The Best Street Food in Mexico City
What do Argentine Tango, the Peking Opera and Mexican food have in common? They’ve all been given UNESCO status as Masterpieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These lofty words are unlikely to come to mind while savoring the best food in Mexico. I prefer my sister Kathryn’s response after tasting her first tlacoyo: “Don’t talk to me—I’m in Food Heaven!”
I’ve lived in Mexico for more than fifteen years and have been to Food Heaven numerous times. Sometimes it’s been at a friend’s house, or at one of the high-end Mexican restaurants that have sprung up around town. But most often it’s been at a simple market fonda or a humble street stall.
Some people react to the term ‘street food’ in Mexico with alarm. Fear of strange bacteria and ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ stops them from trying some of the country’s best cuisine. When I first came to Mexico I would stroll by a busy stall, take in the heady aromas, and walk on by. But the tacos al pastor at El Huequito (The Hole-in-the-Wall) finally won me over—there were dozens of people eating them, and everybody just looked too happy. Over the years I’ve developed my own rules for eating on the street that have served me well.
A crowded stall is always a good sign. Make sure the place looks clean—trust your judgment. Look at the food to see if it’s fresh and is being cooked to order. Be wary of foods that may have been sitting around, especially in hot weather. Since the swine flu scare a few years ago many stalls now have a bottle of hand sanitizer available. I always carry moist towelettes to use before I eat—remember that your own hands can often been the carrier of germs. Notice if the cook is also taking the money—a bad sign. Food blogger Lesley Téllez recommends the best time to enjoy street food is lunch hour, roughly 2 to 4 pm, when things are busiest and there’s fast turnover. Also good is 10:30 to 11 a.m. because people are having their "second breakfast", to tide them over until lunch. (Check out Lesley’s street food tours at http://www.eatmexico.com/).
The best street food is often found in and around markets and near busy metro stops. Most Mexico City neighborhoods have a tanguis, a street market held one day each week, where some of the freshest street food can be found. You’ll find a variety of stands offering everything from fresh fruit juices to savory tacos. Here’s a list of top street food spots around town.
Metro Chilpancingo (Insurgentes and Baja California). This is my favorite spot in the city for great street food. On Calle Chilpancingo itself you’ll find some of the best flautas (literally ‘flutes’, elongated filled and deep fried tortillas served with salsa and cream) in all of Mexico, along with heart-warming caldo de pollo (chicken soup). I often have a quick lunch at El Tacetón (at the corner of Baja California and Tuxpan) which offers a variety of tacos de guisados (soft tortillas filled with a stew) including vegetarian options like tortitas de brocoli and coliflór; there’s a selection of colorful salsas to spike things up.
- Mercado San Juan Arcos de Belen (Arcos de Belen at Calle López). Nicholas Gilman, author of Good Food in Mexico City recommends this market and the adjacent Calle López. Don’t miss the flautas as you enter the first door and the colorful aguas frescas (drinks made with fresh fruit) stand in the back.
- Calle López (Centro). All the food mavens rave about this street. Check out Tacos de Cabeza “Los Gueros” (no. 93) for all sorts of grilled meat tacos. Ricos Tacos Toluca (at the corner of López and Puente de Paredo) offers excellent chorizo verde – a bright green sausage, specialty of Toluca. For fresh seafood, try El Caguamo (at Ayuntamiento, just a few feet east of López)—don’t miss the shrimp cocktail. Locals have been devouring the tacos al pastor at El Huequito (Ayuntamiento 21 between Dolores & Aranda) for six decades.
- Mercado de Antojitos (Higuera 6, Coyoacán, open daily until midnight, later on weekends). This garage-like space, a block from Coyoacán’s central plaza, is perfect for a rich, red pozole or the deep-fried quesadillas filled with such treats as flor de calabaza (squash blossom flowers) and huitlacoche (corn mushroom).
- Tianguis Condesa (Tuesdays only, Calle Pachuca near Veracruz). This weekly market, “more beautiful than Paris” according to our French friends, is the most visually appealing of all. On Calle Agustin Melgar are many street stalls: mixiotes, carnitas, barbacoa, tostadas, seafood and quesadillas. The tamales sold on the corner of Veracruz are the best I’ve found in Mexico—go early, they usually sell out by 11a.m.