Pujol. Contramar. Quintonil. And so on. If you’ve been to Mexico City recently, you know that there is no right way to taste your way around its unrivalled restaurants, but a little forward planning helps. Some of the best food requires no reservations, of course, such as the succulent street-food tacos and tamales, or quesadillas from market vendors’ stalls. (Their excellent herb-stuffed counterparts, tlacoyos de queso, can be found at the Mercado Jamaica for 15 pesos each—$1.) Also, you must not forsake a pilgrimage to the lush inner courtyard of the 100-year-old San Angel Inn to sip on what many deem to be the city’s best margarita. Once those tasks are complete, consider a few of the following.
Masala y Maíz
This culinary darling was shut down for six months when husband-and-wife owners Saqib Keval and Norma Listman refused to pay government bribes, then triumphed with a reopening last fall. More change is in the air this August, when the restaurant relocates from the San Miguel Chapultepec neighbourhood to Colonia Juarez. Listman is a native of Texcoco, Mexico, and Keval is from California, with family roots in Kenya and Ethiopia. The two met in Oakland, California, while working in kitchens, and the cuisine at Masala y Maiz highlights the complex flavours of their upbringings, and fuses together Mexican, Indian, and East African cooking techniques, spices, and ingredients. “We cook recipes of our histories, but we are not ‘fusion’,” says Keval. “We are culture-sharing in a natural, unforced way.” An heirloom corn tetela filled with steamed soft-shell crab may be served with pachi pulusu (tamarind soup) and a refreshing glass of sparkling mead made with honey and seasonal fruits.
“The ingredient is the protagonist—always,” says chef Elena Reygadas in the kitchen of Rosetta, located in a beautifully restored 100-year-old home in the Roma neighbourhood. Whether she’s turning out hand-folded Jerusalem artichoke ravioli, rye sourdough bread served with chicatana ant butter, or taleggio tortelloni in a chargrilled vegetable broth, Reygadas has earned her place on the S. Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list for Latin America. The culinary powerhouse trained in New York and worked in London before returning to her homeland with a newfound appreciation for its bountiful ingredients. The food at Rosetta may have started out Italian, but Reygadas admits it has slanted far more Mexican in recent years. “I love to go to markets here,” she adds. “I’m always getting to know another new herb.” Even though Reygadas is busy running three different establishments in the city, she managed to publish her first book, Rosetta, this spring.
Open for a decade but renovated this spring, Sud777 is a sleek, multi-levelled hot spot with 100 seats in the Pedregal neighbourhood. Chef Edgar Nuñez has nudged his way up the S. Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list for Latin America, and it shows in protein-heavy standouts like octopus served in a crust of ashes, and rich sweetbreads with lime and serrano pepper, as well as his love of pairing fresh cheeses (burrata, Cotija) with vegetables (asparagus, tomato, seaweed) and herbs from the on-property garden. It’s filling fare, so you’d be well advised to down a carajillo after the final course—it consists of coffee with a shot of herbal liquor mixed in, and boasts 43 digestive roots and botanicals.
If you’re in the mood for a three-hour tasting menu, look no further than Lorea, where guests must buzz, speakeasy-style, for access under a lit sign that notes the building’s origins in “1921”. Open for two-and-a-half years, Lorea is the brainchild of executive chef Oswaldo Oliva and his wife, general manager Elizabeth Chichino. Oliva worked for eight years under Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain, before moving to Mexico City; the artistry he picked up there can be found in his vegetable-heavy tasting menus, which change daily. Here, lobster mushrooms from Oaxaca are bathed in a saffron emulsion, sea bass is served with picked lemon in “a broth of its bones”, and a chicken consommé palate cleanser is infused with tarragon and anise. The cocktail menu is prepared by the chefs themselves to match each evening’s dishes, but you won’t be shunned if you order a cerveza to start in this unpretentious room (go for the Piedra Lisa Session IPA with the millennial pink label).
As the name reveals, this is a bakery-café and not a full restaurant, but it can’t be missed. Elena Reygadas is also behind this hole-in-the-wall spot that’s just a one-minute walk away from Rosetta. The always-packed café has a countertop stacked with fresh pastries such as hot croissants, fresh breads, and tangy-sweet guava rolls—a specialty of the house. Sold out? No problem. You can’t go wrong with a strong cup of coffee and a plump berlinesa doughnut filled with decadent pastry cream.
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