What the Market will Bear: The Mercado San Juan

Pescadería Alicia

The Mercado San Juan, our 'gourmand's paradise' is my favorite market in the world. I go at least once a week, always with a chef’s open mind, never knowing what to expect. Maybe it will be a fresh plump duck from Michoacán, head and all. Or a nice rack of lamb from Hidalgo. Perhaps Pescadería Alicia will have gotten in some glistening scallops on the half shell or shiny metallic looking fresh sardines. I’ve walked in thinking 'dinner in Provence' and left with fresh pea shoots, long beans and tofu from the Asian stands in back – “Ladies and Gentlemen; there will be a change of program tonight: Szechuan.” The vendors are my friends. I stop to chat with the López family and sample their latest artisanal cheeses accompanied by a plastic cup of nice Rioja. I may have a couple of oysters opened to devour on the spot. Or, if it’s lunch hour, I’ll sit down at Doña Juana’s, one of the best fondas in the city and slurp pozole.
The San Juan market (whose proper name is Mercado San Juan Ernesto Pugibet) embodies the history of Mexico itself. It is located near the site of a pre-Hispanic trading area called Moyotlán.

 (See The Washington Post for the article in which I do just that).

The Mercado San Juan as it looked during the colonial era

With the arrival of the conquistadores the humble barrio was renamed San Juan. The market continued to serve the settlers – imported products such as wine and olive oil were sold there, as were slaves. This tradition – minus the human
trafficking - continues today as just about everything edible is offered and many clients are foreign-born or descendents thereof. The overriding theme is Spanish – embutidos (cold meats), cheeses and seafood tend towards the Iberian, though stands cater to the city’s growing population of Asians. And all kinds of Mexican grown exotic meats, fruits and vegetables can be found.

Gastronomica San Juan, stall no.162, and its neighbor La Jersey offer imported Italian cheeses such as parmesan, pecorino, fontina, French - raw milk brie, Epoisse and the best of Spain: cabrales, good aged manchegos and Extremadura’s elusive torta de cazar. But don’t miss the increasingly high quality and reasonably priced artisanally made goat, cow and sheep cheeses, many from the state of Queretaro. These stands, as well as La Catalana, which reproduces the aged and smoked sausages of Catalonia, offer tempting cold cuts as well.

Pescadería Alicia and her neighbors sell piles of mussels, clams and calamares (they will clean them on request). They are often available fresh, as are unusual varieties of fish, fresh tuna and amazingly big shrimp either in or out of the shell. Hispanofiles’ eyes will pop when they see the hideous but delicious percebes at a fraction of the price of the old country. And if you’re lucky you’ll encounter a whole fresh monkfish.
In the meat section (if you can stomach the piles of sacrificed kid goat and bunny corpses) my foodie friend Stan swears by stands 44-46 who sell veal scaloppini and ossobuco ready to cook. Nearby stands stock lamb, both New Zealand and national (which is good for Indian or Moroccan stews), but it is often frozen on weekdays. You could pick up an armadillo as well if your soiree has a pre-Hispanic theme. More tempting are fresh farm turkeys (they’ll remove the head and feet for you) packaged ducks, and, occasionally, free range local ducks which will produce a knockout Peking roast or á l’orange.
The well stocked Oriental vegetable stands, the only ones in the whole country, cater to flocks of bewildered looking Asian immigrants as well as people like me who want to buy bitter melon, long beans, okra, baby bok choy or pea shoots.
A wild boar - tamed, now.
The ‘gourmet’ produce stalls, meanwhile, offer such hard to get greens as crinkly kale and Savoy cabbage, tiny haricot vertes and yellow wax beans, celeriac (outlandishly expensive, so only if you MUST have celerie remolade and can’t wait to go to France), tiny peas, shelled favas and sweet potatoes.
One lady has fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon and real Italian basil (not the Mexican variety, which won’t do for Italian cooking, although it works well as a substitute for Thai basil).
And, of course, there’s Doña Guadalupe's mushrooms, to the left as you enter, who sells an amazing variety of fresh wild mushrooms in season, including cultivated local porcini. I always see French people at this stand madly stashing chanterelles, girolles and morels, happy to be paying 100 pesos instead of 100 euros. Dried versions are available all year around and make good gifts.
And, in addition to all of these quotidian offerings, as the holiday season is upon us, a mind-blowing selection of meats, fowls and seafood will be on display until the beginning of January. Racks of lamb and veal, whole venison and jabalí (wild boars), pheasants, geese, sparkling clams and evocative oysters. Go now or forever hold your pesos.

A French lady picks her own 'crevettes'; try that in Paris and you'll get your hand slapped!

quesos & embutidos La Jersey

La Catalana makes hams, fuet and other Iberian delights - and will let you taste

A nice rack of lamb

Asian fusion

Doña Guadalupe, the famous mushroom lady with a new load of morels

Doña Juana, the San Juan's best cook. Her stand across from La Catalana 
offers great pozole on Saturdays, perfect milanesas every day.

Mini vegetables

Mercado San Juan
Calle Ernesto Pugibet, centro
Metro Salto de Agua – walk up c/Lopez and turn left at Delicias (or down Lopez if you are coming from the Alameda – you will see the enormous Telmex tower which is across the street
open daily until around 4 – there is free parking for customers next door.


Blanca Navidad - The 10 best Mexican Foodie Gifts of 2010

It’s that time again and I just hauled out my favorite Christmas LP – the cool jazz queen June Christy’s This Time of Year. I’m not a shopper and I think it's gauche to order gifts online. Food related presents are the best kind (except for diamonds, some would say) so I’ve put together a list of my favorite reasonably priced regalitos for your chowhound loved ones. All are under $40 US (some well under) And all are guaranteed to pass those capricious US or European customs agents.

1. Olive oil, jam and salsa from Mónica Patiño’s Delirio - Monterrey 116 (corner Av. Alvaro Obregón), Colonia Roma
Chef Patiño’s shop does marmalades and salsas that come in cute granny-like jars. For the serious chef, her fruity olive oil, from Baja California is a must and at 145 pesos a good buy.

2. Mole pastes from the Medellín Market
Mercado Medellín, entrance on Monterrey or Medellín between Coahuila & Campeche (the stand is near the La Morenita seafood fonda)
A selection of rich, dark mole pastes - very well wrapped- makes a great, economical (at around 20 pesos per 1/4 kilo) gift and it lasts forever. But you may have to include instructions (i.e. sauté some onions and tomatoes, add about a cup of paste, and breaking it up with a wooden tool, sauté lightly. Then add chicken - or vegetable stock, little by little until it reaches the consistency of heavy cream. Be carefull not to add too much liquid. Do not boil. Pour over warm chicken breasts or dip tortillas and fold).

3. Patrice’s wacky, campy aprons, covered with skulls, Fridas or Mexi-what-have-yous will bring a smile to mom’s lips. They're around $300 pesos and are on sale at the following venues:

Mumedi Café y Librería
Francisco Madero #74, 5510-8771

Tienda de Museo de Arte Popular
Independencia corner of Revillagigedo, 5510-2201

Centro Cultural de España
Guatemala 18, 5521-1926

Museo Franz Mayer, Av. Hidalgo

Caravanserai de Thé
Orizaba 101-A y Alvaro Obregon, Roma, tel. 5511 2877

Gabinete Libros y Arte
Alvaro Obregon 101-F, Roma, tel. 5511-8599

Tienda de museo de Arte Popular, Polanco
Emilio Castellar 22 y Temostocles

El Chiribitl: Bazaar Sabado-Plaza San Jacinto, Horacio Gavito & Rogelio, San Angel

4. Dried mushrooms from Mercado San Juan
Ernesto Pugibet & Delicias, Centro
Enter the market and immediatly turn left; towards the end of the front isle is the amazing mushroom stand. Porcini - about 100 pesos per 100 grams, girolles (here called duraznillos), chanterelles and morels all come dried and pre-packaged in 100g cellophane bags. They're a fraction of what they would be in, say, France, and guaranteed to blow the mind of any chef. They should go through OK at the airport, as they are dried...

5. Napkins and or Placemats from the huge Ciudadela Market (Av. Balderas, about five blocks south of the Alameda - metro Balderas). These napkins and placemats (at around 20 pesos per) are the very best gift for those who will be traveling as they weigh next to nothing and pack tight.
The napkins can be machine washed, no problem for those poor gringos who don't have anyone to do the laundry for them. You can also pick up myriad knick-knacks for stocking stuffers here.

6. Lead-free Cazuelas from Fonart (http://www.fonart.gob.mx/, Av. Patriotismo No. 691, Mixoac, and Av. Juarez 89 at the foot of the Alameda). I have a huge selection of these that I've picked up over the years. They're great on the stove or in the oven and cook just as well as Le Cruiset at a fraction of the price. Finding them is hit-or-miss. Fonart is the national crafts store outlet, but it has seemingly been run by a flock of headless chickens and the once abundant and ubiquitous stores have dwindled to three. The large one down on Patriotismo is most likely to have a good selection of ceramics.

7. A Molcajete (around 120 pesos) from the Jamaica Market (at metro Jamaica, Av. Morelos near Calz. de la Viga, south of the centro)
OK, I know they weigh a ton, but no cook I know can live without it once they have used one. I shlepped one to New York for a needy friend once (but will never do it again). I grind black pepper in mine to the exact size I want in seconds. To be fare, William Sonoma sells them for about $35 US which really isn't bad. And if you've never been to the Jamaica market, which is home to a 365 day a year 24/7 flower market you've got a treat in store. A nice selection of molcajetes is to be found at the extreme right side, as you face the market from the street.

8. Mezcal Enmascarado ($365) from La Naval (corner Insurgentes & Michoacan, Condesa,
What could be a better gift for your boozing hipster pals than a bottle of oh-so-trendy mezcal with lucha libre figures on it.

9. Chocolates from Sanborns (locations everywhere, various sizes and prices)
I know, I know you're thinking "Sanborns ?!" ....
But to my grandmother, the blue box brought back fond memories of Mexico City c.1957. And really, they're not so bad...

10. A Selection of Salsas from the super.... (too, too many locations, various prices from $20 to 45)
These cute bottles will make a picant-o-phile muy feliz and are a good last minute gift. If you're flying, just be sure to check the suitcase containing them unless you want to make the national news...

I loved this beautifully designed bi-lingual Mexican foodie calendar last year and can't wait to see what they did with it for 2011. It's $190 pesos.

You can pick one up in el DF- the office is at Tlacotalpan 37-602, Col. Roma Sur. Tel. 5584 8995. Or they can be ordered to be shipped nationally or internationally by calling or writing to: graficatododemexico@gmail.com. You can even pay with Paypal!

And last but not least, why not order a copy or two of my book, Good Food in Mexico City (Come Bien en el D.F. en español) - even armchair chowhounds enjoy it. Just click on the link above and to the right. Jim Johnston's obra maestra, Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler (for which I did the photography) also makes a good companion piece for anyone coming to visit us.

¡Feliz Navidad!

A Note to my readers:

*** Gastronomes will enjoy the extraordinary Christmas food stalls set up outside Colonia Roma’s Mercado Medellín (Calle Campeche between Medellín and Monterrey). Every savory ‘antojito’, from tamales to tostadas to piping hot pozole is on offer from midday until around midnight.Through Christmas.


A Tisket, A Tasket: Tacos de Canasta

They’re Mexico City’s original fast food and I, eater of all things, refused to go near them. Starchy little grease bombs, I thought. But it was David Lida, (www.davidlida.com) chronicler of Mexico City’s underbelly, who showed me the light – he loves them. “They’re NOT oily”, he insisted, “It’s just the juice that seeps out”. Well, I recently did some in-depth research into this most low-rent of el D.F.’s street snacks. Result? Greasy. But some less than others. And it’s good, red, chile-infused, soul-warming grease. Vale la pena. Tacos de canasta, named for the basket in which they are traditionally presented and out of which they are hawked, are sometimes called ‘tacos sudados’ or sweaty tacos. None of the vendors I interviewed seemed to know the origin of this simple and ubiquitous curbside taco phenomena, but most agreed that they are native to Mexico City and/or Hidalgo. They are simply tortillas filled with either frijoles refritos, adobo (a mole-like paste), potatoes, chicharrón (pork skin) or meat-less mole verde, folded over and quickly heated. They’re then packed sardine-like in a basket lined with cloth and brought to market on foot in a little cart, or sometimes by bicyle. Snuggled together, they keep warm, continuing to steam, sweat and ooze for hours. Eaten as they come out of the basket with salsa and escabeche (pickled chiles and vegetables) they’re sold cheap - often for 3 or 4 pesos – and are every chilango’s favorite street food.

While tacos de canasta are usually sold by ambulantes whose locations can’t be pinned down, there are a few recommendable and well-known fixed locations where these filling antojitos, can be found. They make good party food and can be ordered by the thousand for your next cocktail party, quinceañera, wedding or bembé.

La Abuela
-Río Lerma corner of Río Rhin, Col. Cuauhtemoc (2 blocks north of Reforma, across from the Pemex)

Tacos de Canasta Uruguay

On c/ Rep. de Uruguay, near the Pastelería La Ideal, between Isabel la Católica and 5 de Febrero, Centro

Tacos de Canasta
Av. Coyoacán 512, (1 ½ blocks south of Division del Norte), Col. Del Valle

Tacos de Canasta El Salvador
Rep. el Salvador 73
This micro-business, in operation for decades, spills out of a non-descript doorway, but even provides a couple of tables and chairs inside. Their tacos are justifiably famous.

Pepe’s del Zócalo
This busy stand sold out of a window at the northwest corner of the Zócalo, but its venue is under restoration and it has has been shooed onto the street around the corner, near the Museo del Templo Mayor.

Los Especiales
Is on the newly pedestrianized Av. Madero, near the Zócalo

Maria Consuelo Yerena will deliver all the tacos you want for your next event. And you get to keep the basket!
Tel. 58 45 44 17
Cel. 044 55 15 01 17 35

Photos and Text © Nicholas Gilman 2010


Turkey Day: Doing Thanksgiving in Mexico City

Mexico City, November 27th: “A Thanksgiving ball was given tonight by the American Colony
of this city and was largely attended, President Díaz being among the invited guests. The affair was a great social success, many representatives of the highest society of Mexico being present.”
-from The New York Times, 1902

Although the paper of record found this item “fit to print” more than one hundred years ago, today much less ado is made about the oldest and most beloved American holiday south of its border. Up to one million Americanos reside in Mexico, and the festive tradition of celebrating the harvest, begun in 1621, will soon be upon us. Most gringos live far from their families and old friends, making a nostalgic Norman Rockwell-style dinner (which never existed for most of us anyway) unfeasible. Many ex-pats have changed their way of thinking about the holiday. Stan Gray and his partner Bill have lived in San Miguel de Allende since 1996. Asked about Thanksgiving in Mexico, he said, “I love the freedom….the holiday doesn’t exist here, so we can do exactly what we want. We’ve done the traditional turkey dinner, but sometimes we just hang out with Mexican friends who don’t even know what’s going on, or sometimes we just forget about it”. My own tradition, going to grandma’s house in Brooklyn, ended more than 30 years ago when grandma became an expat in some other world so I’ve been winging it ever since.
But for those who long to recreate the comforts of home, it’s not only possible, but easy as pie. Most large supermarkets sell everything you need – fat turkeys, sweet potatoes, stuffing mix etc. I shop at the extraordinary San Juan Market in the centro of Mexico City and buy my fixings there. Several stands sell beautiful, plump farm-raised gobblers, free of fat injections and nasty chemicals-- the butcher will expertly eliminate the head and feet for you. But as these birds are not artificially ‘pre-basted’ you’ll have to do it yourself. I suggest soaking a cheesecloth pad with butter and placing it over the breast - throw a little of the pan juices on every now and then to keep it from drying out. The taste of these birds is incomparable, and they can be reserved ahead of time, and Gourmet Gastronómica will deliver if you can’t make it down there (see below).
While “camotes”, the pale Mexican version of the sweet potato, are readily available, they are not as sweet and don’t have that evocative orange color. Not to worry. Señora García at stand #218 will take care of you. She sells the yams we all remember. I like to bake them, then mash with orange juice and lots of butter, spread in a baking dish, top with sliced, peeled apples, brown sugar, more butter, and brown it in a hot oven. This is my Brooklyn grandmother’s recipe. I won’t give you her turkey recipe, as, being a typical Jewish cook, she always overcooked it. You can pick up some pre-shucked oysters at the nearby seafood stands if you like them in the stuffing. And, if we’re lucky, this seasons’ chestnuts, imported from Spain for Christmas, may be in.
Moving down the aisle, a stop at #260, is Hermelinda Guillén’s puesto celebrated for its wacky wild mushrooms. Tucked a way in a corner is a bin of gorgeous fresh pearl onions, so you have no excuse not to include a few in your repast. In the same aisle you’ll pass all the Brussels sprouts, green beans, nuts, and yellow potatoes you need. But what about the cranberry sauce dilemma? Fresh ones are as rare here as good tamales are on Park Avenue. You may find the tinned jellied variety at your local Sumesa but serving that wouldn’t be fair to your other princely culinary creations. You may procure a bag of the real stuff at Sam’s Club or through a clever smuggler/visitor from the US. If not, Ruth Alegria, culinary tour operator and chef (http://mexicosoulandessence.com/) offers her version using dried cranberries (arándanos in Spanish) which are widely available here:

Mexican dried cranberry salsa Alegría:
Recipe ingredients:
2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup apples, cored and chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 cups cranberry juice
Juice and grated peel of 1 orange
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
(Optional) for a Mexican touch:
1 dried guajillo chili, rehydrated in piloncillo (brown sugar) water and finely chopped
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, raw and crushed for garnish
To prepare the relish:
Sauté the cranberries and apples in the butter. When the cranberries have plumped up add the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer for 1/2 an hour. It should have a thick consistency, if not allow to simmer 15 minutes more. Stir to avoid sticking or burning.
When thick, cool and refrigerate. Can be served hot or cold.
Mexican version:
Add the guajillo chilies for the last 10 minutes for a subtle picante effect.
Garnish sauce with the crushed pumpkin seeds.

As for the pies, well, I just haven’t found a good American-style source here. You’ll just have to do it yourself. Pull out the old Joy of Cooking and get to work. They do sell pre-made piecrusts at the super, if you want to cheat, but I think saving time in the kitchen is best left to non-holidays, definitely not Thanksgiving. Search Youtube for piecrust instructions if you have forgotten how to do it.
And for those who prefer someone else to do the cooking, pre-roasted turkeys can be ordered from La Casa Del Pavo, an amazing little restaurant in the centro that has been in business seemingly forever. Turkey is all they serve here. I like to stop in from time to time for a turkey torta, tacos or platter, any time of year. See info below.

Enjoy this, the only holiday that the Mad Men of advertizing have been unable to co-opt. Invite your Mexican friends and share it with them. Or forget the whole thing and go out for tacos.

Thanksgiving shopping:
Mercado San Juan (calle Ernesto Pugibet, between Buen Tono and Luis Moya)
- Turkeys: Gourmet Gastronómica González, stands #95-97, tel. 5510-2094, 5521-7451, 5577-7693
- Sweet and other potatoes: Sra. García Valdez, stand #218, tel. 5521-9879, 5512-6360
- Pearl Onions: Sra. Guillén, stand #260, tel. 5521-6165; you will find all the fruits you need for your pies around the corner.

For pre-baked turkeys to go:
- La Casa Del Pavo, Motolinia 40, centro tel. 5518-4282 – If you don’t want to do it yourself this is a great alternative. Call in advance to order your bird.

Note: This article, was previouly published in The News. It has been updated. Photos are by Rodrigo Oropeza, Nicholas Gilman and Norman Rockwell


Close to home: The Mercado el 100

In Mexico, land of vendedores one could alter Shakespeare’s phrase to read “all the world’s a market”. But a new type of mercado has just been inaugurated: the Mercado el 100. This weekly outdoor tianguis recalls Paris’ wildly successful marché biologique or New York’s see-and-be-seen Union Square market. That is, it provides a venue for small local producers of presumably organic and artisanal products to strut their stuff. I visited the second manifestation of this noble project and couldn’t help being tempted by the beautiful purple lettuces, crinkly frissée, pungent arugala, emerald green peppers. Fresh cheeses called out as well but had been snapped up by the time I got there. Tastings of various baked goods were so popular I couldn’t tell what they were. People chatted, swapping recipes, ideas. (I explained what arugala is to a young woman, handing her a taste - but she didn't like it - ni modo). The local food movement has arrived in el D.F.
Locavores. Sounds like those creatures in Night of the Living Dead. But it’s actually a name given to a select group of nature lovers who insist on eating nothing that is grown more than a few miles from where they live. A bit extreme, you may think. Perhaps, but the idea is good, something to at least aspire to if not live by. (Mercado de 100 gets its name fron the hope that everything sold here will be produced within 100 miles). In this ever-globalizing world, more and more people are getting involved in practical solutions to pollution and global warming – caused by the transportation of our food from one side of the earth to the other - and just plain bad food, the result of drek-like products mass-produced and sold cheaply by ‘Wal’-type establishments. Mexico’s a place where, unlike in the USA, traditional markets still thrive and offer many foods grown or made nearby. But with the opening up of trade, the percentage of foodstuffs brought from as far away as China – and this includes such Mexican staples as chilies and corn- is sad to behold. That’s where Alan Vargas comes in. He’s a visual artist, political activist and dreamer. Working with Slow Food maven and star restauranteur Gabriela Cámara, hot chef Jair Tellez, and French foodie Nathalène Latour de Saint Viance he has brought his dream to reality. “I did it because I like good food”, remarked Vargas, proudly surveying the bustling Parque México market on a recent chilly Sunday afternoon. Shoppers were grabbing organic lettuces, honeys and cheeses like they were going out of style. The idea had been born during Slow Food meetings several years ago but took much frustrating and hard work to bring to fruition (pun intended). Thanks to the labyrinthine bureaucracy of our metropolis’ government, hair was pulled out, sleep was lost and the opening was delayed many months. But the market, small but growing, is now in place. At present it will alternate between the Foro Lindberg in the park, the Casa de Francia (Havre 15 near Reforma, Zona Rosa) and the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, (Orizaba and Durango, Colonia Roma) – see the schedule below. Prices are surprisingly reasonable. When I questioned Alan as to whether there is a public in Mexico City willing to shell out extra pesos for the kinds of things that in New York would generally cost twice as much, he replied “check out the prices per kilo in the Superama around the corner and you’ll see we are often even lower than they are”. And the quality doesn’t even compare. Support this noble cause and be there next week.

The market takes place in either Plaza Rio de Janeiro or Luís Cabrera (Calle Orizaba) on Sundays from 9-2. Check their website for exact times and locations.


Burger Queen - The best of D.F.

All eyes were on me. I took a big bite and started to chew. Before I could even swallow, Caroline, her lips trembling, blurted out ”So how is it?”. “¿Que tal está?”, Gabriela couldn’t help chiming in. “I don’t usually eat these, I just don’t KNOW – I’m not THAT kind of American”, I pleaded. It was a hamburger tasting at Barracuda in Mexico City. Nobody budged. “I’m a Mexican citizen”, I continued to protest, flashing my voter identification card. “An EX-gringo”. Blank stares. Hugo countered, “But you people KNOW about hamburgers, that’s what you EAT in the US”. “No, I grew up in New York City, we ate calzone, pizza, knishes, falafel, hot dogs maybe, but not ‘burgers’.” My protests were to no avail. I gave up, nodding in accordance. “OK; it’s very good, juicy, flavorful meat, bun has substance – I like the salsa. But the fries suck”. In unison, they nodded in approval. Reminds me of the time my friend Elena, from Madrid, was visiting Mexico and, being an Española, was asked to dance ‘her’ Sevillanas at a party, despite protests that she was not from Andalucía and didn’t know how. She eventually grabbed a fan and danced. Sometimes you just can’t shake the stereotype.
I’ve never particularly liked hamburgers. They are not comfort food for me. Not to say that I haven’t eaten my share of steamed masses of juiceless gray meat, served with equally pallid fries. So I ignore all “best burger” articles. I think the phenomena of the $40 hamburger is philistine. I won’t be stopping by the much hyped Umami Burger next time I go to L.A. And I’d hoped that I’d never have to write about them. I should have known. That critical moment at Barracuda was just the beginning. I suspected that, as a critic writing in English, I’d eventually be asked to attack this dreaded subject. And so it was. “Your next assignment: Best Burgers in Mexico City” my editor wrote. Resigned, I set to work. I’ve been eating burgers this week. No, I haven’t joined the ranks of patty pushers, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. There are some very decent facsimiles of the American classic south of its border, and, not surprisingly, some Mexicanized adaptations that give the gringo version a run for its money. According to Bay area food maven Nancy Silverton (and she must have been paid to say this) a good burger is the sum of its toppings, bun, cooking method, texture, ingredients, ratios - all play a factor in determining the best in any given area. Here goes.
Barracuda DinerAv. Nuevo León 4A, Colonia Roma
Tel. 5211 9480
13:00-02:00 Sun-Wed, to 03:00 Thu-Sat
This is the capital’s only US style diner – or better said, a contrived approximation of one. It is many expat’s first choice for burgers, which are offered, in myriad variations; they also do good milkshakes. Evenings it becomes a bar/hang-out and in the “wee small hours of the morning”, as Babs would sing, a post-disco re-fueling stop. And the fries have improved.
Michoacan 168, corner of Mazatlan, Condesa
Tel. 5256-0950
Open Mon,Tues., 1-11PM, Wed-Sat 1PM-12:30AM; Sun 1-6PM
SobrinosÁlvaro Obregón 110, corner of Orizaba, Col. Roma
Tel. 5264-7466
Same hours
These upscale bistro-style brother restos offer a mix of Mexican and French classics, but the hamburgers happen to be extraordinary, well seasoned and beefy, just this side of plump enough. The ‘papas a la Francesa’ are crispy and golden and have real potato-y flavor – Jim thinks they’re the best he’s had in Mexico.

Embers Steakhouse
Ejercito Nacional 840 Between Séneca & Moliere, Polanco
Tel. 5282-1905
Open Sun-Wed 11AM-10PM, Thur-Sat until 2AM
This old Polanco warhorse has been in business since 1958, so they should know what they’re doing. “Reminiscent of Mexico’s yesteryear”, their menu proudly proclaims in English although somehow I doubt that anywhere in Mexico’s past existed such a burgercentric place except right here. They do try hard to please. There are 43 different combinations of burgers on the menu including such odd offerings as The Hula Burger Hawaiana (pineapple), The Russian Burger (Russian dressing) and the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ (filled with paté and olives sautéed in butter – I dared not ask). I chose the house special, with bacon, mushrooms and Oaxaca cheese. The fries are flavorful and a myriad of condiments are set before you, as is a copious salad bar which is included in the price of lunch.
Las Burger’sDirección: Río Tigris #72, corner Río Nazas, Col. Cuauhtémoc
Open daily 1-10PM, y Saturdays until 8.
Tel.: 5525-7227
‘Hamburguesas 100% de sirloin’ claims the sign, at this pleasant Colonia Cuauhtémoc spot. And so they are. The menu also includes Argentine empanadas and other south-of-the-border specialties.
Hamburguesas Memorables
Euler 152, Polanco -  Nuevo León 175, Condesa - Río Lerma 335, Cuauhtemoc, c/Manzanillo near Insurgentes, Roma, many other branches.
This chain may look like it serves fast food, but it's better than that. Burgers are satisfying, fries so-so. And prices are on the high side.
Taquería Los ParadosMonterrey 333, corner of Baja California, Colonia Roma
Open every day, 8AM until…
It’s standing room only at this table-less traditional taquería hence its name. Varying hours are listed, but they seem to always be open, morning to morning. The late night crowd might consist of a fascinating cross-section of worn out gay/straight bar patrons, off-duty working girls and policemen who happily devouring their succulent char-roasted morsels of goodness, all the while downing ice-cold horchata or beer. Los Parados offers real tacos al carbón that is, meats cooked over coals on an open grill. The salsas, hand mashed and set in gigantic molcajetes, are superior. And, yes, Mexican style burgers (that is, topped with spicy salsa, bacon, cheese, ham - about the richest thing ever wedged into a bun) are sensational. You may not be willing to go back to the old-fashioned US of A variety after you try them. There’s free parking next door for patrons.
Other standout “street burger” stands offering the Aztec variety are located at
The corner of Colima and Morelia, Colonia Roma – crowds gather here all day long and beyond.

Corner of Amberes and Londres, Zona Rosa- MP says “this is the ultimate junk burger, especially good after hours when you’re finished with the nearby clubs, you’re drunk and have a cute boy you picked up on your arm.”


Martha's back and Polanco's got her: Dulce Patria!

Where did she go?, they clamored. Aguila y Sol was THE place to see-and-be-seen and, incidentally, to eat. It was pretty nice in its original space on Moliere, but the wig-popping new venue a few blocks away was even flashier, more elegant, and oh so chic. Everybody who was anybody went--until it closed suddenly, a couple months after the move. The girl in the Little Black Dress stopped answering the phones to take reservations. The web page shut down. Nobody knew what happened. Naturally, tongues wagged, chisme flew in all directions. She – Martha Ortiz Chapa, chef/diva and cookbook author- hadn’t paid the bribes. She had run off to Tahiti. It was a tax thing. Nobody knew the answer. We may never know what happened, but there’s good news: she’s back with a vengance, and the party is just getting started. Dulce Patria, Ortiz’ new nueva cocina Mexicana hot spot is officially open for business. It’s an adjunct of the elegant boutique hotel Las Alcobas. Last night, to celebrate the Bicentennial, we went.
“Everything must change….” goes the song and so it has. Elegant and classy it still is (OK, this IS Polanco) but gone are the ‘good taste’ beiges and blacks. Now the slick décor is peppered with folksy Mexican touches: chairs are upholstered in colorful Oaxacan embroideries. Floors and water glasses are bright red. And the food is presented like a surreal Frida Kahlo still life.Crepe paper bows, potatoes cut in the shape of Aztec head-dresses, salsas drizzled in patriotic colors are all carefully highlighted by high-design black or white table service.
The glamorous chef Ortiz, clad in evening black, still circulates and greets her well-heeled guests. When queried as to the difference between Aguila y Sol and Dulce Patria her brief, encompassing answer was “it’s more festive”. And so it is.
The concept of the menu has not changed appreciably. Tradition is embraced, teased, stood on its head, and then re-fashioned into something 21st Century. The old place featured some of the best service in the city, and I’m happy to report, this is still true. The wine list provided was all Mexican and reasonably priced. We chose a Valle de Guadalupe Chardonnay, which was pleasantly dry and mildly perfumy. We started with a selection of appetizers.
A plate of very appealing poofy golden quesadillas were filled with fresh chèvre, or the market herb huazontle, or spicy meat. They come with a mini-cazuela of fresh hand-pounded red salsa. Two ceviches, one containing fish, jícama and fresh coconut milk, the other more traditionally tomato based, were both subtle, and fresh. A re-invented squash blossom flower soup is a knockout. Creamy and rich, the elusive aroma of this most beautiful nectarous ingredient is the star of the show. Only chef Enrique Olvera had been able to succeed at highlighting its flavor in his (now trés passé) foam. Everything is served in a whimsical, unpretentious, i.e. ‘festive’ way.
My dining partner, high-end travel queen, Saveur magazine representative and chef Adamarie King
(www.connoisseurstravel.com) ordered pork in mole amarillo. This essential Oaxacan classic was brought up to date as a spiced mango sauce, fruity, vibrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. It didn’t overwhelm the tender juicy morsels of seared meat – “this could be served with fish” Ada mused, dipping her finger into the sauce for one last taste. Another standout was Jim’s fideos barrocos con pollo y mole poblano. This was an interesting conflagration of several beloved dishes: fideo seco, the dry pasta legacy of the Spanish, and subtle, balanced mole poblano. It worked, and the pinwheels of chicken were cute and celebratory. My pato en mole negro was less successful. It seems every well-known chef in town does his or her version of this dish. Ortiz’ mole was delectable, smoky, appealingly sweet. But it was a pitched battle between the mole and the lovely little timbale of shredded duck meat and the poor bird lost. It could have been chicken, I thought. But I spooned up every drop of the extra sauce provided in its little red clay pot (and even licked the dish when nary a designer-clad patron was watching). Prices, by the way, are predictably high, but average for a fancy Polanco joint, i.e. $500 and up per person, depending how much you drink. Desserts are playful throwbacks to classic Mexican childhood comfort foods. Silky, warm and sweet atole, the corn-based breakfast standard, was served in cute little cups and took me back to the hacienda on a cold winter night--even though I’ve never been to a Hacienda on a cold winter night. Old-fashioned mini milk and fruit sweets were served on a little rustic kitchen shelf from a Mexican doll house. Silly and fun. But that’s the idea. This is a party and a spectacle. We’re supposed to be celebrating Mexico in all its glorious and sensual pleasure. Dulce Patria succeeds as a pleasure palace. I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad she’s back. Welcome home, Martha.
Dulce Patria
Anatole France 100 (around the corner from the entrance of
Hotel Las Alcobas which is located at Presidente Masaryk 390) Polanco
Tel. 3300-3999
open Monday-Saturday 1:30-11:30, Sunday until 5:30
A note to my readers: Want to know more about 'fondas'? See my other blog: http://www.planetgoodfood.blogspot.com/