First stop of our Mexico vacation was Mexico City, the hustling and bustling capital with roughly around 9 million people living there.
We arrived from San Francisco late our first night so we just checked into our Airbnb, a quaint cozy apartment located in the trendy La Condesa area.
Off to explore Mexico City!
Mexico City has numerous types of museums and it’s almost impossible to see them all especially on a tight schedule. On our first day we went to the Soumaya Museum, the most visited art museum in the country with over 66,000 works from 30 centuries of art. Each floor is dedicated to a different subject such as gold and silver decorative arts, Asia through ivory, European and new Spain old masters, impressionism to avant-garde, a temporary exhibition of Venice, and the age of Rodin.
Afterwards we went to the Inbursa aquarium, the largest aquarium in Mexico, located right across the street from the Soumaya Museum. Of course it doesn’t compare to the Monterey Bay aquarium in California but it was still a fun experience.
For lunch we wanted something quick and easy so I chose La Casa de Toño, a popular chain restaurant known for their pozole (a soup with hominy, meat, shredded cabbage, radishes, and other garnishes). We also ordered a cheese sope (tortilla with beans, cheese, and cabbage) and flautas (similar to taquitos stuffed chicken and beans topped with cabbage and cheese). Everything was simple and fresh and service was also really friendly.
After lunch we walked around the famous upscale Polanco area where there are cute boutiques and restaurants as well as the Lincoln Park.
The final excursion of our first day was visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic church, basilica, and a national shrine about 30 minutes north of the city. Here you’ll find the old basilica as well as the modern church and various smaller chapels located throughout the area. The old basilica begun in 1695 and was finished in 1709 and the modern church was built between 1974 and 1976.
After exploring the city, we went back to our Airbnb before our much anticipated first dinner out. I did extensive research about dining options in Mexico City since it is such a food driven city. Even fine dining restaurants are quite affordable compared to San Francisco standards so I was eager and curious to dine at these more high end restaurants.
Our first dinner was at Quintonil, currently #22 on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Quintonil, located in Polanco, is a small stylish restaurant offering both an à la carte menu and a tasting menu. Of course we choose the tasting menu in order to try more dishes.
These fresh homemade warm tortillas were served with two salsas, mild and spicy, and a velvety black bean sauce.
Very fresh with clean flavors. The cactus in the cebiche was super crunchy and slightly slimy, reminded me of okra, and went well with the acidic vinaigrette and the assortment of herbs.
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. A luscious scallop crudo with perfectly brunoise pieces of soft beef tongue in a rich spiced sauce. Really delicious and flavorful.
I’m typically an adventurous eater but I was nervous to try escamoles, ant larvae, for the first time. However, this was an approachable way to try this Mexican ingredient and delicacy. The charred avocado tartare was creamy with just the right amount of smokiness and the white escamoles mixed in added earthiness. The fried Mexican herbs added a layer of umami and slight crispiness.
Salbut, a traditional dish from Yucatán, is a puffed deep fried tortilla and this was stuffed with a mixture of sweet corn and pink oyster mushroom. This dish was recommended to be eaten with your hands and while it was messy, it was totally worth it.
Without a doubt, this was one of the most unique dishes I’ve tried. Vibrant green peas almost served like a stew in a chia tomato broth with puffed amaranth, a type of grain. It was a really interesting combination of flavors and textures.
I think this was my first time trying cuitlacoche, corn smut or corn fungus. It was a soft texture with a pleasant funky earthy flavor served with a viscous potato seafood sauce.
The sea bass was cooked perfectly, moist flesh with crispy skin, and I loved the rich black bean sauce underneath. The crunchy sea beans added salinity and the radishes added a slight bitterness to the dish.
One of the best duck dishes I’ve had in a long time. The duck itself was aged for two weeks which allows the meat to tenderize and develop a rich intense flavor. The meat was supple with a marvelous crunchy fatty skin and it paired so well with all the garnishes from the creamy almond purée, caramelized sweet fig, and slightly tart hibiscus sauce.
Refreshing and simple. A nice palate cleanser.
A very interesting dish with flavors I’ve never experienced. The frozen cake was made from cuitlacoche, the corn fungus, and had a creamy sauce made from corn, cream, and flavored with prickly pear.
This was another fun dessert with avocado seed ice cream topped with airy meringue crisps flavored with lemon verbena. Underneath the meringue and ice cream was crunchy cocoa nib and an olive oil powder.
For our first dinner in Mexico City, we were both impressed by Quintonil’s diverse and unique ingredients served throughout the tasting menu. We both experienced flavors that we hadn’t before and it was entertaining to try something new. The tasting menu was a fun exciting way to try Mexican cuisine but in a refined way so my overall rating is an 8.5/10.
Our second day started off early by checking out La Churrería El Moro, a cute churro place that’s been around since 1935 for some of the most scrumptious churros ever. You could either have them dusted in sugar or cinnamon sugar (we chose cinnamon sugar) and various dipping sauces (chocolate, condensed milk, and caramel). The churros were perfectly fried, crispy exterior with a fluffy moist interior, coated in cinnamon sugar. My favorite dipping sauces were the caramel and condensed milk. They also have churro ice cream sandwiches which looked SO GOOD but a little too much for 10 in the morning.
After breakfast we had some time to kill so we walked around the area and found the Angel of Independence located in the middle of a busy intersection.
You can not visit Mexico City without a trip to the Frida Kahlo Museum, also known as La Casa Azul, a historic house and museum dedicated to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work. The house is actually where she was born and raised, and later where she lived with her husband Diego Rivera, and where she passed away in 1954. Be sure to buy tickets online in advance or you’ll end up wasting half your day waiting in line.
I highly recommend renting the tour guide audio set to learn about Frida Kahlo and her upbringing as well as her inspiration behind her artwork and her passionate yet tumultuous relationship with artist Diego Rivera.
After the museum, we walked through Chapultepec Park which is the largest city park in Latin America. Within the park you’ll find various museums, the castle, and the zoo!
We climbed up the hill to Chapultepec Castle which was formerly used as a military academy, imperial residence, presidential home, and now a national museum of history.
After the Chapultepec Castle, we had a quick snack on our way to The National Museum of Anthropology which is also located within the park.
The National Museum of Anthropology is actually the national museum of the country and the largest and most visited which is pretty cool. The museum has important archaeological and anthropological artifacts and various collections from pre-Columbian civilizations to Mayan civilizations to more modern Mexican civilizations.
For our second dinner in Mexico City, we wanted a casual restaurant with tasty food. Guzina Oaxaca, in the Polanco area, served just that!
They bring all the ingredients used in the salsa on a tray (tomatillos, various dried chilis, tomatoes, etc) and mash it together in the mortar which was really fun. We asked for medium spice but I guess our palates aren’t used to their standards of spiciness since it was pretty spicy. I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t as spicy.
Simple yet delicious appetizer of stuffed zucchini blossoms with a crumbly cheese and epazote (an herb similar to oregano and fennel) with crunchy pepitas on top.
I kind of have a thing for plantains…they’re sweet, creamy, and just plain delicious! This was basically a plantain mash of some sort held together with flour topped with a mole negro sauce, cool crema, and tangy Queso Fresco.
The confit of suckling pig was unctuous and melted in your mouth, super tender meat. It was covered in coloradito (a red mole sauce) served with black beans and chochoyotes (corn masa dumplings).
While the octopus was nicely cooked, I would have liked it more if it was charred or grilled. It also lacked a little salt for my liking but I enjoyed the sautéed huitlacoche (corn fungus) mixture with beans.
We could watch the lady make these tortillas by hand and they were delicious.
A warm almond cake with almost a polenta like texture. The hoja santa (an aromatic herb) ice cream was definitely different but interesting and fun to try.
Nothing traditional about this dessert just yummy cheesecake with a chocolate crumble crust and salted caramel on the side. There was a bit too much salt on the caramel which slightly overpowered the dessert.
Guzina Oaxaca served traditional dishes but in a slightly modern way without losing the integrity of the dish. They had several dishes on the menu with crickets but I couldn’t muster up the courage to try them. Overall I enjoyed my meal so my rating is a 7.5-8/10.
Our final day in Mexico City started off by checking out the San Juan Marketplace. Here you’ll find everything from fresh produce, to meat and seafood, spices, and even various types of insects. Tommy ended up trying a few insects including a scorpion and he said it was actually tasty with the spices and fresh lime juice.
After the market we went to Panaderia Rosetta, an adorable pastry shop and café in the Roma district. We tried a guava filled pastry as well as a ham and cheese croissant…bomb.
We spent the rest of the day walking through the historical center. We walked through Alameda Park which ended up at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a notable event space for music, dance, theatre, and opera.
We then walked down the main street which led us to the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the Americas dating back to 1656 and then the National Palace. Later on, we walked further down to see some murals and various shops.
For a midday snack, we visited two popular taquerias we read about. First we tried Taqueria Los Parados which had the most delicious al pastor tacos that were so flavorful.
After our first stop, we walked through Mexico Park and they even had a dog park! Since we adore dogs, we hung out there admiring all the cute dogs.
Right near the park, we arrived at Tacos Hola El Güero where they’re known for stewed meats and offal. Another popular taco they have is tuna and sardine but I wasn’t in the mood for that.
Our final night in Mexico City, we dined at Pujol which is currently #20 on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Pujol recently closed their doors earlier this year at their old location and moved to a new swanky sleek restaurant in the Polanco area. The atmosphere is without a doubt breathtaking and beautifully designed with almost a zen like ambience.
The dining room offers a tasting menu where you pick a dish from each category. The bar has a separate taco tasting menu that I wish I was able to try.
The meal started off very strong with two street snacks almost like amuse bouches.
This cute mini gordita was crispy yet fluffy topped with supple beef pieces with refreshing pico de gallo and creamy avocado.
This is one of chef Enrique Olvera’s signature dishes and it didn’t disappoint. The sweet tender baby corn were smothered in a mayonnaise made with chicatanas (flying ants) and also a chicatanas powder is sprinkled on top. The sauce added a delicious earthiness to the already wonderful corn.
After these two delicious snacks, I was expecting the whole meal to be up to this caliber but things seemed to go downhill after this point.
This was the worst dish of the night by far. The tartare was treated as if it were jerky, aka salt cured, but still had the texture of completely raw but chewy meat. The beef was cut in such large irregular pieces and had a very off-putting texture and had no flavor whatsoever. Neither of us wanted to finish the dish which is almost unheard of since we always eat everything!
While this dish was fine, it lacked excitement. The octopus itself was grilled to death, the end of the tentacle was literally burnt. It was served with an ayocote (runner bean) purée that reminded me of hummus and a veracruzana sauce (basically tomatoes with olives and capers).
Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables and I appreciated the creativity of this dish. Tamale is typically made with masa so using an eggplant purée was fun and actually delicious. There was a slight spiciness either coming from the sauce or the powder on top that added a nice amount of heat to the dish.
Sadly, I almost laughed when I saw this dish come out. This literally looks like something I would have at staff meal at work. I’m dining at one of the top restaurants in the world and you’re going to serve me half of head of cauliflower?! Am I missing something? The cauliflower was fried but had no coloration as if it was taken out of the fryer too early and basically just tasted as if it was boiled. The almond salsa underneath was fine as well as the crunchy chicken cracklings but c’mon this is something I could make at home.
Another disappointing dish. A piece of overcooked grilled fish with a lettuce leaf on top and bean mayonnaise. Are you kidding me? While it didn’t taste bad, it lacked any originality or imagination.
To call this wagyu is an absolute insult, there is no way this beef was wagyu. The meat was tough, lacked marbling, and ultimately had very little flavor. None of the characteristics of impeccable wagyu beef. It was served with a basic guacamole on the side. Yes, just guacamole. Once again, no innovation or wow factor.
This was another signature dish and it was significantly better than the previous dishes. However, it was just two types of mole sauces on the plate with a hoja santa tortilla on the side. Perhaps they just wanted to showcase the flavor of the intense mole madre with the new mole but a piece of protein with the sauce really would have elevated the dish in my mind.
I actually really enjoyed this palate cleanser. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage from the fermented water from the agave plant. The sorbet was refreshing and clean with just a slight alcohol flavor that paired nicely with the sweet juicy mango pieces.
I wanted to like this dessert so badly but it was just strange. The avocado mousse almost had a cheesy flavor reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, no joke. I liked the ice cream though.
Nicuatole is a traditional gelatinous dessert from Oaxaca made from ground maize and sugar. I just wasn’t a fan of the firm hard texture of the dessert. If it was softer like a panna cotta or flan I think I would have enjoyed it more. Also the flavor was just so so.
This was actually a complementary dessert. Since we didn’t finish the jerky tartare in the beginning of the meal, they asked if something was wrong. We politely said we didn’t care for it but didn’t mention anything else during the rest of the meal. It was nice of them to send out an extra dessert but unfortunately several of the dishes beforehand left a poor impression.
The last dish of the night was the churro, nicely made and presented, and a much needed good ending to a mediocre meal.
I had such high expectations for Pujol, one of the top restaurants in the world, especially since I’ve only heard amazing things about chef Enrique Olvera and his food and I watched his episode on Chef’s Table on Netflix. However after watching his episode on Chef’s Table, I felt that the majority of the dishes I ate were not an accurate representation of his food or creativity whatsoever. Perhaps since moving to a larger location and serving more people, maybe they’ve dumbed down their menu? Was I missing something or not understanding the concept? I felt like half the dishes I tried were so elementary and boring and lacked any type or emotion or passion that I was yearning for. Service however was great, extremely friendly and welcoming, and it made me sad that I didn’t love the food. I’d recommend Quintonil any day over Pujol for exciting Mexican cuisine. Overall, my rating for Pujol is a 6/10.
While our final night in Mexico City wasn’t how I anticipated, it was still a culturally rich experience. With only three full days in the city, there’s still so much I didn’t get to see and eat so I can only imagine what else is out there to discover. Until next time Mexico City, on to our next destination!