Local's Guide To Mexico City

Learn where to dine from someone in the know: a Mexico City food tour guide

You could spend all day, every day for several years eating at restaurants in the 573 square miles of Mexico's capital city and still not make it to all of them. So when you're trying to figure out where to go on a short trip—which classic gems to revisit, which trendy new bars to hit—it can feel like a game of impossible decisions.

For Anais Martinez, a Mexico City "culinary concierge" and food tour guide, many visitors follow a well-trodden path. The city is "so much bigger than those 36 spots," she laments. Martinez blogs and Instagrams as The Curious Mexican, but just be forewarned: Following her will result in extreme taco cravings and booking the next possible flight to CDMX.

When that happens, get in touch with her. She can help you plan the entirety of your eating trip: restaurant reservations, hidden gems, the latest openings—all the things that haven't made it into articles yet or that you might need customized, like a vegetarian itinerary, beer tour or coffee crawl. And as a holder of a five-year gastronomy degree (which includes cooking, as well as history of cuisine), a restaurant industry veteran ("front of house, because I like talking to people,") and a food tour guide for the last five years, you can trust that Martinez knows the city.

For first-timers, she suggests starting with an introduction to masa. "It's not just cornmeal," she says of the nixtamalized corn dough. She encourages visitors to seek out more than just tortillas: "tamales, tlacoyos, atole, gorditas," she lists, pausing to clarify that "gorditas are not from Taco Bell." But where should you find these things?

"Look for tamales on a corner or from a bike," she recommends. But wake up early: They'll be gone by 10 a.m. If you must hit up a restaurant for them, she suggests Doña Emi.

For all those other dishes? "Go to the nearest market!" she exclaims. Her favorite is the Mercado de Jamaica, where there's a stall in the parking lot that makes blue-corn dough and a quesadilla stand inside with a half-hour line. They are, she assures, worth the wait. Generally, though, she says to just "hang out in a market; buy some fruit—find a vendor that will let you buy one of each of what's in season." Or simply pick a juice from a vendor selling them (she likes the big one inside Mercado de Medellín). And if you decide to go to Mercado La Merced, the city's biggest, go with someone who knows their way around. "Otherwise, people see a small area around the subway and think they saw the whole thing. It's like a sense overload."

But in places like Juárez, the latest buzzing neighborhood, there's plenty to explore alone. Start with chef Jair Téllez's Amaya, which serves wine and a Baja-Mediterranean mix of foods, before moving on to the abundance of other little cafés nearby. With La Rifa Chocolatería, she lists off chocolate specialties the way Bubba Gump lists types of shrimp, including rarities such as fermented cocoa beans and tamales with cocoa or buttercream.

But most people who head to Mexico City go for the tacos. When looking for the best of Mexico City's signature al pastor, Martinez advises to "look for the biggest spit." The heftier the rotating pile of meat, the more people it feeds, she says, pointing to local favorite Taqueria Gonzalez. Though, she also adds, non-meat eaters will find equally good options around the city, including the vegan-friendly Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria.

"Taco places are your best friends," she confirms—something that's especially true on Sunday nights, when most of the local restaurants shut down. Her top picks are El Tizoncito and El Vilsito, the latter being a late-night favorite and a perfect coda to a night at Martinez's recommended bar, Xaman. "Ask about the special," she says, "they bring it from the back in a gasoline container."

Welcome to TT on Tour, where Tasting Table's editors guide you through everything you'll want to eat, drink and do in rising travel destinations around the world.

Naomi Tomky is an award-winning freelance food and travel writer. Follow her edible adventures on Twitter at @Gastrognome and on Instagram at @the_gastrognome.