For the first time in the history of Good Food in Mexico City, I turn the podium over to a guest writer, while I explore the Good Food of various points of mysterious Eastern Europe and the more familiar Occident.
This three part series on where to eat the best arrachera in el D.F. will give any good vegetarian nightmares worthy of a George Romero film. But this one ain't for the rabbit food set. Read on, bloody meat-eaters:
10 Dias, 9 Parrillas: A Trilogy (Part I)
By Ulysses de la Torre
The idea was to find the best Argentine arrachera steak in Mexico City. But anyone familiar with this corner of the food universe should already see problems with the premise. First, although arrachera is served at many Argentine parrillas here, it’s a northern Mexican cut; second, there are too many Argentine parrillas to try them all by deadline; third, what about Uruguayan parrillas?
With those caveats in mind, my wife, Luisa, and I set forth to see what we could find.
DAY 1: El Hornero
This wasn’t supposed to be anything like the movie where the guy eats McDonald’s every day for a month, but that’s what I’m thinking of right now. We’re beginning at El Hornero because we’ve been here enough that the two Argentine owners know us and it’s intimate enough—capacity is three dozen—that if you catch it at the right time, the owners might sit and chat. Tonight turns out to be one such night.
Matias says what he serves as “arrachera” (what I ate) is called entraña back home. Since opening three years ago, I’ve tried everything here, but never with the aim of comparing it in a meat-off. So what about the arrachera/entraña tonight? It has the requisite smoothness of a decent arrachera, plus the added punch of a marinade. Also, Matias says it’s kosher. Over dessert, we tell him of our parrilla challenge and ask which meat is a must-have for any worthwhile parrilla. Matias says asado de tira. He also says there’s no difference between Argentine and Uruguayan parrillas. So what’s already apparent on day one is that this is about more than just arrachera.
VERDICT: El Hornero is one of our standbys. And whenever I finish a meal here, I’m always kind of sad it’s over.
El Hornero | Cordoba 148, between Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Colonia Roma
5584-5413 | 044-55-3948-7088 | Monday – Saturday 13:00—21:00, home delivery, cash only
Arrachera: 350 grams/140 pesos
Asado de tira: 350 grams/145 pesos
DAY 2: Quilmes
For breakfast, I ate all fruit, and for lunch, all vegetables. So guess what it’s time for?
We’re determined to avoid chain restaurants, but we made an exception for Quilmes on a friend’s recommendation. It’s cavernous—two floors—and unlike El Hornero, where even the clientele was Argentine, Quilmes targets Mexicans. I’m sure Sunday brunch is busy, but tonight, Friday, it’s more empty than full. Quilmes has been in Condesa since the pre-hipster days and as if to accentuate this fact, we watch a hipster walk in with his girlfriend, look around, and murmur to her, “aquí no está padre güey.” But the girl insists and they take a table.
Prices are higher and the music is disastrous (Phil Collins, El DeBarge…need I go on?). The walls are absent of the Che/Maradona/Evita/Gardel montage typical of many parrillas, instead plastered with futbol jerseys and flat screen televisions. The arrachera is unmarinated and uniformly smooth and I can taste the charcoal. Nothing exciting about this, but it does the job. I don’t usually pay attention to the quality of picante sauce, but its watery taste compels me to take note.
VERDICT: Not bad, but given this city’s proliferation of parrillas, I see no need to return. And there’s no way the owner would ever sit with us for a chat.
Quilmes | Alfonso Reyes 193, between Cholula and Saltillo, Colonia Condesa
5516-1438 | 7 days
Arrachera: 350 grams/165 pesos
Asado de tira: 350 grams/235 pesos
DAY 3: Cuareim 1080
Fate has delivered us here. We were headed elsewhere in Polanco, but while looking for a parking spot, wound up in front of Cuareim 1080, an Uruguayan parrilla named after a Montevideo artists’ commune closed by the military dictatorship in 1978. Since it’s Uruguayan, instead of Che/Diego/Evita is artwork from the original commune and Uruguayan folk rock on the stereo. Here’s how real Cuareim keeps it: arrachera isn’t even on the menu. The waiter says their closest meat to arrachera is entraña, so I order it medium (as I generally do) and when it arrives, it has no side dish, which is fine considering I’m up to my neck in vegetables the rest of my waking hours.
The meat has slightly more fat and some skin and I can taste the grill. Also, it’s clear Quilmes was missing last night—there, the meat was smooth and decent quality, but it tasted diluted, like the picante sauce. Here, the flavor is jumping off the plate.
VERDICT: This place is cool, and rather understated for Polanco. Like El Hornero, I’m hearing a lot of southern cone accents, and also like El Hornero, it’s cozy—good for a private party where you want to be able to take over the joint.
Cuareim 1080 | Newton 105, between Masarik and Lamartine, Colonia Polanco
5531-7448 | Monday – Saturday 13:00-21:30, Sunday 13:00-19:00
Entraña, Asado de Tira: 300 grams / 150 pesos, side not included
When he’s not eating meat, Ulysses de la Torre is an emerging markets consultant and maintains a blog about finance and economics in developing countries at www.divergingmarkets.com.