The key to understanding street food in Mexico City is to understand that a taco is a loose concept, like a pizza or a sandwich, with infinite variations, that resemble each other no more than long lost cousins.
- Tacos Al Pastor
The undeniable king of street food in the nation’s capitol is the taco al pastor. A beautiful confluence of immigrants abutting in a a huge diverse city, the al pastor takes the best parts of a taco (small, biteable, corn tortillas and epic salsas) and the best part of a donair, juicy marinated pork meat (marinated with pineapple) cooked on the ingenious Arabic invention, the vertical frame-broiled spit. Hand’s down the best, you can find these juicy treats all over the city, but my fave is in Centro Historico at the Take out window of El Huequito. I also love the stands on the corner of Insurgentes Sur and Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Roma, after a late night of mezcal and beer chasers.
2. Tacos Dorados
This deep-fried tube of delicious is the forebearer to 7-11’s taquitos, one of the tastiest and most gut-curdling snacks in America. In Mexico, the original taco dorado (hard) is perfectly crunchy cigar of corn. If cooked properly, a taco dorado is as satisfying to bite into as a crunchy nacho, and it’s stuffed with juicy, tender meat, then topped with acidic lime and fiery salsa and cooling, fatty crema (like a sour cream, or breakfast cream). Usually served in 3s, tacos dorados are probably best eaten at a taqueria with seats because these will get messy.
3. Tamales Oaxaquenos
A tamale is the classic example of ugly delicious, a prepackaged lump of corn masa hand-pressed around a guisado (stewed-meat/sauce and protein combo). The whole tamale is folded in a leaf and steamed, and anyone who has spent time in Mexico City will recognize the famous calls of the street vendors, who peddle around the streets first thing in the morning, hollering “Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos…Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos” as everyone gets prepped for work. Solid breakfast to go, not to be missed before a big day of walking and wandering the enormous monstruo that is CDMX (Ciudad Mexico).
A torta is the Mexican sandwich. Stuffed with rotisseries chicken and avocado. Filled with meatballs and drenched in spicy tomato sauce (Tortas ahogados i.e. drowned sandwiches of Guadalajara). Pork cracklings layered with tomato, lettuce, onion salsa and a shot of lime (Guacamayas from Leon, GTO). There are variations for every city and every state in Mexico. These are a favoured street food in CDMX, for locals and foreigners alike, and often offer the best bang for your buck and a huge satisfying meal on a crispy, white bun. I love Ricas Tortas Calientes “Tasty Hot Sandwiches” near the Glorieta Insrugentes, and Metro Insurgentes, at the corner of Puebla & Orizaba in Roma Norte.
A tlayuda is an indigenous Oaxacan dish, akin to a pizza, a huge circular bread, almost like a paper-thin, crunchy cracker with a ‘sauce’ of refried beans and stringy Oaxacan cheese, then topped with a variety of bite-sized bits and pieces. Usually there is some avocado, meat, or tomato slices, and traditionally there are citrus-flavoured chapulines, crisped grasshoppers. It’s a fun dish to share, and can also be set in the middle of a group of friends and picked at while they enjoy drinks and chatting.
I’m not going to lie to you and say I never touch “American” food when I’m living or travelling in Mexico. In fact, I’d argue that some of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life were south of the border. There is a long tradition of hamburgers from street vendors in the capital city, and the classic is a patty off a sizzling flattop (a la parilla), served with a slice of tomato, crispy lettuce, and a squirt of mustard and ketchup or mayo (you can’t do moth, that’s disgusting). My favourite spot for burgers in Mexico City is ‘Hamburguesas a la Parrilla’, Morelia 85, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico.