avocado to go with it not realizing I was ordering a plate of each…

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Tacos Gus (Condesa / Hipódromo)

Tacos Gus had a long bar of more unusual guisados (stews) for tacos, including chile relleno poblano (a chile stuffed with cheese, topped with guacamole and cheese) and huitlacoche (corn fungus) that was very savory and musky. I’ve give these both an ‘A’.

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GOOD

Tacos La Cazuelas (La Juárez neighborhood)

This was at the intersection of Havre and Londres, roughly here— there were two taco stands adjacent to each other,  but the one I ate at was closest to the corner with Londres.

At 4pm they were almost out of meat, so I got the chorizo, which was excellent– not too fatty, just a nice smoky red sausage.

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El Tizoncito Tamaulipas (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

There are multiple El Tizincito locations within a few blocks of each other, but this specific one was recommended by our B&B host as the best of them. Looking back at my scribbled map and the geotag on some photos I took, I’m pretty sure it’s the one here, on the corner of Tamaulipas and Campeche, with a blue awning, (on the same side of the street and just 1 block west of El Kaliman).

I had a late night snack, with a good al pastor and a michelada (which came with ice, but I took the risk). Overall I’d say good tacos with a good salsa array. I spent M$120 total on dinner including the michelada.

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El Kaliman (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

This is on Campeche at Ensenada, about here, with an orange awning and orange chairs. It was decent– I’d give it a B+ on the pastor (I didn’t think the beef adobado was as good). A nice casual inexpensive place for al pastor… and you can get any of their beers as a michelada.

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Another unknown-name pop-up street food stand on Av Moliere at Avenida Homero in Polanco (roughly here):

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There seemed to be a line of regulars waiting for them to set up, so we stopped and got a fried tortilla filled with pork and topped with cheese and a hot fresh green salsa. It was a decent midday snack.

NOT RECOMMENDED

El Farolito (Roma neighborhood on Alfonso Reyes)

At 2:30 pm no customers were inside, and employees were sitting idle, while a nearby taqueria was busy– this seemed like a bad sign so I skipped it.

Tacos Alvero Obrega (Roma)– I had a bad, flavorless al pastor taco and the stand felt dirty (and they weren’t wrapping everything in plastic bags the way they did at most stands).

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Overall, this was a great trip for tacos and street food…

Still to be posted: Mexico City Food Pt 2 (I wrote up notes a year ago but still need to dig up a few photos for it).

Tacos &c in Sayulita, Mexico

19 Jul

I spent 4 days in Sayulita and ate both great and deeply mediocre food. If I don’t write up a few notes now I’ll forget them, so off the top of my head:

Good advice in general in Mexico: “Get tacos at outdoor places with red plastic Coca-Cola chairs”.

(as a side note, I was horrified to see that the top Sayulita restaurants according to Tripadvisor readers are a burger place, a nachos place, and a burrito place)

The very best tacos were at Tacorriendo, about a block North of the town square on the street that Sayulita Fish Tacos is on, on the left (which we nicknamed “dessert taco” from our first after-a-terrible-dinner experience with it), usually filled with Mexican families and not another gringo in sight. Great chicken, roasted jalapenos, and salsa spread:

Next best, though very rich and spicy and not for everyone: birria (goat, probably) tacos at a small shack a short walk North of the town center (across a bridge, then down a few sunken steps to a taqueria with the menu written on the wall). No photo.

The basic meat tacos at Sayulita Tacos (not Sayulita Fish Tacos) were pretty good (especially the chicken mole and adobo chicken), though the fish tacos loaded up with crema were not great:

There was a pair of taco stands side by side (red awning, green awning) across from Taco Corriendo and a little farther North on that street. We never saw them both open at the same time– we heard it was a shared family business. One of them had a pretty good (B+) friend fish taco, the other was also B+ meat tacos.

There were also some terrible tacos (dry fish tacos with french fries at a restaurant right on the beach, across from Don Julio, with a popular big outdoor patio but terrible, terrible food).

Sayulita Fish Tacos (big yellow building on the main square) also had terrible fish tacos I never want to eat again. The attached tequila bar was phenomenal, though.

That’s what I remember. Oh, and there was some non-taco food. Just summarizing a few highlights and lowlights:

An average but serviceable breakfast at Mary’s Cafe (they also have an excellent banana milkshake– and if you get it to go, they pour it into a plastic bag with a straw):

I had low expectations for Don Pedro’s, given their prime beachfront location, their aimed-at-tourists prices, and the lack of Mexican families eating there… but their tuna poke w/ sesame, hot pepper, and avocado was very good– some of the best tuna I’ve had in a long time:

The popsicle stand sort of across from Sayulita Taco and next to the burger place had an impressive variety of fruit popsicles. The tart, flavorful guavabana (which I knew as soursop from SE Asia) was my favorite, but the coconut (with chewy strips of coconut embedded), watermelon, and pineapple were also excellent. The tamarind and lime were good but unremarkable.

An average California-style burrito at Burrito Revolution, for us gringos wanting something familiar. Meh, an okay vegetarian break. I also never saw anyone else eating here (granted, it was low season and the town was fairly empty).

Oh, and El Espresso had the least terrible coffee (americano) of three I tried.

Chocobanana, to end on a crotchety rant: Mediocre food and coffee. Also full of missing-the-point tourists (I saw one couple sitting there during a gorgeous sunny day, him hunched over his ipad and her over her iphone, with him occasionally showing her parts of a movie or online video he was watching on the ipad).

Tequila, Mexico

19 Jul

I’ve never really appreciated tequila. The closest I came was a series of excellent, smoky, mezcal* cocktails at Mayahuel in New York a few years ago, and the occasional good tequila Francisco had around, though I was never concentrating just on it.

That started to change last week– I was down in Sayulita, Mexico for vacation, and got the tip that I should check out the Sayulita Fish Tacos Tequila Bar. The fish tacos in the restaurant upstairs were pretty bad, but the bar itself was a revelation.  A few notes of what I remember or jotted down:

I went there three of the evenings I was in town, and the bartender and other travelers at the bar were all very friendly, offering tips and tastes.

These were all “sipping tequilas”, to savor gradually like a whiskey, and with much more variation tequila to tequila than I’d ever noticed before.

Of the maybe 20 I tasted (at least at the sip level), some notable ones:

Cava de Oro** (the white bottle) was my favorite of the trip, and the one that I ordered twice: very smooth and mellow, with a silky agave flavor and no harshness or smokiness, but also without being too sweet. [A+]

Chamucos was good in a very different way– spicy, a bit of smoke, but well-balanced and not at all harsh. [A-]

Aha Toro (Anejo***) (not shown) was also good though not especially distinctive: smooth and balanced. [B+]

Tierra Reposado and Don Abram Anejo were both good, but I didn’t write anything specific down about them / I don’t remember them being unusual. [B]

After tasting sips of a few to narrow in on what to get the third evening, we settled on Los Tres Tonos Extra Anejo and 99000 Anejo, both very enjoyable in the smooth-with-a-little-smoke vein, and I remember liking the 99000 especially, though when writing this up two weeks later I don’t really remember the difference between them. [B+, A-]

Arette Extra Anejo was quite different from the others, smooth but also herbal, vegetative, sort of like the flavors in gin / campari / fernet, though milder. It and Cava De Oro were my favorites of the trip (though Arette was 2x-3x more expensive than anything else I had here, at M$400 (about US$34) for a shot– a bottle costs about $150 in the US).  [A+]

Worth it on a special occasion and as a way to wrap up a great trip.

Both this Herradura Resposado and the Corrales were good sipping tequilas in the middle of the smoky / smooth range, but also weren’t strongly memorable. [B]

* I looked up the details on Wikipedia so you don’t have to: “Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agaveAgave americana) native to Mexico. The word mezcal comes from Nahuatl metl and ixcalli which mean ‘oven cooked agave.’ Today, mezcal is still made from the heart of the maguey plant, called the “piña,” much the same way it was 200 years ago, in most places. In Mexico, mezcal is generally consumed straight and has a strong smoky flavor. Mezcal is not as popular as tequila (a mezcal made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of the country).

** Gold (oro) tequila could be a real, 100% agave tequila that’s a blend between a blanco and a resposado, as in this case… or it could be a cheap tequila with non-agave spirits and food colorings added.

*** The basic tequila classification of silver/blanco, reposado, anejo, extra anejo ranks how long it has been aged or rested in wood barrels (from young to old). Longer aging = stronger, smoother flavors, darker colors, and generally more expensive (though not necessarily better, depending on your tastes).