The first thing any visitor to the Mexican capital will take in — probably while staring out the window in awe as their airplane descends over the intense, urbanity-on-steroids sprawl — is the sheer size of this town, 573 square miles in total. It’s densely populated and patchworked with distinct neighborhoods, each with its own culinary identity. It would take several lifetimes to get to know all of the street stands, holes in the wall, neighborhood favorites, and high-end destinations in this city.
Yet this list — 38 restaurants, dishes, and culinary experiences that define Mexico City’s gastronomic identity — should offer a comprehensive starting point for any visitor. It includes the obvious and the overexposed; it also includes hidden gems. It covers longtime buzzing neighborhoods like Roma and Condesa, as well as newer destination districts like San Miguel Chapultepec and Juarez. There are tacos, tortas, tasting menus, and tamales. There are enough sweets to satisfy the most dedicated concha enthusiast and some old-school breakfasts for the nostalgists. Whatever the type of place, it provides standout food and a taste of something visitors can’t get back home.
Updated, June 2022:
After two long years of the pandemic, Mexico City is buzzing with renewed spirit. Just as the city becomes a hot destination for international travelers again, restaurants are also playing host to a growing community of digital nomads who crowd cafes to take work calls during the day and fill every hard-to-get reservation by night. There’s no sugarcoating the mixed feelings Chilangos have about these immigrants from the North, who have brought fast-paced gentrification, shifted the real estate market, and reshaped demographics in central neighborhoods. But the influx of customers has also been a boon to newcomers in the restaurant scene, and the established food community is determined to make the most of new opportunities as well.
Natalia de la Rosa is a Mexican food writer, mezcal collector, and culinary guide based in Mexico City.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.