Colonia Del Valle is that quiet, resolutely middle-class, luster-less neighborhood where lots of people live, essential to every big city. Think Queens. There are nice, post-war vintage homes, clean streets, a few tidy parks. You don’t feel the genteel breeziness of Polanco, the buzz of the Condesa, the encroaching hipsterism of La Roma, the intellectual vibe of Coyoacán or the walk-on-the-wild-side artsiness of Santa Maria la Ribera. But there are some cultural and culinary gems hidden in the Valley’s streets. The Centro Libanés is one. Fonda Margarita is another. And now I've discovered two Yucatecan mini-institutions, owned by brothers, that sit back to back on a particularly quiet thoroughfare. These busy kitchens whip up their versions of that most incendiary of Mexican regional cuisines, and are amongst the best in the city.
Fonda 99.99 is the simpler of the two, its décor practically non-existent – it’s bright and clean inside, at least –the color scheme is hospital white. The menu is limited to those well-worn peninsular antojitos: cochinita pibil, in its various guises, such as tacos, panuchos and tortas. The sopa de lima has that particularly satisfying savory balance of perfumy and picant. And padadzules, those eggy, blue concoctions, a rare (in the Mexican lexicon, anyway) vegetarian, if not vegan dish, are creamy and nutty. I asked a manager from whence comes the 99.99 theme – she couldn’t tell me. Avis's old “we try harder” ethic, I suppose.
The quarter-century-old Humbertos, entered through 99’s driveway or from around the corner, sports warmer decoration. It features a long and intriguing menu. Expectant diners line up for a table – they look happy when they are seated and eat a lot. Here, the ‘99’ theme spills over, and all prices end in .99, even though we no longer use 1-centavo coins in Mexico. “99 44/100 per cent pure” promised those old Ivory Soap ads. As a particularly cynical kid I always wondered about the other .56 percent. The missing percentage here undoubtedly refers to the part of the menu that isn’t Yucatecan. Could be ‘spaghetti rojo a los 6 quesos. Six cheeses! Don’t order it. Stick to the many southern regional specialties, some familiar others less so. The afore-mentioned cochinita is succulent and perfectly complimented by the fiery but aromatic jade-green salsa. Try the delectable but oddly named salbutes de ‘but’ negro: light crispy sopes are topped with ground meat steeped in the salsa called recado negro. I never really ‘got’ this sauce myself, it always seemed thin and lacking in complexity. But here it works, perfuming the meat with a delicate smokiness. A little chopped egg makes for pretty. Tacos de lechón, suckling pig, were addictive - I lusted after my neighbor’s huge plate of pure lechón, Monday’s special. But I had ordered the tacos de cazón, that light baby shark with which the Yucatecans work so well. The classic pan de cazón, is presented here as a pretty stack of herby braised fish, black beans and tortillas swathed in gorgeous red tomato/chili sauce like a Dior model in crimson organdy. Of course you’ll wash it all down with ice-cold horchata or Montejo beer.
Prices in both places are reasonable – a comida will set you back no more than $100 pesos. But be aware that they are only open for lunch - no late night chilli-fests.
So go down to the valley - it can get hot there.
Moras 347, between Miguel Laurent & San Lorenzo, 6 blocks east of Av. Insurgentes, Col. Del Valle (Metrobus Parque Hundido)
Open Tuesday-Saturday 1-8PM, Sunday until 6
Patricio Sanz 1440, (entry from Calle Mora, see below)
Open every day but Tuesday, 1-6PM
A note to my readers: See my new article about eating in Egypt: