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Mexico City Dining

Sud 777

Sud 777

When it comes to culinary cultures, the only country that gives Mexico a run for its money as far as the depth and breadth of regional cuisines is China. But this diversity can make sampling all of Mexico’s culinary styles a challenge for travelers. For a taste of the entire country, go to its capital, Mexico City. While the street food scene there is a food lover’s paradise, it’s the restaurant culture that’s seen the biggest change in the past 25 years. Here are a few spots you shouldn’t miss.

There’s no doubt that one of the most important restaurants in the Americas is Enrique Olvera’s Pujol, where Mexico’s precolonial and indigenous foods are experienced through a fine-dining prism. The famous mole madre, mole nuevo—two sauces on a plate with a stack of tortillas—is a stunning contrast of traditional mole (a 40-ingredient sauce made of chilies, herbs, spices, fruit and chocolate) and Olvera’s reimagined version. Olvera does more than modernize traditional recipes, though; he also explores indigenous ingredients that most chefs use only as a gimmick. Case in point: ant eggs, which are hand-collected from nests housed under maguey plants and served with a pan-seared leek and bone marrow emulsion.

Chef Jorge Vallejo’s contemporary take on traditional Mexican cuisine is equally astounding. At Quintonil, regarded as one of the best restaurants in Latin America, Vallejo looks to Mexico’s small-scale producers for fresh and interesting ingredients. Try mushrooms sautéed with mescal, served with barley, ground coffee and herbs. Or opt for the tasting menu—you won’t be disappointed.

Open and airy, with pitch-perfect lighting and lots of natural elements, Sud777 makes you want to settle in for a full-on tasting experience at Edgar Núñez’s chef’s table. Núñez marries modern, even Nordic, aesthetics with local flavors. Order the crispy pork served on a rich black mole or the duck carnitas with candied carrots.

For a more casual spin, look to Maximo Bistrot, where Pujol alum Eduardo García uses locally sourced ingredients—and furniture, napkins and utensils. García’s commitment to “place” runs even deeper, though: He offers affordable weekday prix fixe menus to ensure that his neighbors, as well as culinary tourists, can dine under his roof.

Every city has that one beloved breakfast place that outshines all the others. In Mexico City, that honor solidly belongs to Café de Raíz, the humble eatery of siblings Pola and Mardonio Carballo, who create simple, hearty dishes inspired by their hometown of Veracruz. I recommend the excellent scrambled eggs with chorizo or the sweet rolls stuffed with black beans and cheese, served with arbol chilies—just trust me that they’re delicious. Locals keep coming back for Raíz’s tamales, offered from open to close (9 a.m.-ish to 10 p.m.-ish). After all, it’s Mexico City. While a lot has changed, time here is still pretty loosey-goosey.

For more from chef, author and teacher Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, go to andrewzimmern.com.

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