The best restaurants in Mexico City range from world-class fine dining to a century-old restaurant in the historic center.
I first visited Mexico City in 2013 amidst a five-week, coast-to-coast trip from Puerto Vallarta to Playa del Carmen.
While I only had a few hurried days in the Mexican capital, I took full advantage, seeing as many sights as possible and dining at Pujol and Cafe de Tacuba.
In 2016, I spent two months in Oaxaca, the birthplace of mole; however, it wasn't until 2017 that I returned to Mexico City.
It was on that second trip that I started to become a fan of the Latin American megacity.
I returned three more times in the following 12 months, trying more new restaurants on every visit.
I had my sixth trip planned for April 2020, with plans to re-visit Pujol, Quintonil, and Sud 777 as well as try more new places; however, I've had to postpone it indefinitely.
My list of the ten best restaurants in Mexico City is based on five trips. I've grouped them according to whether they're modern or historic.
One of the things I appreciate about fine dining in Mexico City is that you can visit any of these restaurants in casual attire.
Mexico City's modern restaurants are led by a new generation of young Mexican chefs, many of whom have spent time training in Europe or the United States.
Applying contemporary cooking techniques with local ingredients and traditional recipes, they've helped to elevate Mexican cuisine.
Chief among Mexico's best chefs is Enrique Olvera, who trained at The Culinary Institute of America before opening Pujol in 2000.
The original location in the well-heeled Polanco district was small, offering only 13 tables.
Black-painted walls and white tablecloths gave it an air of formality when I ate there.
My experience with the 11-course tasting menu was superb.
Highlights included avocado with mole and chia seeds, a fish ceviche taco, pork confit with mole and tamarind, and the signature mole madre.
In 2017, Pujol moved to a larger space in a mid-century building, also in Polanco.
Chef Olvera took the opportunity to create a more casual, natural light-filled interior, while also adding a "taco omakase" experience to the tasting menu and a la carte options.
Pujol alumni Jorge Vallejo opened Quintonil with his wife, Alejandra Flores, in 2012.
Together, they've grown Quintonil into one of the best restaurants in Mexico City, Latin America, and the world.
My first experience at the restaurant was for dinner with a friend, both of us ordering the 11-course tasting menu.
Highlights included the octopus mosaic with "tomatillo" sour cream and purslane sauce, dry-aged duck breast with bitter almond and habanero purée, and cactus sorbet.
While I enjoyed the food and service, the lighting was too dim. I had a hard time making out the details of what I was eating.
I also found the patterns and colors of the tabletops distracting, taking my eye away from the food.
The next time I'm in town, I intend to visit Quintonil for lunch so as to to experience it again with more light.
I have a soft spot for Sud 777, perhaps because I hadn't heard anything about it before I went, and walked out a happy man.
Mexican chef Edgar Nuñez joined Sud 777 as Executive Chef in 2008 and has helped turn it into one of Mexico City's best restaurants.
The split-level, plant-filled interior is part of what makes going to this restaurant a 30-minute drive south of Polanco such a fun experience.
A bar/lounge occupies the ground floor, where you can kick off the night with a cocktail before heading upstairs for dinner.
I went for lunch with the hopes of better lighting, a bet that paid off.
Once again, a seasonal 11-course menu was available, and I jumped on it, along with the juice pairing.
Standout dishes included smoked watermelon with seaweed, Marlin donut with Xcatix mayonnaise and fried leek, and onion, caramel, and salted yogurt ice cream.
Located in an old mansion in Mexico City's trendy Roma neighborhood, Rosetta offers diners a delightful atmosphere.
The main dining room has high ceilings, allowing for lots of natural light.
Smaller dining rooms with colorful walls occupy the second floor.
Chef Elena Reygadas opened Rosetta in 2010 after training at the French Culinary Institute in New York and working abroad.
In 2014, she was named Latin America’s Best Female Chef.
I had an excellent three-course a la carte lunch, including a colorful heirloom tomato salad, succulent braised short rib with polenta, and a pink mole dessert.
Reygadas also operates a small bakery, Panadería Rosetta, a block away.
Located in Polanco, Dulce Patria is Mexican chef Martha Ortiz's flagship restaurant.
The interior design reflects a sensual aesthetic, with soft red seating, white walls, and tablecloths.
I was delighted by everything I ordered: multi-colored quesadillas, pork loin medallions in a yellow mole, purple rice, and charred maize and cacao ice cream.
The whole experience was fabulous, and a terrific value, too.
Beginning as a dishwasher, he worked his way up the ladder at US restaurants before being deported in 2001, and later 2007.
As mentioned in this NY Times article, he then worked at Pujol from 2007-11 as the Chef de Cuisine, before a loan from his uncle allowed him to open Maximo Bistrot with his wife.
The seasonal menu at Maximo Bistrot relies on local ingredients, including produce grown at the floating gardens of Xochimilco.
I ordered the four-course tasting menu for dinner, which included several seafood dishes, a meat dish, and two desserts.
I enjoyed the food, however the lighting was so dim I could barely see it.
It appears the restaurant has moved to a new location in the Roma neighborhood since my visit in 2018. I look forward to giving it another try.
See also: 15 of the World's Best Restaurants
Nudo Negro is one of two restaurants on this list, which I stumbled across by luck -- it was on the same block in Colonia Roma as a friend's apartment.
The alfresco seating looked so inviting, I took a chance and sat down for a nine-course lunch.
Chefs Daniel Ovadia and Salvador Orozco put on quite a show. For the amouse bouche, I was invited upstairs to the tiny kitchen.
I appreciated the interaction and was amazed to see how little space they had to prepare such a delectable meal.
Highlights included the grilled oyster with Sambal sauce, suadero beef, bone marrow and wasabi, bone marrow taco (pictured above), and pork rib in a Jamaican jerk.
Cafe de Tacuba
Founded in 1912, Cafe de Tacuba is one of Mexico City's oldest restaurants.
Cafe de Tacuba is housed in a 17th-century convent; it's adorned with colorful tile work and colonial paintings.
Vaulted ceilings add dramatic flair to dining rooms, which have hosted their fair share of celebrities over the years, including Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
“Many of Mexico's recipes were made in churches and monasteries,” says Ballesteros. “By Mayora nuns.” Centuries ago these nuns were charged with feeding compounds of people. They learned to prepare mass meals, focusing on flavor rather than technique.Food & Wine
Located in Mexico City's congested historic city center, Cafe de Tacuba continues to offer classic Mexican dishes made using local ingredients and recipes dating back 50 to 60 years.
There's something for everyone, from enchiladas and tamales to house specialties like beef's tongue, fried cow's brain, and pig's feet.
Cafe de Tacuba is open daily from 8 am to 11:30 pm for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
San Angel Inn
The famous artistic couple lived and worked in the two homes, connected by a rooftop bridge, from 1934-41.
Frida then moved into the better-known Casa Azul in nearby Coayacan.
After visiting the museum, I crossed the street and inquired about lunch at San Angel Inn.
I lucked out, as it was an early Sunday afternoon, and they were able to seat me without a reservation on their front patio.
I ordered a mojito, soup, sea bass, and merengue with cream and strawberries for dessert.
After lunch, I walked through the flower-filled courtyard and gardens of the historic hacienda, which dates back to 1616.
The former residence became San Angel Inn when it opened as a restaurant on June 13, 1963.
Led by chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, the Azul restaurants offers traditional Mexican cuisine.
Azul has two locations, each named after the neighborhood where you'll find them.
The first to open, Azul Condesa, is the one I've been to several times.
The second, Azul Historico, opened in a 17th century building a few blocks from the Zocalo in the historic center.
The first time I dined at Azul Condesa, it was chile season, so I ordered chiles en nogada (stuffed chiles), a traditional dish from Puebla.
The green chile was stuffed with Iberian pork and topped with a savory walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
They also make an excellent mole negro (my favorite mole), along with other typical dishes such as enchiladas and tacos.
The dessert menu is extensive so you're sure to find something to enjoy.
There you have it, my list of the ten best restaurants in Mexico City based on my personal experience.
I have high hopes for returning to Mexico City sooner rather than later. The following restaurants are top-of-my-list for new places to try.
Nicos - currently ranked #31 on the list of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants, Nicos has been serving traditional Mexican food for 60 years.
La Hacienda de los Morales - elevated traditional Mexican dishes served in a former farmhouse dating back to the 16th century.
MeroToro - Baja California cuisine in the heart of the Condesa neighborhood, where I like to stay whenever I'm in town.