Way downtown – Doña Chela of Tlapan

Doña Chela herself

Reluctant to venture south of the Viaducto, I recently risked bearings lost and made my way down to Tlalpan. A surprisingly tranquil little hamlet, Tlalpan was another one of those villages, like Coyoacán, that eventually made its way into the greedy maw of that hungry beast, ‘El D.F.’ Its quaint small-town center and colonial buildings survive, testaments to the day, not so long ago, when Mexico City’s centro was the centro, and these places existed autonomously and were visited on burro or tram through fields of corn. Central Tlalpan, home to a mix of Marxian lumpenproletariat and the decidedly well-heeled, is still tattered at the edges. It could use a little loving care. Huge mansions are minimally maintained. A hundred year old convent is topped by what looks like a five story parking lot, way above the supposed limit – who did those nuns pay off to get their ‘permiso de contrucción’? Unlike Coyoacán whose center is relatively intact, Tlalpan struggles to keep face like an aged Hollywood diva of yore. But a walk down the streets surrounding the peaceful, recently renovated zócalo, pays off. An ancient church, San Agustín de las Cuevas, shimmers, its meditative courtyard providing refuge for the city-weary. Casa Frissac, a mansion of bygone days, houses a museum and cultural center. And the red brick Mercado de la Paz dates to 1888 and is the oldest still functioning market building in the city. Enter through one of its welcoming portals. Inside, down the well-trodden stone paths happens to be one of the best fondas in town: that of Doña Chela.

“¡Sabor y Calidad!” shouts the sign, and Chela doesn’t mince words, just chilies. Covering several stalls due to popular demand, she cooks up a veritable encyclopedia of Mexican antojitos, from tacos de guisados – filled with green or red mole to enchiladas, tostadas, grilled meats, sopes, huaraches (no, not shoes, but large oblongs of meat topped masa). On a cool day one can order a piping hot and rich pozole. If you had a few too many last night, try a bowl of pancita, that offal hang-over cure, famous from here to Tijuana. And now is the season for chiles en nogada. I had to try one. Chela’s are exemplary – the chile charred just enough to lift the crunch, the savory filling fragrant and, best of all, the ‘nogada’ or creamy nut sauce, which is so often cloying, is sweetened judiciously with a light touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. A winner. I asked Chela, who is surprisingly young to be such a market diva, from whence emanates the recipe. I expected to hear “es de mi abuela” or some such comforting answer. But Chela’s efficient reply was “viene del Once”…that’s TV’s channel 11, the culture station. Let’s face it, sometimes life imitates art and it’s not a bad thing.

Fonda Doña Chela

Mercado de la Paz, just off the main plaza of Tlalpan

The best way to get there by public transportation is

Metrobus to Perisur, then a short taxi ride.


  1. Next time you are in Tlalpan, go to the cantina La Jalisciense right on the zocalo. It's one of the city's oldest and nicest, and they make incredible tortas de bacalao.

  2. Very good reporting.... thank you.... I was in Mexico City just recently, but haven't been to Tlalpan in 20 years when a girlfriend took me there. We had very little money and took mass transit to Estadio Azteca and then a combi. It has always held some mystique for me. There was once a show on Mexican TV called "Tony Tijuana" starring Pedro Amendariz Jr. Tony used the "Zocalo de Tlalpan" as a rendezvous with bad guys. Now that I know there's decent food, I'll have to go back on a future visit.

  3. Thank you David, I saw La Jalisciense - it looked good. But it wasn't time for a drink. I don't start until 12.

  4. "...and Chela doesn’t mince words, just chilies."
    Nice turn of phrase, Nick.

  5. The greedy MAW of the hungry BEAST,...you are toooo muching futch........tooooo much...

  6. Hi,

    This is such a wonderful blog post. Thanks so much for sharing this detailed post with everyone. You offer such a great read and an interesting look into the history and food of Tlalpan and Doña Chela. I also blog about Mexican food and recipes at www.mexfoodrecipes.com. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out. Have a great day! Maria


  7. For the first time in ages.. this makes me want to revisit Tlalpan. Looks delicious!

  8. Dear Sir, I don't want to sound pedantic, but why would you get off the Metrobus at Perisur and then ride a cab to get to Tlalpan's centro? It's way easier to stay on the Metrobus and get off at Fuentes Brotantes, then walk 4 blocks (3 blocks east, 1 block north).
    Tlalpan will be made a Pueblo Mágico soon, which might allow them to obtain funding to restore and protect their architectural heritage.