There’s no denying that the popularity of Mexican cuisine has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks in no small part to a new generation of boundary-breaking chefs that are spreading the thousand-year-old traditions and complexities of the cuisine to far corners of the world — from the Mexican-American chef Rosio Sánchez, Rene Redzepi’s protégé at Noma who recently branched out with her own spot in Copenhagen; to Enrique Olvera, one of Mexico’s most famous chefs whose restaurants in Mexico City and the US have received critical claim as some of the world’s best. Whereas Mexican food used to be synonymous with frozen margaritas and cheap tacos, the exciting and complex nuances of the country’s culinary traditions have spread and evolved to ignite a global gastronomic movement around the world.
While you can now have great Mexican food in culinary capitals from Europe to Asia, there’s still no beating a trip to the country’s capital, Mexico City, to discover the beating heart of Mexican food, whether you’re devouring al pastor tacos on the side of the street, tucking into spicy mole sauce at a colourful outdoor market, discovering the “Mexican truffle” called huitlacoche, or even dipping into Mexico’s emerging wine scene, which is stepping out from under the shadow of local spirits, tequilas and mezcals.
For Hongkongers, this 19-hour journey used to require a fair bit of pre-planning, with flights including a compulsory layover in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Fortunately for us, Japan’s award-winning airline ANA — consistently rated 5-stars by Skytrax and ATW’s 2018 Airline of the Year — is making that journey a whole lot easier, having recently launched direct flights from Tokyo to Mexico City, thus easing the journey to this dynamic cultural and culinary wonderland.
All travellers can enjoy the award-winning service and comfort aboard the Boeing 787-8 aircraft, with each seat including a universal power port, USB port, and touch-panel TV screen stocked with the latest movies and video programmes. Premium Economy travellers will also get access to the ANA Lounge, enjoy a selection of fine Western and Asian dishes in-flight, and relax in the lazy boy-style chairs complete with reclining functions, leg rest and foot rest.
With a good night’s rest, you’ll be able to hit the ground running as soon as you touch down in the culinary mecca. Here are six stand-out restaurants that should serve as your first introduction to exploring Mexico City’s vibrant dining scene.
There’s no discussing dining in Mexico City without mentioning Pujol. Chef Enrique Olvera’s flagship restaurant was instrumental in kick-starting the global gastronomic movement in Mexican cuisine, and continues to be a pioneer in the capital city after 18 years — currently sitting at #13 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The world-class kitchen pays deep reverence to indigenous ingredients in stunning dishes such as baby corn with chicatana ants, coffee, and chilli; and handmade masa gorditas with the signature 1,000-day-aged mole. Refined and elegant — and recently relocated to an expansive new home complete with a taco tasting bar — Pujol serves as a worthy introduction into Mexico’s rich culinary canon.
Pujol, Tennyson 133, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, 11550 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico City, Mexico, +55 5545 4111
This stellar Polanco institution is helmed by a Pujol alum, so you can expect equally worthy dishes featuring Mexico’s native ingredients. Elegant but unfussy, Quintonil is spearheaded by chef Jorge Vallejo, who employs a range of modern techniques on local and sustainable ingredients — most of which are sourced from less than 30 metres away. Rustic dishes include the signature huazontles with Chiapas cheese and tomato salsa, crab tostadas with radish and habanero chilli mayonnaise, and a charred avocado tartare with escamoles (ant eggs). The warm hospitality of the dining room can be credited to Vallejo’s wife, Alejandra Flores, who runs the front of house with charm and finesse.Quintonil, Newton No. 55, Polanco, Mexico City, D.F., Hidalgo 11560, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5280 1660
Trained in New York and London, chef Elena Reygadas opened Rosetta in 2010, presenting her unique brand of Italian-Mexican cuisine in the beautiful and elegant French-style mansion. In addition to being one of the most romantic settings in town, Rosetta is known for showcasing some of the city’s most exciting cuisine, with Mexican ingredients sourced from small-scale producers used in a number of Italian-inflected dishes such as fresh handmade pastas and risottos. The menu also veers towards classic Mexican recipes at times: with inventive tamales, moles, and a selection of Mexican breads and desserts, the latter of which are also sold at her spin-off bakery, Panadería Rosetta.
Rosetta, 166 Calle Colima, Mexico City 06700, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5533 7804
A casual spot in the hip Colonia Condesa neighborhood, Merotoro is the sophomore concept by the restaurateurs Gabriela Cámara and Pablo Bueno. With their first restaurant, Contramar, they became well-known for bringing a breezy style of seafood-heavy cuisine to the landlocked town; at Merotoro, the pair again draws inspiration from the ocean, this time presenting a Baja Californian style of dining. Chef Jair Téllez is in charge of the menu, which spans the gamut from delicate appetisers such as ceviche of sea urchin and gooseneck barnacles, to large-format dishes including pan-roasted pork jowl with lentils and poached egg, and braised beef tongue with charred salsa. The warm and inviting space evokes a beachside eatery, with reclaimed wood furniture and bright pops of colour.
Merotoro, Avenida Ámsterdam 204, Hipódromo, 06100 Cuauhtemoc, CDMX, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5564 7799
It’s hard to get sick of dining at sidewalk eatery Maximo Bistrot, with its daily-rotating menu rooted in local, seasonal ingredients. The always crowded joint in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood is the true embodiment of a farm-to-table concept, with everything sourced from local artisans and producers, from the table napkins which are hand-sewn in Oaxaca, to the fruits and vegetables grown on the nearby chinampas, or floating gardens. The bistro-style dishes from chef Eduardo Garcia highlight the ingredients in their purest forms, from the stunning crispy trout with clams, peas and wild spinach, to the crowd-pleasing lechón de confitado (suckling pig). Don’t leave without trying a taste of huitlacoche, the Aztec delicacy of fungus found on organic Mexican corn, often referred to as “Mexican truffles”.
Maximo Bistrot, Calle Tonalá 133, Roma Norte, 06700 Cuauhtemoc, CDMX, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5264 4291
This all-day diner is nestled in the Clavería neighborhood of Mexico City; opened since 1957, the place caters to a long list of loyal clientele and is a favourite after-hours spot for local chefs. Brimming with a friendly, neighbourhood spirit, the unpretentious eatery remains relatively unchanged after 40 years, dishing up tradition in a mouthwatering menu courtesy of chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo. Some of his soul-warming recipes can be traced back to mid-19th century Mexico, such as the sopa seca de natas (layers of crêpes in a creamy tomato sauce); while other present a more modern bent, from escamoles (ant eggs sauteed in butter) to rock shrimp and cactus soup infused with green chilli. For dessert, don’t miss the pan de elote con rompope, a sumptuous corn custard drizzled in eggnog sauce.
Nicos, Avenida Cuitláhuac 3102, Colonia Clavería, Mexico City, Mexico, +55 5396 7090