Amuse bouche at Pujol
The first thing anyone needs to know about dining in Mexico City is that nobody eats lunch before 2pm—and the meal really doesn’t kick into high gear until 3 or even 4 o’clock. Knowing this makes it easier to understand why most people eat dinner 9 or 10pm at the earliest. So if you see a packed dining room at 7 o’clock, I’m guessing most of the diners are tourists, not locals.
Mexico City has an incredibly exciting restaurant scene. I recently spent a few days in the city tasting my way through a dozen of the top-rated restaurants and current hot spots. There were some hits and misses, and my too-short visit didn’t provide me with enough time to create any sort of definitive list of where to eat. But I did find some wonderful spots to recommend:
Pujol is one of the city’s most famous restaurants, located on a charmingly quiet residential-type street in the ritzy Polanco neighborhood. It’s one of the most innovative restaurants in town, with chef/owner Enrique Olvera being somewhat of a rock star among local chefs. The dining room seats only about 45 people per night. Olvera takes traditional flavors and whammies them with modernist techniques to create his own unique interpretation of Mexican cuisine. Fresh baby corn are skewered, grilled and slathered with butter and huitlacoche as an amuse-bouche. Beautiful squash blossoms are served raw, stuffed with black bean dip and chilies. Spinach and goat cheese croquettes are buoyed in a supremely light broth of tomato water and a mysterious weed that reminds me of fennel blossoms. And lamb is barbecued, sous-vide style, until it’s so tender it practically wilts at the mere suggestion of a fork, ready to be dragged through a salsa of chipotle chiles and dollops of sublime guacamole. Exquisite Mexican wines, too. 254 Petrarcha St., Polanco; +52 (55) 5545-3507
Azul Condesa El Mayor
The St. Regis’ 29-year-old rising-star chef, Jorge Vallejo, was a protégé of Pujol’s Olvera, a chef he now counts as one of his closest friends. So it’s no wonder there’s are similarities in style between Pujol and this ultra-chic restaurant inside the St. Regis hotel. Vallejo serves an exquisite modern ceviche (more of a crudo than a ceviche) of yellowtail with cucumber, avacodo, serranos and chile oil. He makes an extraordinary corn bisque and serves it with blue corn dumplings, grilled huitlacoche and purslane (pig weed). And he cooks hefty pork chops in the spirit of carnitas (essentially cooked in their own fat) and serves them atop a sauce of guajillo chile. More truly superb Mexican wines served here, too, especially the Mariatinto, an unfathomably sophisticated blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, merlot, tempranillo, zinfandel and petite syrah. St. Regis, Paseo de la Reforma 439, Reforma/Zona Rosa; +52 (55) 5228-1818
This is perhaps the coolest scene I found in Mexico this time around. Truth be told, I was intending to eat at the glamorous restaurant at Casa Lamm (an outstanding gallery, library and cultural center with beautiful gardens and restaurant), but the restaurant was closed for a total interior renovation. So instead I strolled down the street and stumbled upon Lilit, a funky bar with artisanal cocktails, ironic bartenders, exotic music, bohemian furnishings, a sexy jet-set clientele and a cute young chef who cooks steaks on a barbecue grill on the sidewalk. The menu is incredibly limited and simple: mostly just a big, fat teryaki-seasoned steak served with geometric blocks of rice, and a truly beautiful salad. Orizaba 125, Colonia Roma Sur; +52 (55) 5264 2669
Full disclosure: I am being compensated for syndicating my content in the Mexico Today program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today never tells me what to write or say, nor does the organization limit or restrict the scope of my articles or critiques. I’ve always loved Mexico, and I will continue to share my honest, unfiltered thoughts and commentary about the places I visit south of the border.