Street food is my jam. It’s generally my first port of call in any city I visit. Pulling up a stool at a street vendor is a great way to see what the locals are eating, to eat for cheap, to taste real local flavors, and to chat to people about what else to do (and eat) in the city you’re in.
Mexico City street food is up there as some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry Taipei, I still love you). It’s spicy, it’s filling, it’s salty, it’s unbelievably tasty.
I should really consider dropping the whole travel blogging thing and becoming a food writer because my descriptions are good enough for Saveur, don’t you think?
While I have by no means tasted every taco in Mexico City, I HAVE sampled a lot of street food stalls around the city. I’ve spent countless lunches and dinners (and the odd breakfast) traipsing across the city via metro, Uber, and my little gremlin feet to eat just about anything that catches my eye.
Here are the best things I’ve eaten in the last eight months and where you can find them when you next visit Mexico City.
Tacos al Pastor
These are by far my #1 favorite street food item in Mexico City. According to everything I’ve read about Mexican Street food, this is the only dish that Mexico City can claim as its own. A shwarma style pork that has been marinated in different spices before being sliced and piled high on a skewer. When it’s served they top it with a few slices of roasted pineapple, cilantro and raw onion. No pastor taco tastes the same. So you’ll just have to try every single one you see.
My favorite spot for pastor tacos: El Hipodromo, Jardin del Arte, Calle Serapio Rendon (behind the Monumento a la Madre). This place seriously does Pastor right. It’s open 24 hours a day. It tastes especially delicious after 10pm (and a few beers). Definitely get some cebollitos (little onions) on the side.
Birria tacos are traditionally made with stewed goat meat, but you’ll also find it made with beef and pork. It is slow cooked and tender. They pile the meat high in a corn tortilla and top it with a beautiful tomato consommé and some onions and cilantro for good measure. I sometimes accidentally eat 10 (they’re only small, I promise).
My favorite spot for birria tacos: On the corner of Calle de Balderas and Avenida Juarez, diagonally across from Alameda Central (the park). Look for the sign that says Birria Tacos. They’re 7 pesos each and the consommé is absurdly delicious (and not at all spicy).
Honorable Taco Mentions
Besides the two I mention above, there are of course tons of other options for tacos. Most stands have bistec (steak), chorizo or longaniza (sausage), campechano (a mix of the two), and all types of other interesting insides. You’ll find intestines, tongue, and eyes are quite a popular taco filling. I’ve tried tongue (lengua) and it’s actually okay. The texture is something totally different, but the taste is very meaty. The stand that I mentioned above under pastor tacos does tons of these options really well. Luke’s tried the eye and said it was okay.
Con todos (with everything) usually means they’ll scoop on a big helping of cilantro, onions, and a ladle full of salsa. If you want one of those to be left off, simply say, “sin salsa” or “sin cilantro.”
Huaraches are so named because they are shaped like a huarache (sandal). Oblong and flat, these corn tortillas are grilled up on a flattop and slathered with all manner of goodies. I usually go for the bistec (steak). No matter your meat of choice, they’ll always add shredded lettuce, refried beans, and queso fresco.
It would seem that a fork and a knife would be the best way to eat this, but I’ve never been given a fork or a knife to eat one. Just dig in and keep the napkins close at hand.
My favorite spot for huaraches: There is a great little stand in Mercado Alameda Central. While most places in the market here will sell you a huarache, no one does it quite like the guy in the corner. If you stand in the middle of the square and the statue of Hidalgo is on your right (it’s the only statue), look to the top left corner. A red tarp overhead, red tablecloths, and a backward L-shaped table to sit at. Get your huarache (and anything else for that matter) from this family.
Literally, “little fatties,” gorditas are corn tortillas that have been sliced down the middle (they’re thicker than any that you buy in a store) and stuffed with whatever goodies are on the menu. I often have this entirely without meat – just refried beans, lettuce, cheese, and cream.
My favorite spot for gorditas: While almost any street stall with a flat top will be cooking these up, and you should be all means sample them ALL, my favorite is from a little stand with a few indoor tables near the Zocalo. Just past the Church of the Holy Trinity on Emiliano Zapata near the corner of Calle Margil is a great spot for some vegetarian gorditas. They also do a SERIOUSLY good horchata (rice milk with cinnamon).
It’s almost like I never knew what a sandwich was until I had a torta. The torta comes in many forms and not all are created equal. I for one would never buy a cold torta. Cold tortas are like the Kraft singles sandwiches of the torta world. You simply buy it because it’s cheap and it’ll do. No, no. I for one go for the greasy, dripping down your arm, hot pork, japaleño filled, pressed on a flat-top grill kind of torta. You’ll want to take a nap afterward, but it’ll be the best nap of your life.
There are so many different fillings for a torta and all will depend on the stand you’re at. Most places have what’s called a Milanesa. This is like a pork cutlet that has been pounded flat, breaded and fried. It’s utterly delectable when served hot and spicy. Alas, my all-time favorite torta place has closed down (I may have wept), but there are several others worth mentioning.
My favorite spot for tortas: Ever since my favorite stand closed down a few weeks ago I’ve been on the search for a new spot to call my own. There are tons of torta stands on Londres in Zona Rosa as well as a few busy stands down Calle Salamanca between Avenida Chapultepec and Calle de Durango. Let me know if you find a good Milanesa there.
If the cold torta is the Kraft singles of sandwiches, the pambazo is getting some Michelin stars. Those that are carb-conscious should steer clear (and also probably we can never be friends). The traditional pambazo is a tomato-soaked bread (the same type of bread you’ll see used all over the country, called teleras) filled with grilled potatoes, shredded lettuce, cheese, and cream. It is my favorite thing to have for lunch when I’m out and about in the city. It’s cheap, filling, and utterly delicious.
Some stands will have different options for fillings, but if you pass a street vendor and see the infamous red bread stacked on the side of the grill, it’s likely they’ll just be the potato filled kind. Don’t knock carb-on-carb ’til you’ve tried it.
My favorite spot for pambazos: The best ones are at any of the stands outside the Auditorio metro station (note: I recently went past here and there is some construction going on, so not sure if they are still open here – check around the block). The SECOND best ones are at the same stand that makes the best huaraches in town. I know, two birds, one stone, that’s what I was thinking, too (I once ordered both from here, best day ever).
We’re all familiar with a little tortilla stuffed with cheese, but perhaps you’ve never experienced it in the most blissful way that ever existed. Deep Fried.
When I first saw “deep fried quesadilla” written in my guide book I was all, “that’s disgusting.” And by that I mean: super unhealthy and probably ridiculously delicious. It is totally disgusting.
Freshly made corn tortillas, made by hand and stuffed with the best damn produce in Mexico. You don’t even need cheese (I’m not even joking, YOU DON’T EVEN NEED CHEESE IT’S THAT GOOD). My favorite fillings are zucchini flowers, because once they’re all fried up they get super creamy, and huitlacoche which translates on Google as Corn Smut. Haha. It’s a sort of fungus/mushroom that grows on corn and it is delectable in a fried quesadilla.
My favorite spot for deep-fried quesadillas: If you only go to one place and eat one thing it should be this. Head to the Mercado de Antojitos in Coyoacan. Turn down Higuera from Calle Caballocalco and you’ll see it almost immediately on the left. There are two stalls that are right next to each other and they are always the busiest ones. The first one you get to when you enter is definitely my favorite. They have a big red sign that says * Quesadillas * Local with the different options listed beneath it. They’ll hand you a notepad and a pen – write what you want and then put your name on it. They’ll call you when it’s ready! Don’t forget to put some salsa and cream inside.
Flat, crunchy corn tortillas topped with everything delicious. Tostadas kind of remind me of what I always thought tacos were while I was growing up. Except instead of being shaped like a U, they’re totally flat. My favorite type of tostada is a ceviche tostada, but I’ll try anything once.
I’ve also had them topped with mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, chicken mole, and cooked shrimp. The most famous place to have them in the city also happens to be my favorite spot.
My favorite spot for tostadas: Tostadas Coyoacan is the best place to head for this delicate delight. Inside the Coyoacan Market, simply look for the yellow. Yellow signs, yellow tablecloths, yellow menus, the staff are even wearing yellow – it will feel like you’re looking directly at the sun. Pause for even a moment and someone will seat you. They’ll bring you a sheet of paper to place your order on. It’s easy, cheap, and delicious.
I love me a good tamale. Down my street, every single morning little old ladies and men are selling them out of steaming hot pots. It’s very common to have it in a bread roll (the same bread they use for tortas), but I always opt to have it without. Most stalls selling tamales also sell Cafe de Olla – black coffee with cinnamon and cane sugar, or Atole – oatmilk that is piping hot and super-duper filling.
Tamales are corn masa that has been made into a dough and then stuffed with either chicken mole, chicken with salsa verde, or a mix of different vegetables. Sometimes there’s cheese. Then it’s wrapped up in a banana leaf and steamed. When you order it they’ll give you a little fork to eat with. It’s so delicate and the corn masa is so flavorful. Better than any corn bread I’ve ever had.
My favorite spot for tamales: My favorite places are just the ones that pop up on street corners first thing in the morning. Look for them around Alameda park or near subway station entrances. They’re a breakfast food, so the stands are usually all packed up by 11am. If you want somewhere specific, Tamales Doña Emi is a great little street stall/restaurant that serves tamales until 2pm every day. Look for the green awning on the corner of Jalapa and Tlaxcala streets.
If you like pastor tacos, you’ll love yourself a gringa. Gringas are two flour tortillas stuffed with pastor meat, Oaxaca cheese, onions, cilantro, and joy. I usually order a gringa first when I get to a taco stand. Then if I’m still hungry, I’ll grab a few more pastor tacos for good measure. Be sure to squeeze some lime on top.
Also, there is no delicate way to eat these. They will be messy and tons will fall out. You’re not alone in the inability to eat this well. Even my Mexican friends make a mess of eating a gringa.
My favorite spot for gringas: The best place for a gringa is the same as the best place for a pastor taco. Head to the Jardin del Arte park and look out for El Hipodromo. The man is a taco making genius.
While I’ve seen barbacoa on the menu in the US, it’s usually made with parts of a cow’s head in the states. Here in Mexico, it is much more likely to be made with young goat, chivo or lamb, borrego. Either way, it is always slow cooked until it is crazy tender. It’s marinated in a spicy and savory mixture of spices and rubs. You can have it in a taco, on a huarache, stuffed into a gordita – it depends on the stand. The first time I had it was on a huarache and it was SO FLIPPING DELICIOUS that I’ve waxed poetic about this exact stand to every person I know.
There are a few restaurants that serve it in Mexico City that are worth visiting, but for the purpose of this post and my love of street food, I’m going to stick to the stalls.
My favorite spot for barbacoa: You’ll have to time it right because it’s only on Sundays at this spot. This tianguis (weekly market) serves up some of the best barbacoa I’ve had in Mexico City. Head to Jardin Pushkin in Roma and look for the tent along Calle Colima alongside the park. There are tons of food vendors in here, but my favorite for barbacoa is the one at the end of the row nearest Avenida Cuauhtemoc. El Hidalguense is a famous restaurant to have it – it’s only open Fridays-Sundays and once they run out they close, so arrive early. Order it by the weight and you get corn tortillas, salsas, limes, and onions.
Street Food in Mexico City
Street food is all about sampling different flavors. I have never gotten sick from eating street food in Mexico City. Almost everything you order is cooked fresh. The griddles that they cook things on are PIPING hot and the meat is thoroughly cooked through. The only problem some people have is with the different oils. That being said – my boyfriend and I have been eating street food in Mexico City at least once a week since we arrived last year and all we do is fall more in love with it.
Try things you’ve never heard of, ask questions, smile, and most importantly, EAT. Also, the salsas are always spicy. Even the guacamole. Don’t be fooled and always sample a little bit before you scoop heaps onto your tacos.