Mexican cuisine is known for its intense and varied flavors, colorful decoration, and variety of spices. Most of today's Mexican food is based on pre-hispanic traditions, including the Aztecs and Maya, combined with culinary trends introduced by Spanish colonists. The conquistadors eventually combined their imported diet of rice, beef, pork, chicken, wine, garlic and onions with the native pre-Columbian food, including maize, tomato, vanilla, avocado, papaya, pineapple, chile pepper, beans, squash, limes (limón in Mexican Spanish), sweet potato, peanut and turkey.
When looking for traditional Mexican and Spanish food, go to the Historic Center which looks and tastes authentically Mexican. The colonial atmosphere provides the perfect backdrop for enjoying breakfast or dinner. The Colonia Condesa neighborhood is home to numerous world-cuisine restaurants (particularly Argentine, Colombian and Italian) as well as to modern “fusion” establishments.
Mexicans tend to have their main meal between 2 to 4 in the afternoon. This meal is usually eaten at a leisurely pace and is very often combined with a business meeting or family get-together. The dinner hour usually starts much later, around 9 PM, and usually consists of lighter fare or even just coffee and dessert. If you are planning on dining late, it is probably a good idea to call for reservations, at the same time check to see if a dress code is enforced. Tipping is expected, being 10% the standard for all restaurants. You can tip less or don't tip at all for poor service. In Mexico, there is no difference in prices if you sit inside or outside, it is the same if you eat at the bar or sit at a table.
The basics of traditional Mexican cuisine:
Vegetarian alternatives are commonly available at larger restaurants. Some easy phrases are "sin pollo" (no chicken), "sin carne" (no meat), "sin huevo" (no eggs) and "sin queso" (no cheese). If you can communicate this and then gesticulate to the menu, the waiter normally will give you suggestions. In regular restaurants, they will even try to edit an existing dish for you. Just make sure you are clear. Chile Rellenos are a definite standard in any restaurant for the vegetarian.
Mexican food is fast and fast food chain abound. Aeropuerto-Foro Sol, Norte-Basilicia de Guadalupe, Torre Mayor-Zona and more dot the ladscape. Most the time fast food can be found on the ground floor of a street-facing building, or puestas, which are street stands. They can be very cheap ($10 to $50 pesos), but caution is advised since some places may not take the necessary steps for ensuring proper hygiene. In addition, you should be aware of the time of the day you eat there, as they often do not have refrigerators on their premises. To find a good stand, look for a place with a lot of people.
The typical Mexican place to go to drink is the cantina, a bar where food is usually free and you pay for drinks. Cantinas serve a wide range of Mexican and foreign drinks and prices are usually relatively low. The downside is that many of these establishments are filled with Mexican music (if you are not a fan this is a problem), smoke-filled rooms, and lots of noise. Cantinas are usually open at least till midnight.
Most antros (bar/club) are clustered in the Zona Rosa, San Ángel and Polanco neighborhoods. There is no set closing time and bars are often open into the morning. It is illegal to consume alcohol in public ("open container"). This is strictly enforced and the penalty is at least 24 hours in jail. The legal drinking age is 18.
The reputation of "hottest bar" is constantly changing, so check in on guides like
For superb Mexican cuisine you can try El Cardenal (Sheraton Centro Histórico), Los Girasoles (Tacuba 8), Aguila y Sol (Emilio Castelar 229), Izote (Masaryk 513) and, for something more affordable, Café Tacuba (Tacuba 28). Another great experience is to dine in an old converted hacienda like Hacienda de los Morales (Vázquez de Mella 525), San Angel Inn (Diego Rivera 50) or Antigua Hacienda de Tlalpan (Calzada de Tlalpan 4619).
Restaurant listings can be found at: