Ask the average New Yorker to describe their dream Mexican vacation and they’ll probably conjure up a familiar image: a white-sand beach and a week-long forecast of sunny with a chance of too many tacos. This is not a bad image by any means, but it’s built on a narrow understanding of the place.
Away from the coast, Mexico City is home to 16 boroughs, 8.9 million people, and a culinary scene so legendary its charms cannot be easily counted. From world-class street food to fine dining by acclaimed local chefs Enrique Olvera and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, comida in Mexico City is more than just an attraction—it’s a destination on its own.
On a recent trip, photographer Lindsay Morris, photo editor of our sister-mag Edible East End, traveled to Mexico City with her husband, Stephen Munshin, Edible’s own publisher. What she and Munshin experienced was a cultured and cosmopolitan city and a veritable feast of world-class food.
And so, with our travel issue about to hit the streets (and wanderlust coursing through our veins), we decided to speak with Morris about her and Munshin’s time in Mexico City, about all they ate and drank, and about what now—if anything—they’re too spoiled to ever enjoy again in New York.
Edible Manhattan: Before traveling to Mexico City, did you have any expectations of the place? If so, how did your experience there compare?
Lindsay Morris: In retrospect, I’m kind of ashamed to say I anticipated a big brown cloud to be hovering over the city. That’s the image that had been impressed upon me by the media. That and an epidemic of kidnapping cab drivers; an overpopulated mega city. In contrast, we were greeted with consecutive days of crisp blue skies and a purple canopy of jacaranda trees lining the parks and city streets. The temperature hovered around a balmy 80-degrees with mild nights—but it sounds like I’m giving you a weather report. Let’s get to the food, and the art, and the food and art. Five days was not nearly enough to scratch the surface of this expansive city so rich with flavors and textures it’s anxiety inducing. How would we possibly go everywhere and experience every culinary detail? Thank goodness for the accommodating cab drivers in disarming, bright pink cars who kept a straight face and nodded kindly in light of our remedial Spanish.
EM: How would you describe the culinary scene there?
LM: “Scene” is an understatement, really. From the romantic and cutting edge Mexican cuisine of Limosneros in the Centro Historico neighborhood, where I couldn’t imagine myself crunching massive beetles until I stepped foot into this place, to the traditional Mexican breakfast at Cafe de Tacuba with its strolling musicians and the most outstanding coffee I had in Mexico City, all existing in restored colonial buildings with stunning lights and tile detail. Then there’s taco joints like the tiny El Huequito, meaning hole-in-the-wall, for award winning tacos. Street vendors sell the best tamales you could dream of, pulled out of large steaming metal pots. Mexico City’s own Enrique Olivera dominates the hip food scene with his restaurants Pujol (nearly impossible to get in even with Edible cred), Moxi and Eno (awesome breakfast). Also had mind blowing baked goods by Elena Reygada at Panaderia Rosetta. And we did get to enjoy Chef Olivera’s cooking when we returned to New York, at Cosme. One waitress at the restaurant called his signature dessert—husk meringue with corn mousse—“the hottest dessert in New York right now.” It only took one bite to understand why. So, fortunately, you don’t have to find yourself in Mexico city to enjoy it.
EM: What’s the best thing you ate over the course of your five days there? What about the best thing you drank?
LM: Mexico City’s signature dish, tacos el pastor from a street vendor, rivals any bite of food I’ve had. Every level of food experience was awesome from the aguas frescas (fresh juices) available on virtually every corner, to the bottomless tostadas at Tostadas Coyoacan, Coyoacan Market, to cocktails on the rooftop of the boutique hotel bar Condessa DF to late night mezcal at La Clandestina.
EM: How would you describe the aesthetic of Mexico City? Do any other international cultures seem to influence it?
LM: Mexico City has a flair all its own with little obvious American influence. It’s a cosmopolitan city with a stunning blend of cobblestone streets and colonial architecture contrasted with sleek high rises, clean, carefully landscaped parks and modern conveniences. It feels old world European and so unlike coastal Mexico. An astonishing lack of American tourists on the streets. In our experience, the museums were mostly populated by Mexican tourists who take a serious interest in their country’s culture.
EM: On Instagram I saw some pictures of delicious-looking insects (a phrase I never thought I’d type). What’s the story there? Are bugs a common protein down there, or was that dish just the work of a creative chef trying to make “delicious-looking insects” happen?
LM: My understanding is that insects are a pretty typical source of protein. They’re sold by vendors in the streets the same way we’re sold roasted peanuts in New York. The insects we ate were kind of a decked out version of the street bugs, all gussied up for the hipster restaurant patrons. I believe we ate crispy beetles atop fresh spiced goat cheese wrapped in squash blossoms. The beetles had a nutty flavor. Kind of thrilling.
EM: Fill in the blank: after traveling to Mexico City, I’ll never order __________ in New York again.
LM: Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say never again, but I’ll be reminiscing about the tamales!