Chef Hugo Ortega was born and raised in Mexico City. He traveled extensively throughout his home country before opening the restaurant Hugo’s in Houston, Texas. “To create a menu that showcases the most authentic regional dishes, I ate in people’s homes and watched how grandmothers cook,” he says. To research his new book, Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico, he delved into the country’s street cuisine, but he also made time for sit-down meals. Here, he shares his most delicious finds in Mexico City.
“At the 2,000-seat restaurant, you can enjoy delicious barbacoa [meat slow-cooked over an open fire] and carnitas while watching on-site bullfights and listening to mariachi. The barbacoa is cooked in brick pits, and as you enter, you see men tending the meat and women making tortillas and grinding spices. Arroyo prepares lamb and goat barbacoa, each cooked for at least 12 hours. Both come bone-in with guacamole, refried beans, various sauces, and an agave leaf on top to keep the barbacoa warm.” Av. de los Insurgentes Sur 4003, Colonia Tlalpan, 52/(01) 55-5573-4344, arroyorestaurante.com.mx
Fonda El Refugio
“Here’s a small, white-tablecloth spot that is refined and friendly. Fonda El Refugio prepares the best food from the many regions of Mexico, particularly a famous red snapper dish from Veracruz. It’s grilled and topped with a sauce made of tomatoes, olives, capers, onions, and banana peppers. The restaurant also does great beef-stuffed chilies, albóndigas [meatballs, served only on Saturday] in chipotle sauce, and a silky mole Poblano made from nearly 100 ingredients.” Liverpool 166, Zona Rosa, 52/(01) 55-5207-2732, fondaelrefugio.com
Mercado de La Nueva Viga
“I was blown away by this market. It sells seafood from every coast of Mexico—the Gulfs, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. All the chefs in the city shop here, and passersby sample fish dishes at the many stalls. Each one offers its own ceviche or caldo de pescado [fish soup]. You must try the chocolate clams; their shell is brown like chocolate. They are three to five inches wide and have a distinct salty-sweet flavor. Top them with fresh cilantro, chopped onion, and lemon.” Prolongación Eje 6 Sur 560, Colonia San José Aculco, Delegación Iztapalapa
“For regional breakfast items, I like El Cardenal, which has four locations in Mexico City. The chilaquiles [fried tortilla strips with eggs, cheese, onion, and chili sauce], hot chocolate, and conchas con nata [sugar-crusted sweet pastry bread with clotted cream] are all excellent. The only time I ever eat breakfast is when I’m on vacation, so it seems like a total luxury. And I love chilaquiles; I have them on my weekend brunch menu at Hugo’s.” Palma 23, Centro, 52/(01) 55-5521-8817, restauranteelcardenal.com
Illustrations by Michael Hoeweler. This appeared in the October 2013 issue.