All week, we’ll be taking you on a trip south of the border. Today, one of Mexico City’s longtime experts offers her tips for eating the city’s best street food.
The sounds and smells of streetside cooking in Mexico City start soon after sunrise and don’t stop until well after sunset, making it nearly impossible to avoid culinary temptation on any given walk—and why would you want to? Street food is an integral part of daily life in Mexico City, explains Anais Martinez, a guide with Eat Mexico who has a degree in gastronomy from Mexico City’s prestigious Claustro de Sor Juana University. Make the most of every block with this guide to enjoying safe, delicious and unique street food.
1) Go Where the Crowds Go
Spy a long line of locals? Hop right in. If you haven’t lived in the city for years it’s unlikely you’ll find the best undiscovered street vendor in a weekend, so go where the crowds are. When it comes to tacos al pastor, the holy grail of street food in Mexico City, look for a large trompo, or roasting spit of marinated pork, with a pineapple on top and an onion on the bottom (the traditional way of cooking and serving the pork). The bigger the spit the better, advises Martinez. That indicates it’s a popular place that can expect to go through plenty of meat during the day.
2) Find a Focus
If you know what you want to try (a shrimp tostada, for example, or a bean-stuffed tlacoyo) look for a street food stand making that dish—and not much else. “If a person only makes two or three options on the menu, chances are they do those options really, really well,” says Martinez.
3) Follow the Money
If you’re wondering about the cleanliness of a food stand, watch how the money is handled—you want to be sure that the person doing the cooking has someone else handling the money, or uses gloves to handle payments and change. It shows they know that cash can be dirty and that they value cleanliness at every step, says Martinez.
4) Don’t Judge a Salsa by Its Color
Every taco stand will have a green salsa and a red salsa, but beware: There are no rules when it comes to the heat levels! “There are endless varieties and there’s no way to tell which one is spicy and which is mild,” says Martinez. One place could have a green salsa that’s a fresh, bright tomatillo sauce, while at another place a scoop of the green stuff will start a five-alarm fire of jalapeno heat.
5) Seek out Seafood
It might seem strange that a landlocked city should have so much seafood, but the truth is that Mexico City is one of the only urban epicenters in Mexico that has the infrastructure to import seafood from small fishing communities on both coasts. That means cooks here get first dibs on the freshest fish from all over the country. A marisqueria, or seafood stand, might offer you a small cup of caldo de camaron, a spicy and citrusy shrimp broth, while you wait. Don’t pass it up.
6) Let Your Nose Lead the Way
Behind every great street taco is a perfect tortilla and, in Mexico City, a warm, freshly made tortilla with a sprinkle of salt may just be the most transcendent thing you eat.
So, tracking down a street-side tortilleria churning out fresh tortillas should be at the top of your list. But, most tortillerias don’t even have signs, so you’ll have to look for other clues. “You can always smell the fresh tortillas and here the machines rolling them out,” explains Martinez. “Why would you need a sign?”
Want more? Here’s our travel guide, packed with our favorite to-do items, for the next time you have a
weekend to spend in Mexico City—and check out the seven must-eat dishes that you simply can’t miss while you’re there.