Jaso: Mexico's Best?

Note: this article first appeared in The News Mexico

”Forget the hole, there’s plenty of donut”, admonished my dining companion Suzanne, as I tried in vain to think of something to criticize. “This place is a gift.” And so it goes, after two spectacular meals, I hereby proclaim Jaso Mexico’s # 1 restaurant of the moment.
Located in the center of Polanco, this “Contemporary American” restaurant is the baby of American chef Jared Reardon and his wife, master pastry chef Sonia Arias, a native capitalina. Together they’ve created a superb gastronomic temple, featuring local, seasonal and organic raw materials. Foams, vegetable and fruit reductions, and other already well-worn standards of contemporary alta cocina are used intelligently and discreetly here. Asian influences are evident, but one does not get the impression of trendiness for its own sake.
The couple met as students at The Culinary Institute of America, and later worked together at Bouley in New York’s Tribeca. Returning to Sonia’s home town of Mexico City, they were able to realize their dream of opening their own restaurant. Jared is passionate about food, and unlike many emerging star chefs, he never strays far from his kitchen. “Yes, he’s always in,” the waiter informed us, when I asked if I could interview him for this article. The food, although based on classic French concepts of preparation and presentation, is influenced by the teachings of Ferran Adrià of El Bullí near Barcelona, a legendary destination of international chowhounds, where experiments with “molecular gastronomy” have turned the culinary world upside down in recent years. How to get the most flavor out of a beet? Why not make a reduced beet jell-o cube. What to do with the mundane sardine? How about serving it over olive oil ice cream? Both chefs work with purveyors of exquisite artisanal products, from nearby or within the Federal District. Fresh raw milk, delivered twice daily, is used for ice creams, sauces and desserts. Hand-fed organic baby lamb and wild mushrooms from the State of Mexico grace the menu. Chef Reardon makes two trips weekly to the Central de Abastos, the city’s huge wholesale market, where he seeks out an inspiring array of foodstuffs to work with, creating new dishes for his constantly evolving menu. Sonia, the dessert and pastry chef, is inspired by Mexico’s fabulous variety of fruits, and is equally fastidious in her selection of high quality ingredients. The interior of Jaso is a series of sleek modern rooms, simple but elegant, splashed with sunlight during the day, and romantically lit at night. Service is attentive and infallible--as it should be at this level.
On our first visit, we were offered an ameuse-bouche of mint-and almond-scented “cappuccino”, served in a martini glass with tiny cubes of beet aspic as a surprise at the bottom. For our second repast, this cocktail had morphed into a foam of cactus fruit and jamaica (hibiscus blossom), providing a sweet and sour contrast to several small grilled shrimps. The confit of baby octopus, served on a bed of piquant eggplant puree, was tender and flavorful. And how about this for an appetizer: raviolis of foie gras bathed in black truffle sauce and beurre noisette, with bitter chocolate, black grapes, lashings of parmesan cheese, dotted with aged balsamic vinegar? This befuddling combination of mouth-watering, but seemingly egotistical ingredients, actually worked, each of its parts surprisingly discernable.
We sampled a succulent lechón (suckling pig) twice, in different guises. One was beautifully complimented by a beet reduction sauce, the other cooked sous vide (i.e. sealed in a bag and slowly cooked in its own juices), with a hint of star anise to compliment the delicate flavor of the meat. Sea-bass with puree of earthy wild mushrooms was another successful combination. Grilled skate, highlighted by finely diced pineapple, was glazed with the brown sauce traditionally served with Japanese eel - a simple and beautiful treat. Wild Atlantic salmon (a rarity in Mexico) was marinated in miso, soy, and mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine), then grilled and accompanied by coconut-jasmine rice and a puree of broccoli spiked with spry slivers of grapefruit – the total an exercise in culinary harmony.
Be aware that you may not find any of these dishes on the menu when you visit, as everything depends on what the chefs find each week, and what new discoveries they’ve made in their kitchen/laboratory. The bitter-sweet olive oil ice cream I tasted during my trip to the kitchen is part of an experimental dish that may never see the light of the dining room. Go with an open, adventurous mind.
Jaso’s dessert menu is divided into two sections, Fruits and Chocolate. From the latter we chose the chocolate brioche topped with a crispy orange cookie lid (and served with the best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever tasted) - as rich as it sounds and looks. This frozen wonder is also available as part of the “degustación de helados”. An interesting fruit concoction is a velvety parfait of mamey – a subtle and beautiful fruit chef Sonia describes as undervalued – I’m sure it will appear on her menu in new guises if we wait long enough.
Finally, complimentary madeleines, fresh out of the oven, added a Proustian reflection on all things good, present and past. Jaso is pricey (at least $750 pesos per person with wine – be aware that tip and tax are added onto the bill in addition to the printed prices), but well worth the splurge. Au courant, hip, smart, and delicious, Jaso is great. Financial crisis or no, I’m saving my pesos to come back soon.

88 Newton, Polanco, Mexico, D.F.
Tel. 5545-7476
Open Monday – Saturday: 2pm – 11:30pm
All credit cards accepted


East Meets West: Asian Food in El D.F.

Updated August 2013
When people ask me what I miss about my former life in the Big Apple, my usual answer is “family, friends, and good Chinese food.” To make authentic foreign food, you need authentic foreigners, and Mexico City, unlike other great world metropoli, is not culturally diverse for its size– almost everyone here is Mexican. So if, like me, you’ve slogged through gloppy, celery and corn-starch laden meals in our so-called ‘Chinatown’ (Calle Dolores in the Centro Histórico), eaten pseudo-Thai food in Colonia Condesa that tasted like mole, or paid through the nose for phony Franco-Szechuan in Polanco, you’ll be happy to know that there is good, genuine Asian food in this city—you just have to know where to find it.
Asians landed in Mexico in the 19th century when Porfirio Diaz, looking to modernize the country, opened Mexico’s doors to foreign immigrants. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans arrived in significant numbers. After much inter-marriage with Mexicans, a fresh wave of Asians is arriving, bringing with it some long-awaited, authentic Asian food.

Early Chinese settlers built railroads and irrigation systems in the north, and worked on farms in the south. Utilizing their skills for fast cooking, some established “Café de Chinos”, the Mexican equivalent of an American coffee shop, serving up breakfast any time of day, and cooking up nominally Chinese dishes, like chow mein and chop suey. Nowadays About 3,000 Chinese nationals and 20,000 Mexicans of Chinese descent live in the country, mainly in Tijuana, Mexicali and the state of Chiapas. According to the website of the Chinese Embassy, Mexico City has about 800 Chinese residents and 5,000 “Chinos-mexicanos,” Mexicans of Chinese ancestry.

Chilango explorer and author, David Lida first led me to Ka Won Seng, which he’d learned about from a taxi driver whose sister-in-law is Chinese. The hand-scrawled note on the front door raised my hopes: “No hay comida mexicana, café, ni pan dulce” (we don’t serve Mexican food, coffee nor sweet rolls). The menu is extensive, with many dishes not found elsewhere in Mexico. Cold beef, flavored with star anise is an aromatic and refreshing appetizer, as is the gallina fina (cold steamed chicken served with dipping sauces). Many soups are offered, including an unusual hot-and-sour seafood--my favorite. Main courses include the usual meat categories, and a superb pato arrostizado estilo Guangdong (duck braised in a gingery brown sauce showered with scallions). Whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions is a specialty here, fresh and perfectly done. Berenjena con jarabe de pescado (eggplant with fish sauce) sounded odd, but was a perfect combination of sweet eggplant strips and a mild seafood sauce, served in a bubbling clay cazuela. There are many choices for vegetarians, such as tofu frio, bathed in chili sauce, then smothered with sesame seeds and scallions. Verdura china (bok choy) appears in many guises here, perfect with chorizo chino (chinese sausage), as do mustard greens and other seasonal vegetables --best to ask what’s fresh. Go with a group so you can share the ample dishes.

Asian Bay is a recent addition to the Condesa; (January 2012). Housed in an old mansion, the chef, Mexican of Chinese origen, studied cooking in Canton and Shanghai and cooks Chinese food for Chinese people. See my review

Japan is Mexico’s seventh largest investor. At the end of the 19th century, adventurous emigrants arrived in Chiapas to grow coffee and later become cattle ranchers. A little known fact is that during WWII Japanese- Mexicans were sent (by request of the US government) to internment camps in Mexico City, but apparently were treated well and even sponsored through private school. Nowadays, 4,000 Japanese live in Mexico, and there are over 15,000 of Japanese descent, the majority in the capital, principally involved in import and export of manufactured goods.
Japanese restaurant chains and fast food joints have proliferated here in recent years –most of them awful. The custom of augmenting sushi with cream cheese, wildly and inexplicably popular here, is shocking to most Japanese (including my Kyoto-born stepmother, Yasuko, who recoils in horror at the idea). One restaurant that doesn’t pander to “gaijin” (foreign ) influence is Taro, located upstairs in an unassuming office building in Coyoacán. Of modest aspect and friendly service, the menu is pure Tokyo: start your meal with succulent steamed and pan-seared gyozas (dumplings), lightly scented with ginger. “Daikon sarada” is surprising and refreshing, combining thin strips of raw Japanese radish with a light miso-mayonaise dressing. There is an interesting assortment of sushi rolls; I especially like the “shake kawamake”, made with crispy salmon skin, the fish light and crunchy atop a soft blanket of rice swathed in seaweed. “Nabe mono”, iron hot-pots filled with noodles, meat or seafood are a house specialty, and I can’t resist the yosenabe, a delicate broth with seafood and vegetables, flavored with “shirin”, a sweet Japanese wine. A refreshing dipping sauce of soya and ponzu (citrus) is served alongside for a bonafide Nipponese touch. Other tempting categories are tempura - light and crisp, not greasy – and teppan yaki, or grilled meats.
True to Japanese tastes, only the freshest ingredients are used. Taro is a real find. (I’ll bring Yasuko when she comes to Mexico--but only if she tires of Mexican food).

In 1905 the first Korean immigrants arrived to work the henequen fields in the Yucatan. An estimated 30 to 40,000 descendents live in Mexico today. Recently, a new wave of immigrants has come, and Korean investment is strong in Mexico. About 3000 Korean residents work here, opening over 20 restaurants, 5 grocery stores, several nightclubs, and even an acupuncture office, all in Zona Rosa, making Koreans the most prominent ethnic community in Mexico. Biwon is among the best Korean restaurants in the city. Located upstairs, the dining rooms are pretty and old-fashioned. The seemingly steep price includes “banchan”, small plates of prepared appetizers, presented to each table, along with rice and water, so you needn’t order more than a main dish. Tables are equipped with grills for preparing your own mouth-watering marinated meats. Alternatively, you can order a casserole of seafood with kim chi (pickled, chillied vegetable with lots of garlic), which comes in many varieties.
Adding to the element of adventure, Biwon’s clientele is mostly Korean, so you’ll need to ask your waiter to explain what’s on the menu--or just point to what other people are eating.

Other places I’ve tried in the city offer less authentic fare, but the Indian/Pakistani places, and the elegent Thai venue mentioned below should satisfy you cravings for these cuisines. When applying for a visa at the Vietnamese embassy, I asked the secretary how many Vietnamese live in Mexico – “two of us”, she replied, “the consul and I”. So I cancelled my next question, which was going to be: “is there a good Vietnamese restaurant in the city”? Dream on. My search for the miraculous will continue. Meanwhile, I count my blessings, read my fortune cookies, and just say “itadaki mas” (buen provecho in Japanese!).


Ka Won Seng Restaurante Chino
Albino Garcia 362, corner of Av. Santa Anita, Colonia Viaducto Piedad, Metro Viaducto
Open daily, 11AM – 11PM

Asian Bay Restaurante
Av. Tamaulipas 95 (between Vicente Suarez & Campeche) CondesaOpen Monday - Thursday: 12:00 -10:30 pmFriday, Saturday 12:00 -11:30 pmSun :12-9 pmTel. 5553-4582

Rico Food Comida China
Av. Coyoacán 426, Col. del Valle
Tel. 5682-9220
Open until 9PM
This nicely appointed Cantonese place attracts large Chinese families, and offers dim sum, not on the menu, early in the day.

El Dragón
Hamburgo 97, corner of Genova, Zona Rosa, metro Insurgentes
Open Monday-Saturday 1-11 PM, Sunday 2-10 PM
Known for its duck and, on Saturday evenings, its Mongolian hot pot buffet which is patronized by many Asians. Duck is great, the rest fair, and prices are exaggerated.

San Francisco 360, Colonia Del Valle, and Paseo de las Palmas 890, Lomas de Chapultepec
Open Monday – Saturday 1-11PM, Sunday until 6. Satisfying food, although prices are high and portions small.

Jing Teng
Calle 65 sur, near Av. Sta. Anita, 2 blocks from Ka Won Seng, above.
Chinese-for-Chinese; dim sum every day 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
see post for more info


Av. Universidad 1861, Coyoacán
Tel. 5661-4083
Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 1-10:30PM, Friday, Saturday 1-11PM, Sunday 1- 9PM, closed Wednesday

This is one of the best and most authentic Japanese restaurants in the city. There is often a wait on weekend afternoons. The second floor dining room is unassuming but the food is superior.

Restaurante Murakami
Torcuato Tasso 324 (between Presidente Masaryk & Horacio) Polanco
Tel. 5203-1371
Open Monday - Friday 1 - 10 p.m., Sunday until 6, closed Saturday
A good option in Polanco, this reasonably priced and casual spot is very popular with the local Japanese community.

Also good:

Benkay Restaurant
Hotel Nikko, Campos Elíseos 204, Polanco , Tel. 5280-1111
Open Monday -Friday 7-10:30 AM, 1-5 PM, 7-11 PM, Satuday 1-11 PM
This restaurant is excellent - try their $350 bento, it's like a trip to Japan. But sadly they no longer offer their much loved Sunday buffet.

San Luís Potosí 173, Colonia Roma,Tel. 5574-4859
Open Monday – Saturday 10-7 PM, Sunday until 6.
An Asian supermarket (see below) that prepares excellent bento boxes which can be eaten at tables outside the store. On weekends they offer a popular outdoor BBQ.

Korean: (see a knowledgeable reader's reply to this reccomendation, below)

Biwon Restaurante Coreano
New in 2011 is Bukhara, located on the second floor of the portales in the Zócalo. In an unlikely food court upstairs from the jewelers, is an Indian restaurant run by 'real' Indians from New Delhi. The menu is large. I advise to skip the tempting buffet and go for a la carte, where dishes will be made fresh. Prices are very reasonable.

Asian food Shopping:
Mikasa sometimes offers sushi rolling classes; check at the store.

Florencia 20, Zona Rosa
Open daily 11- 10PM

??? A small place, whose name is only in Korean on their card,  at Biarritz 3, around the corner from Hamburgo, makes interesting 'dim sum' dumplings and fried seaweed rolls, to take away or eat there at a small table.

Other nationalities:

Indian / Pakistani:
Copernico 156, corner of Leibniz, Anzures, Tel. 5545-6863
Open Monday-Saturday 1 - 11 PM, Sunday to 7 PM, all credit cards
The Tandoori oven baked chicken is good. Prices are high and portions small.

Better is:
Restaurante Taj Mahal (see my post)
Francisco Marquez 134 (between Pachuca & Tula, 1 ½ blocks from Mazatlán)Tel. 5211 8260Open Daily for lunch and dinnerhttp://tajmahalenmexico.com/

Address is given as "Plaza de la Constitución 13, Mezzanine)" Just look for the sign as you walk along, under the arcade facing the Palacio Nacional. Open Monday-Saturday for lunch only.

Thai Gardens
Calderon de la Barca 72, Polanco, Tel. 5281 – 3856, Open Monday- Saturday 1 – 11:30PM, Sunday until 6. An elegant and pricey venue for nicely presented, acceptably authentic Thai food.

Pad Thai
Sonora 49, Colonia Condesa/Roma
A smal, unpretentious place. See my post about it.

Ñham Ñham
Plaza Rio de Janeiro, on the west side, i.e. to your left as you face north, colonia Roma
Daily from noon until 6 p.m
A food truck serving authentic Banh mì, pho and nem.

- Mikasa (see above) Japanese dry goods, fresh produce, tofu, some Thai and Chinese sauces and cookware

- Super Oriental
Division del Norte 2515 corner of Londres, Coyoacán , tel. 5688-2981
Open Monday - Saturday 9:30-7:30 PM, Sunday 10:30-3:30 PM
Asian cooking supplies, kitchen utensils – the best pan-asian market in the city

- Mercado San Juan
Calle Ernesto Pugibet, Centro
This market has several stands selling an amazing array of fresh Asian produce as well as oriental products and fresh tofu.

- El Molinero Progreso
Calle Aranda 26 (around the corner from Mercado San Juan), open 8-8 Monday-Saturday.
This small store sells every spice under the sun, including many used in Indian cooking. ALso nuts, flours moles, chiles, etc.

- Calle Hamburgo, west of Florencia, Zona Rosa
There are several Korean markets in a row selling fresh tofu, kim chi and other Korean and general Asian necesities.

Cooking classes:

Ba from Pad Thai, above, sometimes offers lessons.

(This article originally appeared in The News, Mexico City)


Rick and Nick

I have always been interested in cooking and eating Mexican food, and many years ago I discovered Rick Bayless's book Authentic Mexican. I found it infinitely more usable than Diana Kennedy's fascinating, carefully researched, but complex tomes, and my original copy is now dog-eared and salsa stained. I had no idea until recently that he had become a TV star, as his series Mexico: One plate at a time doesn't play down here. So imagine my surprise when he wrote a complementary letter to me, asking for advice! No sooner had I answered when I bumped into him and his film crew at our favorite quesadilla stand in the Lagunilla flea market. I look forward to visiting his restaurant in Chicago some day, and perhaps, seeing some of my favorite street stalls on TV.


Avant Garde (formerly L'Atelier d'en Quim Jardi) - The rhythm is right and pizza is art at an Italo-Catalan bistro in La Roma

A note to my readers: L'Atelier is permanently closed (2010).

On a recent rainy night my friend Brad and I were strolling through Colonia Roma when the sound of Miles Davis´ muted trumpet stopped us in our tracks. The music was wafting from the open doorway of an old house. The sign outside read Centro Cultural L’Atelier d’en Quim Jardí. We climbed the narrow wooden staircase and, lo-and-behold, entered a Bohemian dream, circa 1959. What we found was a laid back, comfortable bistro, with great food and great music. The rambling collection of old rooms, filled with tables covered in checkered oilcloth, metal folding chairs (those Corona giveaways you see all over) and groovy art on the walls, made us feel right at home. Owner and chef Quim Jardí also ran La Rauxa, whose set comida is one of the best kept secrets in the Condesa. Jardí, of Catalan descent, is shy (according to his personable wife and business partner Laura) – that is, until he gets going on the topic of food. His passion about all things culinary started at an early age. His grandmother owned a Catalan restaurant here in Mexico, and Jardí would hang out there as a child soaking up the ambiance of the kitchen. Later, after living for a while in Barcelona learning every aspect of its culinary traditions, he returned to Mexico. Plans to write about gastronomy did not fully satisfy his creative urge, so when a restaurant space in the Condesa became available, it was Laura (who also does the books – “I’m the practical one”) who told him to stop talking and just do it, as she explained to me with a giggle. The lease for La Rauxa, was signed on a Wednesday and the restaurant was open for business on Monday. That was two years ago. Not content with the success of that comida-only bistro, the new venue was borne.
This new spot, only open at night, fulfills the Jardí’s dream to run a European-style boîte in Mexico City. The couple also plan to add a bookstore, and present live music, poetry readings, and other cultural events. Meanwhile, the excellent cocina del autor will have to do—it was enough to make me come back for a second try. The reasonably priced menu is mostly Italian. Pizzas, pastas and salads are the focal point (a parilla for grilling meats was being installed the last time I went).
But, oh!, what pizzas, pastas and salads. The intelligent and artful way in which these overly familiar offerings are prepared tempts me to hyperbolize. The influence of Catalonia sneaks up on you. The mundane Italian monikers are just a disguise for the creatively deconstructed Mediterranean-fusion cuisine. The menu lists a number of standard sounding pizzas, but they are subtly creative. The crust of the pizza margharita we sampled was light, thin and crisp, the cheese farm-fresh and flavorful. but it was the appealingly sweet tomato sauce that was the surprise – it is, in fact, made from a Catalan recipe, caramelized onions providing the sweetness. I thought the “Miguel Angel” pizza, with five different cheeses in its description, would be overly cheesy, but instead, it yields a complex series of flavors, due largely to the high quality of its ingredients. The ample salads are discreetly dressed, the greens varied and seasonal. The chef recommended ensalada lyonaisse, a light meal in itself, its mustardy dressing marrying well with the fresh greens, bacon and poached egg and potato. The Caesar salad, often swamped in cloying dressing in Mexican restaurants, was one of the best I’ve had.
The house- made pasta is tagliatelle (a wider version of fettucini), so thin and flavorful that only a light sauce is necessary. The classic Italian pasta carbonara is often heavy, overwhelmed by ingredients all screaming for attention at the same time. Not here. A delicate tossing of parmesan, bacon and egg compliments the pasta instead of beating it up. Pasta with limone e salvia (lemon and sage) utilized these two aromatics advantageously. The Bolognese turns out to have made a pit stop in Barcelona, as the traditional reduced meat sauce is finished with a “sofrito” of garlic, parsley and almonds – apparently a purely Catalan concept. The chef is particularly proud of his wine list and believes that wines don’t have to be expensive to be good. There is a well researched mix of Spanish, Argentine, Chilean and Mexican reds and some excellent cavas (Spain’s sparkling white wine). The selection of wines for under $300 pesos is a welcome surprise.
An unusual dessert we sampled, the peach Blumenthal Melba, is a light egg custard laced with bacon(!) – a blend ideas from two of Jardi’s favorite masters: Escoffier, the classic 19th century French culinary artist, and today’s British molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal, resulting in old world luxury with a mod twist- Nelly Melba never had it so good. Also on the dessert menu are both crème brulée and crema catalana – two dishes I always thought were one and the same. Not so, but better you ask the chef to explain why in person.
Prices are reasonable: dinner for two, with a glass of wine will be under 400 pesos.
And that music! The Jardís promise never to stoop to contemporary pop – Miles, ‘Trane and Bird rule the roost here.
Avant Garde is so cool they don’t have to spell it out for you. It’s for adults who like good food, good music, and the kind of ambiance I was afraid had disappeared.

Avant Garde San Luís Potosí 121, (corner Jalapa) Colonia Roma
Permanently closed as of spring 2010


A Seafood Feast

Our great metropolis, land-locked as it is, is only eight hours from the east coast and five from the west, so some of Mexico’s best seafood restaurants can be found right here in the Big Taco. Walking by La Veracruzana – Fonda de Mariscos, tucked into a corner of an old house in colonia Roma, I was intrigued by the simple but charming retro décor, the sunny patio, and lots of happy looking diners, so I had to try it (several times). I wasn’t disappointed. Francisco Almaguer, who also owns the gay-friendly La Cortesana around the corner, has created a comfortable but unpretentious place, whose menu concentrates on specialties from Vera Cruz. The seafood-rich cuisine of this gulf state, influenced by Afro-Cuban and Spanish kitchens, is poorly represented in our city. La Veracruzana sets out to remedy the situation.
The menu is divided into various categories. Entradas, which include tostadas and quesadillas (all of fish or seafood), are deep-fried but not greasy and seasoned with enough chile and garlic so as not to overwhelm the fish. The quesadillas de cazón (a small shark) were especially good. Several versions of ceviche are listed; the standard de pescado was one of the best I’ve eaten anywhere, full of fresh, firm huachinango (red snapper), lightly marinated in lime juice and olive oil, with just a touch of garlic, onion, cilantro and chili to jazz it up.Under Sopas y Caldos there are several intriguing rice dishes. Arroz a la tumbada, a soupy rice with seafood and tomatoes served in an individual clay cazuela, is a puerto classic and is done here to perfection, the simple, fresh ingredients well balanced, and the rice cooked to just the right firmness. Other rice dishes are prepared with shrimp, octopus, or simply with plátanos machos, as a side dish.You may have trouble choosing among mojarras, salmón and camarones, all menu categories unto themselves, and all tempting. The large whole mojarra (a medium-sized, somewhat oily fish) is offered in several ways: fried, al mojo de ajo (with garlic and chile), a la diabla (with tomato-chile sauce), empapelado (wrapped and steamed with tomato onion and chile). Shrimp and salmon can also be prepared in these ways.Other Veracruzana specialties include filete a la talla (fish grilled with chili sauce), chile relleno de pescado (poblano chile stuffed with ground mixed seafood), and of course, the classic huachinango a la Veracruzana, whose fragrant Spanish-influenced sauce of sautéed tomatoes, onions, capers and olives is expertly prepared here.That said, the sugerencias del chef, seasonal specials, should not be missed.
Manager Sergio Bravo explained that he and his staff comb the Mercado de la Viga, Mexico City’s massive central seafood market, for whatever looks best each day. Caldo de acamayas is a current seasonal offering – plump freshwater shrimp from the waters of Veracruz, known as acamaya , have a sweet, lobster- like taste and luxuriate in a light chile-tomato bisque.A rather ambitious special is shrimp cooked in jamaica and white wine sauce. This is done with a subtle hand, the tart hibiscus flowers and simple wine sauce marrying well with the sweet sautéed shrimp. Desserts, cakes and pies, are artfully presented and well made.La Vercruzana offers full bar service. The torito (a cocktail of aguardiente, fruit and milk) is popular, and there is are small but reasonably priced wine, tequila and rum lists.Speaking of prices, almost everything on the menu is 100 pesos or less, and three changing menus del día are offered, all featuring fish and seafood, for only 60 pesos.With so many flashy, overpriced restaurants opening these days, it’s nice to find a simple, inexpensive place, with friendly service, serving fresh, well-prepared food. La Veracruzana has quickly become one of my favorite choices for seafood in the city.

La Veracruzana – Fonda de Mariscos
Medellín 198-B, corner of Chiapas (behind Plaza Insurgentes), Colonia Roma
Tel. 5574 0474
Open daily 12:30 to 8 PM
All credit cards accepted

New Discoveries: Around the City


Londres 190, between Florencia and Varsovia, Zona Rosa
Metro Sevilla
Tel. 5511 4213
Open Monday-Saturday for comida only
The legendary Taquería Beatriz on calle Rep. de Uruguay in the centro, founded by one Beatríz Muciño Reyes, was the oldest taquería in the country, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2007; then promptly closing its doors. We still have Beatricita, albeit with a little less atmosphere, run by the same family, where the luscious moles poblano and verde are served in large yellow tortillas redolent of roasted corn that aficionados of the original will remember. There are lines at comida-time for the $56 peso menu.



Casa Merlos
Victoriano Zepeda 80, Colonia Observatorio
Tel. 5277-4360Open Thursday – Sunday 1-4PM

Although located in a somewhat dreary neighborhood east of the centro, Casa Merlos is the best place to sample the regional cuisine of Puebla. The setting is rustic and homey (stucco walls and red tile floors) in keeping with its traditional family-run history. Appetizers include chalupas, (or “little boats”) a variation on the more common sopes. other worthwhile dishes are manchamanteles (tablecloth stainers) ,a juicy stew of meat and dried and fresh fruit, pipian, and of course, the renowned mole poblano. Casa Merlos features several seasonal festivals; in October up to 10 different moles are offered. ____________________________________________________________


Restaurante Arroyo
Insurgentes Sur 4003, Tlalpan
Tel. 5573 4344Open daily, 8AM – 8PM
Located in the southern end of the city, the largest restaurant in Mexico (if not the World!) with seating for more than 2000 people, is the ultimate Mexican experience. On weekends there are mariachis and it seems as if half the city is there. Although the menu is large and features just about every Mexican classic in the book, the specialty is country-style barbacoa.



Restaurant La Poblanita de Tacubaya
Luis G. Vieyra 12, Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec
metro Tacubaya
Tel. 2614 4707
Open daily 9AM – 7PM

This lively and popular spot serves good Poblano specialties (from the state of Puebla). Sweet and chocolaty mole is, of course, featured, as are rich and nutty pipianes. Sopes or a caldo de gallina make good starters, and main course can be composed of tacos of the various guisados offered. A satisfying accompaniment is arroz y plátanos.


Tio Pedro
Antonio Caso 42 (between Insurgentes Nte. and Madrid, Colonia Tabacalera
Open daily 24 hours
This ancient place, a few blocks north of Reforma, has blue and white tile walls and groovy old signs. It is known for its excellent caldo de gallina or chicken soup, accompanied by hand-made tortillas and sopes, available round-the-clock.
La Oveja Negra Sabino 215, Santa María la Ribera (not on map)Tel.: 5541-0405Open Saturday and Sunday only$$
This traditional neighborhood restaurant specializes in barbacoa, roasted in maguey leaves, which they only make on weekends and holidays. Everything here is of extra high quality, from tortillas to salsas - be sure to try the nopales aztecas as a side dish. Curados of pulque are on the menu as are several other antojitos for those who don’t care for so much meat. Their sheep are raised organically on their own ranch, making this a true Slow Food gem.


La Gruta
see their website for location:http://www.lagruta.com.mx/
There are many restaurants on the road circling the ruins--an interesting choice is La Gruta, located in the depths of a cave by Puerta 5. It has existed since the turn of the century (there are photos of Porfirio Díaz eating there). The food is decent - Mexican standards a la Café Tacuba, and the atmosphere is festive and odd.



El Borrego Viudo
Av. Revolución 241, corner of Viaducto, Colonia Tacubaya
Open daily 24 hours
This legendary taquería specializes in tacos al pastor, de cabeza, suadero, and tepache, and if you are driving, has an enormous garage where you can park and eat – good for a late.night/early morning snack.

New Discoveries: Polanco

Those Proustian madeleines...

88 Newton, Polanco
Tel. 5545 7476
Open Monday – Saturday: 2pm – 11:30pm
The self-proclaimed “Contemporary American” restaurant Jaso is really Mexico’s answer to the Ferran Adrià / El Bullí mania that has turned the culinary world upside down in recent years. Chef Jared Reardon (formerly of New York’s Bouley and Daniel) and his wife, master pastry chef Sonia Arias, have created a superb gastronomic temple, featuring local, seasonal and organic raw materials. Foams, vegetable and fruit reductions and other already well-worn standards of “molecular gastronomy” are used intelligently and discreetly here. Oriental influences are evident, but one does not get the impression of “Asian-fusion” for the sake of trendiness.
An ameuse-bouche “cappuccino” of almond scented with mint, was served in a martini glass, with little cubes of beet jello waiting as a surprise at the bottom. The confit of baby octopus, served on a bed of piquant eggplant puree, was tender and flavorful. The succulent lechón (suckling pig) was beautifully complimented by a beet reduction sauce. A second complimentary appetizer of grilled skate was highlighted by tiny diced pineapple and the brown sauce traditionally served with Japanese eel--a simple and beautiful treat. Sea-bass with puree of wild mushrooms was an odd, but successful combination. Chocolate brioche topped with a crispy orange cookie lid was as rich as it sounded and looked. Piping hot madeleines added a Proustian reflection on all things good, present and past. Presentation is simple – no food architecture, thank goodness – and service is expertly knowledgeable and discreet. The décor is modern and sleek without being cold. Au courant, hip and smart, Jaso is one of the city’s best restaurants.

Presidente Masaryk 407, Polanco
Tel. 5282 2064
Young chefs Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza, formerly of Tezka and trained in Arzak, a temple of Gastronomy in Northern Spain, have opened an elegant spot called Biko, which means “couple or “duo” in Euskara, the language of Basque Spain. It features two menus, one traditional and the other "evolutionary" i.e. more creative. All the dishes we have sampled are fresh and subtly flavored; recent standouts were: alcachofas con almejas, the Basque classic reinterpreted: a tender artichoke heart was wrapped in a lightly spiced batter and nestled in a fresh clam shell- the reduced broth made me want to lick the plate. Also good were the traditional pimientos piquillos rellenos de bacalao, whose balance of sweet and salty was nearly perfect, a creative caldo de guisantes trufado y callo de hacha a light pea soup perfumed with truffle oil and host to several succulent scallops swathed in cloaks of thinly cut mushroom, and the escolar verde apio, a grilled white fish in a simple sauce of reduced poultry stock with a hint of celery. Less successful was a lamb with a “toque Oriental” whose un-integrated shaving of cilantro seeds did not add the intended Asian touch to the rather bland piece of meat. The service is attentive and gracious, wine list extensive and reasonable, with many unusual (for Mexico) Spanish wines listed. The tasting menu, at around $60 US or $110 with “maridaje” of wines, is highly recommended.
Hegel 406, Polanco
Tel. 5255 0612, 0912
Metro Polanco
Open Monday – Saturday 2PM-2AM, Sunday 1:30-5PM

D.O. is short for denominacion de origen, the Spanish designation for distinctive regional foods.The menu, designed by master Basque chefs Pablo San Román and Bruno Oteiza, formerly of Tezka, is based on Spanish classics, concentrating on the Pais Vasco or Basque country: starters, (which can also be ordered as tapas, include rabo de toro, (a stew of ox-tail), croquetas , piquillo peppers stuffed with bacalao, and a good selection of Spanish hams. Main courses include many dishes from regional Spanish menus: Kokotxas con gulas (cod cheeks with eels, a Basque classic), chipirones en su Tinta (small squids in their own ink), conejo confitado en cava (from Catalonia) and chuleton (a big juicy steak popular in Castile), and an excellent solomillo (like filet mignon). The front dining room is open and sunny, inside it is darker and intimate, more reminiscent of a typical Spanish venue.

New discoveries: Coyoacán / San Angel

La Barraca Valenciana
Centenario 91, Coyoacán
Tel. 5658-1880
This modest tortería, with a Spanish/Argentine influence, serves some unusual vegetarian choices of mushroom or eggplant tortas, as well as the house special, a torta of chopped calamar, dressed with chimchurri, the typical Argentine parsley garlic and olive oil sauce.


Condesa / Roma: new restaurant discoveries

This was one of my first posts, back in 2008. The information is still relevant!___________________________________________________

Welek Exquisito Cochinita Pibil
Campeche 122 (across from the Mercado Medellín) Colonia Roma
Open daily until about 8
This small simply-named fonda serves excellent Yucatecan food - the sopa de lima, made to order, is as fragrant as it should be, and of course the cochinita is succulent. The beautiful array of salsas is tempting, but watch out: one is more picante than the next.

La Veracruzana - Fonda de MariscosMedellín 198B, corner of Chiapas, Colonia Roma
Tel. 5574 0474
open daily until 7
Located behind the Centro Comercial Plaza Insurgentes, this charming little spot with an outdoor patio offers the usual seafood options, i.e. ceviches, tostadas, filetes etc., but does everything especially well and the prices are more than reasonable.
Boca 21 Deli
Av. Amsterdam at Plaza Iztaccihuatl 36 , La Condesa
tel. 5584-8466
A pleasant new cafe/bar featuring Spanish-style "bocadillos" (sandwiches) and tapas.Good for lunch or a vino and tapa...

Bistro Mosaico
Michoacán 10, Condesa(and its branches)
Now open their doors at 7:30 AM for breakfast

La Casa del Mole Negro
Av. Insurgentes Sur 295 (between Celaya & Popocateptl)Colonia Condesa
Metrobus: Sonora
Tel. 5564 8043
Open for comida only
Although the décor is dreary, this simple restaurant offers well prepared and authentic comida Oaxaqueña. As the name advises, mole negro is the specialty, and it is sweet and smoky and available in several different formats such as with chicken, in enchiladas, or alone with rice. Also excellent are the crisp and savory tlayudas: a typical market dish in Oaxaca City; they are large, thin, crisply fried tortillas, buttered with meaty tasting asiento (un-clarified pork fat – better than it sounds) and sprinkled with fresh cheese and onions. The chile Oaxaqueño relleno is a small green chile, filled with a savory picadillo of meat and almonds, satisfyingly rich. Another popular item is carne asada, (marinated and grilled meat). This a good place to sample the rich and varied cuisine of Oaxaca.

PrimosMichoacan 168, corner of Mazatlan, Condesa
Tel. 5256-0950
Open Monday, Tuesday 1-11PM, Wednesday-Saturday 1-12AM; Sunday 1-6PM
This recent addition to the growing list of “bistros”, the catch-all term for what we used to call “continental cuisine” restaurants, is the current see-and-be-seen hotspot of La Condesa but the food is actually very good - an extensive list of standard Spanish tapas are offered (tortilla española, croquetas etc.) as well as an interesting menu of seasonal dishes such as lamb with white beans, nicely perfumed with rosemary and mint or magret (duck breast) with lentils. The obligatory gussied up hamburger is surprisingly tasty as are the crunchy golden French fries, the best we ’ve had in the city. The wine list is smart but rather pricey and the service was haphazard at best on a recent visit, unusual in this town. As it is always packed, reservations are in order, and be advised that smokers are seated outside so you may be surrounded by aromatic stogies and their noisy owners.

Rincón Criollo
Yucatan 40A (corner of Insurgentes) Colonia Roma
Open Monday through Friday, 12-10PM; Saturday 3-10PM
This little outdoor Argentine fonda is snuggled up against the "Farmacia de Ahorro", an eyesore you can't miss on the east side of Av. Insurgentes. Set up as a cute café with a counter and umbrellad tables, the simple and very reasonable menu offers several choices of grilled meats, sandwiches and excellent empanadas. The main dishes are served with a well dressed salad and everything tastes like an Argentine abuela made it. PD - gracias a Tom y Juan Carlos

La Toma de TequilaToluca 28-C at Baja California Metro Centro Médico (at the “Toluca” exit)
Tel. 5584 5250
Open 1PM – 8PM Daily
This homey place specializes in the cuisine of Chihuahua, the northern state from which owner Raul Vargas hails – his wife is from Jalisco, which explains the incongruous use of “Tequila” in the name. Set in the second floor of an old house, the cheerful red and blue tablecloths, yellow walls, old wood floors and Northern-themed prints are warm and comforting. The menu features specialties of the region such as asados, meats prepared in a red “Colorado” or green “pasado” sauce and served with large, fresh wheat tortillas. The sopa de tortilla is fragrant with cumin and served with chicharrón, avocado and roast chiles as a garnish, and the frijoles norteñas are garnished with queso Chihuahua, a more pungent fresh cheese and different chiles. The lemonade is rich and not too sweet, and deserts, such as Tequila flan are exceptional. Ask to sample their special house mezcal . No credit cards are accepted.

EL CENTRO: recent restaurant and bar discoveries

Restaurante San Francisco
San Ildefonso 40, Centro
Tel. 5702-9590
Open Monday-Friday 9AM-6PM

This is a pretty restaurant in a colonial patio is probably the only one in the city that specializes in the cuisine of Tlaxcala. Located behind the Zócalo and very near the Museo de San Ildefonso, it is a peaceful respite from the hustle of the centro. Some unusual variations on pipian, mixiotes and cecina are on the menu as well as seasonal specialties.


Salón Victoria
Lopez 43, corner of Victoria, Centro
Tel. 5512 9305, 4340
Open Monday-Saturday 8AM-8PM

This cantina/restaurant, with old-fashioned décor, booths and service, is in the middle of the lighting district, a few blocks below the Alameda. It is a good place for roast cabrito, the house specialty. The large menu also includes unusually rich sopa de ajo, many typical Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, tortas and tacos and various daily specials.


Cantinas de Botanas

Cantina La Montañosa
Calle Palma, corner of Cerrada de 5 de Mayo (between 5 de Mayo & Tacuba), Centro

This traditional cantina, dating from 1948, serves "free" botanas, or "small" dishes to accompany the drinks, often quite filling, from 2-5. With one drink ( usually a two drink minimum for all-you-can-eat) you are offered a mouthwatering range of seafood dishes such as ceviche, avocado stuffed with tuna or Huachinango a la Veracruzana. Lunch can be eaten standing at the bar or seated in the dining room upstairs. Other cantinas offer filling botanas at comida time;

also worth checking out are:

La Mascota, corner Bolivar and Mesones, Centro
El Tio Pepe, corner of Independencia and Dolores, Centro
La Puerta del Sol, Corner of Cinco de Mayo and Palma, Centro
La Autentica, corner of Alvaro Obregón and Av. Cuauhtemoc, Colonia Roma
La Colonial, Ave. Revolucion, corner Martires de la Conquista (one block from Viaducto), colonia Tacubaya
Ardalio, Ave. Revolucion, corner Jose Maria Vigil, one block from La Colonial