The Best Tacos in Mexico City

Tacos may be taking over the world, but it’s in the bustling Mexican capital that the humble dish reigns supreme. From the uncountable array of street carts to fine dining rooms, we’ve asked top chefs to pick their favorites.

By Kate KraderKate Krader
October 9, 2017
Photographs by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock/Bloomberg
Pictured: Carnitas and Chicharrón tacos at Meche y Rafael.

The world is experiencing a Mexican food revolution—specifically, a taco revolution. All across America and as far away as Singapore, chefs are changing people’s minds about a dish that has long been thought of as simplistic and cheap. Look at them now: More and more, you’ll find supple, fragrant tortillas, often made from freshly ground corn and bursting with flavor-packed fillings, rich with chilis, stewed meats, and crispy fried fish.

Mexico City might not be the dish’s original home—tacos are believed to have gotten their start in the country’s silver mines in the 1700s—but it’s the best place to see the vast spectrum of delicious possibilities. And as the city recovers from its devastating Sept. 19 earthquake, tacos are a food to feed the soul. The streets are lined with counters where men and women clad in aprons briskly chop meat and spoon it onto freshly pressed tortillas in a matter of seconds, serving up addictive flavor bombs for less than a dollar. On the flip side, there’s a taco omakase (chef’s choice tasting menu) at one of the world’s top restaurants, where Wagyu stakes a claim on territory usually reserved for every conceivable part of the pig.

Hungry? So are we. Luckily we have some of the world’s greatest chefs on our side in deciding where to go. —With assistance from Richard Vines

Meche y Rafael

Mercado de Medellín, Calle Campeche 101, Roma Sur

Taco Order: Maciza Carnitas, Chicharrón (pictured above)

One of the Mexico’s best neighborhood markets is the busy Mercado de Medellín in Roma Sur, and it’s there you’ll want to seek out Meche y Rafael, a butcher stand that offers meat tacos that blew chef Alon Shaya away.

“Andrew Zimmern [of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods fame] set us up with an amazing food tour guide, Ruth Alegria, who took us through several markets and showed us the best bites in each place,” recounts Shaya. “After we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, she looked us in the eyes and said, ‘Now are you ready for the best carnitas of your lives?’ Every bite was crazy good, and there was an all-you-can-eat guacamole and salsa bar next to the stall. Tortillas were freshly pressed, and the meats were fresh.”

Besides the carnitas made from maciza, or the lean loin, Shaya loved Meche y Rafael’s especially porky chicharrón tacos. Meche and Rafael serve their carnitas only on Saturdays or holidays; the other meats are offered all the time.   

—Recommended by chef Alon Shaya of Shaya in New Orleans

Meche y Rafael, a butcher shop at the Mercado Medellín, also sells carnitas from this stand on Saturdays.
Meche y Rafael, a butcher shop at the Mercado de Medellín, also sells carnitas from this stand on Saturdays.
A butcher holds his knife beside a piece of meat destine for carnitas at Meche Y Rafael in the Medellin Mercado.
A butcher holds his knife beside a piece of meat destined for carnitas.
(From left) Meche y Rafael, a butcher shop at the Mercado de Medellín, also sells carnitas from this stand on Saturdays; a butcher holds his knife beside a piece of meat destined for carnitas.

Taquería Los Parados

Eje 2 Pte. Monterrey 333, Roma Sur

taquerialosparados.mx

Taco Order: Poblano con Queso

At the corner of Monterrey and Avenida Baja California in hip Roma Sur, the open-air Los Parados has a steady local crowd during the day and at night, with patrons looking for something to eat after the bar. “I’ve seen it packed at both comida [3 p.m.] and late night; the line is longest at night,” says chef Bob Pruitt. There are a few vegetarian tacos, such as softly spicy poblano chiles doused with molten cheese, but most of the selections feature some sort of meat that’s cooked quickly over charcoal, juicy and imbued with the flavor of fire. “My favorite is the poblano con queso y arrachera [skirt steak], but the al pastor here is one of the best in the city. I’m not sure if there’s any real secret, but the seasoning is spot on, and they execute it so well,” he notes.   

—Recommended by chef Bob Truitt of Casa Publica in Brooklyn

The exterior of Taqueria Los Parados.
A rare moment of no lines at Taquería los Parados.

El Farolito

Altata 19, Cuauhtémoc, Hipódromo Condesa

taqueriaselfarolito.com

Taco Order: Cecina de Yecapixtla

The original El Farolito opened in the Condesa market 55 years ago, and there are now more than two dozen branches around the city. The old-time favorite is a pioneer of charcoal-grilled meat tacos, according to chef Robert Santibanez. “Even if their tortillas are not made by hand, the meats are excellent, and so are the charcoal-grilled onions." Their tacos with cecina de Yecapixtla—intense strips of salted and dried or cured beef—boast a sprinkling of those onions on top.

Fellow chef Anita Lo specifically favors the ribeye al carbon, where the meat has that smoke that goes so well with chilis and corn and cheese. “Rich cheese against bracing fresh lime juice, cleansing raw onion, and the stinging hum of the various salsas—red, green, picadillo—made for the most well-balanced, intricate bite,” she says.   

—Recommended by Anita Lo, of the now-closed Annisa in New York, and Roberto Santibanez of Fonda restaurants in New York

Details of El Farolito
The exterior of El Farolito in Condesa.

El Vilsito

Petén 248, at Avenida Universidad, Narvarte Poniente

Taco Order: Al Pastor

During the day, El Vilsito is an auto repair shop in Colonia Narvarte, a skip southeast of hip hoods Condesa and Roma, but come night, the place is transformed into a taquería with a scene that goes late. Chef Alex Stupak, who went to Mexico City on a quest for the best al pastor tacos, is a fan of the achiote-marinated meat that’s formed into a trompo (literally “top,” referring to its shape) and cooked slowly on a vertical spit, sliced and served with a chunk of roasted pineapple on corn tortillas.

“The move at El Vilsito is al pastor for sure,” says Stupak. “At night, the garage doors open and there are four taqueros, each carving his own massive trompo, right on the sidewalk. Throngs of people crowd the street well into the 4 a.m. zone. The spectacle of massive, flame-licked sculptures of pork being deftly carved and topped with a nick of flying pineapple is theatrical in the best way ever—especially after several drinks.”   

—Recommended by Alex Stupak of Empellón restaurants in New York

Details of meat cooking at El Vilsito
Spit-grilled al pastor is carved from giant trompos at El Vilsito.
tacos campechanos from Venadito

El Venadito

Avenida Universidad 1701, Col Agricola, Álvaro Obregón

Taco Order: Campechano 

When he returns to his hometown of Mexico City, Fabian von Hauske always goes to this neighborhood spot near the Coyoacán roundabout. It’s known for the carnitas they sell at a little stand in the front of the restaurant, but that’s not what the chef orders. “They do barbacoa in the back. My dad would always take me there, and it’s still my favorite ever. I get the campechano—which has bits of the stomach, the shoulder, ribs, and chopped-up pieces of chicharrón [fried pork skin], so it has all the textures you could possibly want. Add a little bit of lime, salsa verde cruda, and a bit of salt.”

—Recommended by chef/owner Fabian von Hauske of Contra and Wildair in New York

Details of El Venadito
The vibrant interior of El Venadito’s dining room.
Details of Kagari
Salsa and a squeeze of lime are key to the campechano tacos.
(From left) The vibrant interior of El Venadito’s dining room; salsa and a squeeze of lime are key to the campechano tacos.

El Califa

Alata 22, Condesa

elcalifa.com.mx

Taco Order: Arrachera, Al Pastor

El Califa stays open until 4 a.m., which helps explain why it is so popular with chefs—it’s like a party every night. But what keeps Gastón Acurio, one of Peru’s most respected culinary masters, coming back is the quality of the ingredients and cooking. “They mix in all the world of chilis of Mexico with beef,” he says of the arrachera, or marinated skirt steak taco, “which is then cooked in a Mexican grill. For us, it is something like eating a steak but with a different flavor inside a tortilla, which is something new and wonderful.” Fellow Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez of Central is also a fan: the charred, spit-roasted al pastor is his taco of choice.   

—Recommended by chef Gastón Acurio of Astrid y Gastón in Lima

Meche y Rafael, a butcher shop at the Mercado Medellin, also sells carnitas from this stand on Saturdays.
The spit-roasted pork that’s key to El Califa’s superior al pastor tacos.
A butcher holds his knife beside a piece of meat destine for carnitas at Meche Y Rafael in the Medellin Mercado.
A squad of motorcyles, ready to deliver.
(From left) The spit-roasted pork that’s key to El Califa’s superior al pastor tacos; a squad of motorcyles, ready to deliver.

Tacos de Memo

Mercado San Cosme, Avenida Ribera de San Cosme, Cuauhtémoc

Taco Order: Huevo con Arroz

Star chef Enrique Olvera has strong memories of visiting San Cosme market with his grandfather when he was a child. The market is still there, and it’s still a place for locals with kiosks arrayed with clothes, piñatas, and plenty of household items. There’s also a comida corrida (street food alley) with a taco stall, run by an older gentleman called Memo, that can’t be missed. The small selection of tacos includes glistening chicharrón, but Olvera says his current favorite is the huevo con arroz (eggs and rice), a mixture of thin, frittata-style omelet squares and tomato-flavored rice piled on top of a sturdy corn tortilla.   

—Recommended by chef/owner Enrique Olvera of Cosme and Atla in New York; Pujol in Mexico City

Details of taco toppings at Tacos de Memo
A variety of taco fillings beckon behind the glass at Tacos de Memo inside the Mercado San Cosme.

El Villamelón

Eje 6 Sur Tintoreto 123, Cd de los Deportes

elvillamelon.com

Taco Order: Longaniza and Cecina

Set on a corner not far from Plaza de Toros México, the world’s largest bullfighting ring, this CDMX stalwart traces its history to 1961 and its fame to powerfully flavored, salty and spicy tacos—namely, the taco costeño (a richly flavored mix of chopped meats with chilis and onions). Yet chef Albert Adrià, one of the biggest names in gastronomy, says he prefers the one with a combination of cecina, salted and dried beef, flecked with bits of longaniza, an orange-colored, chorizo-style pork sausage rolled up in a thick corn tortilla.

“Tastewise,” says the chef, “this is a very well-rounded taco thanks to the balance between ingredients: The flavor of the cecina, together with the longaniza, provide a spicy character which works really well with the acidity of the chili and the vinegar cumin sauce. It’s finished with minced corteza de cerdo [pork cracklings], which provides a crispiness to the delicious bite.”     

—Recommended by chef Albert Adrià of Tickets in Barcelona

Customer and clients at the counter at Villamelon.
For more than 55 years, El Villamelón has been serving tacos to world-famous chefs as well as locals.

Pujol

Tennyson 133, Polanco

pujol.com.mx

Taco Order: The Omakase Menu

Earlier this year, Enrique Olvera reopened his flagship restaurant Pujol, which ranks among the world’s best kitchens. Among the innovations in the new space is an 11-seat taco omakase bar, Olvera’s bid to elevate the taco to the status of Japanese fine dining. The 12-course menu features a parade of frequently changing tacos on impossibly supple and fragrant tortillas. Among the highlights: roasted eggplant slices with watercress, arranged on a tortilla with a hoja santa leaf pressed into it, and tender slivers of lamb barbacoa, complemented with dollops of creamy avocado mousse and refreshing sweet squash blossoms on top. 

—Editor’s Pick

A tree grows in the interior of Pujol.
A tree grows in the interior of Pujol.
A bright dining area inside Pujol.
A bright dining area inside Pujol.
(From left) A tree grows in the interior of Pujol; besides the bright dining room, there’s a counter for the taco omakase menu.

El Turix

Calle Emilio Castelar 212, Esquina Henrik Ibsen, Polanco

Taco Order: Cochinita Pibil

In tiny Polanco, El Turix has a few seats but is more storefront than restaurant, its no-nonsense servers quickly delivering your order of Yucatán-style specialties. The menu’s standout dishes include gorditas (fried, stuffed corn cakes), but according to chef Chris Cosentino, the absolute best item is its exemplary tacos filled with cochinita pibil or slow-roasted pork braised in a thick achiote and sour orange adobo sauce. The house corn tortillas are good, too, as is the stinging habanero salsa you spoon on top. “It was my first meal in Mexico City,” says chef Chris Cosentino. “I love that they have a pretty limited menu and only serve pork. Everything we tried was amazing.”   

—Recommended by chef/owner Chris Cosentino of Cockscomb in San Francisco

Details of meat cooking at El Vilsito
Inside the compact El Turix taquería, a television can momentarily distract from the tacos.

Los Cocuyos

7ᵃ̵ Calle de Bolívar 54-56, Cuauhtémoc, Centro Histórico

Taco Order: Brains, Tripe, Campechanos

This hole-in-the-wall taquería, located in Los Portales de Tlaquepaque in Centro Histórico, is traditional, unpretentious, and open very late. Its selection of tacos includes cuts from just about every part of the cow. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura loves the tacos al tripa: “They boil the stomach of the cow, and when its becomes tender, they’ll cook on a plancha [a griddle-like surface] until really, really crispy. Put some onions and chilis on top, and it is amazing.”

London-based chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes says Cocuyos is simplicity at its best. “My favorites are ears, tripe, or tongue,” he says. “Delicious! But also eyeballs, brains (sessos), and campechano, which means a bit of everything.” He adds, “make sure you add salsa, onion, and cilantro.”

—Recommended by chef Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido in Lima, and chef Edson Diaz-Fuentes of Santo Remedio in London

The cook at Los Cocuyos chops an assortment of meats for an order of tacos.
The cook at Los Cocuyos chops an assortment of meats for an order of tacos.
Customers surround Taqueria Los Cocuyos during lunch hour.
Customers surround the counter during lunch hour.
(From left) The cook at Los Cocuyos chops an assortment of meats for an order of tacos; customers surround the counter during lunch hour.

El Rey del Pavo

Calle Palma No. 32, Cuauhtémoc, Centro Histórico

Taco Order: Turkey Skin

You’ll know the “King of Turkey” because of its bird logo and the plaque outside announcing that it’s been around since 1910. Inside the vibrantly blue-walled space, the menu includes turkey sandwiches, which you can load up with guacamole and salsas—but the pro move, according to chef TJ Steele, is a taco with turkey skin, which is crisped up and salty, kind of like bacon.

“To make it perfect, I add escabeche [pickled vegetables] and salsa verde and have it with a side of turkey consommé. The acid from the escabeche cuts the fatty richness of the filling,” says Steele. “I love turkey, so finding a spot that specializes in it and has been around for more than 100 years was really exciting.”   

—Recommended by TJ Steele, co-chef at Claro in Brooklyn 

Various sauces and salsas lined up along the front counter at El Rey de Pavo
Various sauces and salsas lined up along the front counter at El Rey del Pavo.
Turkeys on display in the front window of El Rey de Pavo
The specialty of the house, on display in El Rey del Pavos front window.

Tacos Manolo

Calle Luz Saviñón 1305, Narvarte Poniente

Taco Order: Beef and Bacon

Having started as a small storefront in the 1980s, a now-expanded Tacos Manolo is renowned for its hefty mixed meat tacos, cut from sizzling spits on display front and center: chorizo, cecina (salted cured beef), and steak, chopped up and heated in their own fats to double down on the fatty richness. Adding cheese takes it even more over the top. “Tacos Manolo is more for special occasions because those mixed meat tacos are so heavy,” advises chef Robert Santibanez. “But the salsas are great, and the meats are super flavorful.” He orders beef with plenty of bacon for a hit of smokiness and tops it with the taquería’s chile de arbol salsa laced with peanuts.   

—Recommended by chef Roberto Santibanez of Fonda restaurants in New York

Details of Tacos Manolo
The stand where Tacos Manolo prepares specialties such as the beef and bacon is located across the street from its brick-and-mortar spot.

Beatricita

Londres 190, Local D, Juárez

Taco Order: Chicharrón Guisado, Carnitas

La Beatricita has been a fixture of the high-energy Zona Rosa neighborhood since the early 1970s. The orange-walled space is more of a restaurant than a taquería, and it’s the go-to spot of chef Bryan Noury, who has spent a lot of time in Mexico City, the location of his restaurant’s parent company, Grupo Habita. His favorites from the lengthy list of tacos are crisp-tender chunks of slow-cooked carnitas and the chewy stewed pork rinds, chicharrón guisado, in a sharp tomatillo sauce. “The consistency and quality at La Beatricita amazes me,” says Noury. “All that tender meat! If you are adventurous—and these ingredients are becoming more common in the U.S.—try the blood pudding tacos, too.”   

—Recommended by chef Bryan Noury of the Americano in New York

Workers at Beatricita
The busy kitchen at Beatricita.

El Rey del Taco

Av. Division del Norte 2693, Col. Del Carmen

Taco Order: The “Cheeseburger”

Chef Alex Stupak, who helped introduce New York to premium, creative tacos, originally tasted El Rey’s al pastor as research for his 2015 Tacos cookbook. But at the sidewalk stall, the menu’s cheeseburger taco caught his attention. “The taquero boasted that he invented it,” recounts Stupak. “He took a burger patty and put it on the griddle, then added two generous fistfuls of grated Chihuahua cheese. He began chopping up the patty with the broad side of his spatula and mixing in the melting cheese—it was total Cold Stone Creamery style. He divided the mixture between two flour tortillas, added a spoonful of mayonnaise to each taco, and finished them off with red ripe tomato and a slice of avocado. “I was inspired by them, beyond the deliciousness,” he continues. “Although it probably is a 1,200-calorie taco.”   

—Recommended by Alex Stupak of Empellón restaurants in New York

Details of El Venadito
El Rey de Taco is located on a busy street.
Details of Kagari
Taco onion prep in full swing.
(From left) El Rey del Taco is located on a busy street; taco onion prep in full swing.
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