Mexico has natural foods galore.
Mexico has also contributed much more to the world’s diet than lots of other, less privileged countries: tomatoes, chocolate, chiles and vanilla and all kinds of things that other countries take for granted.
So when internationals arrive in Mexico, we’re often surprised that everything isn’t tomatoes and chocolate.
That fact is, as much as Mexico sent out to the world, they also kept behind a lot of baffling, interesting and good things to eat. Like, there are even more natural foods already (still?) here!
In that perfect, Mexico-style, many of these are the best foods, the best for you, and they cost rock bottom prices. These are just seven of the most prominent.
The nopal is as ancient as anything growing in Mexico. It’s used in everything. And that includes stuff beyond food and juice, things like shampoos, soaps, lotions and even bug repellents! But it’s rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamins (A, B, B2, C and K) as well chlorophyll and protein. And though on the street you will usually see it mostly as a garnish for tacos or the like, off the street it finds it’s way in all kinds of recipes from salads and side dishes to magnificent main courses.
You might find these growing in Arizona, in limited numbers, but no one eats them ‘ cause the seeds are very toxic. But the pod-like flowers are widely consumed, especially in frijoles de olla, where they add particularly gamely flavor something like beef. They’re also frequently cooked into mole de olla, or served in truly outstanding tamales.
At the time of Emperor Moctezuma, huazontle was ancient Mexico’s fourth most important food crop, after corn, beans and chia. Ancient people even used it to pay their taxes to the Aztec empire. Today huazontle comes up mostly around Christmas, sometimes coated in egg and fried and as often doused in mole. The tender seeds are pulled off of the stems (which are discarded) using the teeth.
Why are beans so elemental and symbolic for Mexico? Beans just pack a lot of energy-punch and contribute essentially no fat! Super high in fiber, they’re really good for weight-loss. Oh, and their also completely native to Mexico, even though you’ll find some varieties of frijoles being eaten, today, around the whole world.
This is just one more glorious contribution to world diets, though it is only recently showing up in other countries. An essential part of nearly any Mexican meal, it packs loads of carbohydrates but with just the addition of some tortillas and salsa you’re basically set for a perfectly well-rounded meal.
The illustrious Mexican limon is as ubiquitous as street tacos. But it’s not really even a food all on it’s own, one may argue. In fact, it’s used in almost every single Mexican dish and the Mexican lime is well-regarded as both an aid to weight-loss with all that vitamin C, it’s a natural boost to the immune system, too.
Arguably the most important of all foods on earth, it’s revered, it takes fewer people to cultivate than rice and requires less land than wheat. Widely revered in many rites and consumed daily (since forever) it’s grown all over even Mexico City. Corn is unavoidable, better for you than wheat or rice, and since you’re here, you might as well learn to enjoy this most basic of natural foods anywhere.
2016 was a banner year, not just for good eats and good coffee, but for seeing some of our old favorites really come into their own. Hopefully not lost in all of the rave reviews were these ten top-notch new restaurants – perhaps the best New Restaurants of the past year. As we see it, these are the ones who are just getting going.
Photo above: Mia Domenicca
A Mediterranean corner in Colonia Roma, Mia Domenicca always feels like cooking for friends. Priding themselves on a kitchen that turns out truly memorable dishes, the place is casual and friendly, but the menu should leave no doubt that you’ve got some pretty sophisticated friends.
Taking the concept of “comfort food” to some considerable extreme, La Roma is not just good for the soul. With considerable attitude, it’s not really a biker kind of place (though it looks like it). Specializing in burgers, plenty of their sandwiches will meet the expectations of higher-browed clientele, and deeply satisfying, some of their heavier dishes will beg to be revisited.
Chef Jair Téllez’s next evolutionary step after winning acclaim for Merotoro and Laja (in the Valley of Guadalupe), Amaya’s menu is still more sophisticated. A fusion of Spanish and Mexican cuisine, the wine (raro or not) is also carefully selected for outstanding results.
The new place at the Four Seasons, Zenaya is seafood to write home about. Starting with traditional recipes from Nayarit, Chef Tonatiuh Cuevas traveled to the coast to soak up the seasoning of the beach. Quality and freshness have been well noted by some of the city’s most vocal citics.
Mexico City’s most beloved Japanese chef brings a much-needed update to the concept of Mexican-Japanese food. With an extremely traditional menu, you get the hyper-simple technique and the full blown Hiroshi treatment for every dish. This is not one to miss.
A pure vegetable-based cuisine for everyone, every dish is created with organic and artisanal ingredients. Soups, salads, and hamburgers all attest to the fact that vegan can be not just edible, but even really good, and without mammoth portions.
Innovative, high-quality dishes, in an unpretentious environment, Lucas focuses on seasonal everything, and so everything is fresh. With a nice mix of cocktails, for Roma Norte this is a decidedly sophisticated corner of the night.
Bastardo, like the child of none-too-respectable parents, is nothing if not creative. Chef Jorge Avedaño latest venture brings always unusual ingredients to the table and the results are something like a mix of down-home and high society. Among the best new restaurants, this is not one to underestimate.
Granada’s not just a bunch of overpriced condos for girls from Toluca. The second Granada entry in this year’s list, is a fusion of Mediterranean, Asian, American and Spanish food all from Valencian chef Ricard Camarena. Eclectic is a ood first word to describe it, but the flavors and technique somehow all make sense here – if nowhere else.
For daily delights inspired by a traditional bakery, you shouldn’t have to climb Mount Everest. But that’s where you’ll find this new and rather exclusive bakery and coffee shop with a pretty good menu tacked on to keep it innovative. Contemporary Mexican food comes in ample servings to make it one of the best new restaurants of the past year. And the terrace, for lunch is one reward for venturing out to Lomas.
Mole, the word comes from the Nahuatl, molli, is always among the most emblematic of Mexican dishes. There are multiple varieties of moles, each prepared with different chiles and spices. This mixture is then thickened with corn, vegetables and sometimes with a meat stock. And then it’s set to stew.
The interesting thing about mole is that over the decades it’s continued to evolve. More and more chefs and restaurants strive to include a mole on their menus, with original dishes inspired by nothing but that original dark sauce. Dishes today range from the most traditional to the most modern and extravagent. And they always bear something of the original identity in their complex characters and flavors.
Among the most popular is “mole poblano.” But as there are so many versions of moles in the city, the best moles in Mexico City are often far and away from those concocted originally in Puebla, or Oaxaca or Guerrero. From the pot, they come red, black or sometimes green, but for all the best moles in Mexico City start with the list below.
One of the city’s true classics, Azul is at home in an impressive old building and prides itself on a rather high Mexican gastronomy. The house mole is rather on the traditional side, but for the adventurous, there’s also a sweet version served with duck.
With very fair prices, La Poblanita’s portions are very generous, and the mole enchiladas, are not to be forgotten. Overall, a traditional and rather “poblano” style menu should fill up even the most finicky of guests.
A favorite since the 1940s, Los Panchos has been recommended by world-renowned chef, Enrique Olvera. One of the city’s most varied menus, the house mole is one of the star dishes, and always comes out not just sweet, but exotic, multi-layered and complicated.
Always esoteric, El Cardenal has been one of the best Centro restaurants for as long as anyone can remember. Most famous for the breakfasts, at lunchtime all the niceties go away and the real guns come out. A chicken breast stuffed goat cheese ought to get you going but the red mole is easily among the best moles in Mexico City.
Easily one of the most recognized eateries in the city, Pujol usually makes lists of the best in all Latin America. Cuisine is distinctly Mexican while the atmosphere is sophisticated and minimalist. Among the most popular of dishes is the “mole madre/mole nuevo,” made through a fusion of ancestral and modern techniques.
Priding itself on traditional and contemporary Poblano recipes, many of the moles are from carefully secreted recipes, each with a unique flavor. Order the chilaquiles with mole or the guava mole, both of which are exceptional.
El Familiar – Milpa Alta
San Pedro Actopan may be practically the world capital of mole and the majority of inhabitants dedicate themselves in one or another to the production of the sauce. El Familiar offers one particular mole with walnuts (mole de nuez), which goes spectacularly with almost anything. But the three-mole enchiladas offer an amazing sampler for those unwilling to commit.