If you've only ever encountered "Mexican" food in the United States, you'd be understandably underwhelmed by the prospect of eating it while you're traveling. However, the reality of Mexican cuisine is that it is as delicious, diverse, and amazing as anywhere in the world. Don't assume that it's the same all over; the food you get if you visit Mexico City isn't the same as you'll get in another province. If you're lucky enough to be visiting the capital city of Mexico, check out our list below and we'll help prepare you to take full advantage of this remarkable cuisine.
What should you be on the lookout for when you arrive in Mexico City?
Tacos al pastor
I'd be remiss if I didn't start with Mexico City's municipal dish, tacos al pastor. The meat on this dish is sliced off a slab, resembling something you might see with gyros or döner kebab. However, it's pork (not lamb) and the spices are worlds apart. These delicious tacos are served on small corn tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro, pineapple, and lime. Keep an eye out for them at street vendors; they're cheap and readily available.
If you're a pork lover, than carnitas should be one of the first dishes you seek out. It's slow-cooked, tender pork dish, which can be eaten by itself, put in tacos, burritos, salads, or anything else your heart may desire. You can find it at stands, stalls, restaurants, or practically anywhere else in the city.
Besides tacos al pastor, you can get these tasty eats for cheap, any and everywhere, filled with your meat of choice (or beans & veggies if that's what your craving.) There's a hot debate about where/what the best tacos are; everyone has an opinion. My advice? Find a stall/stand with a long line and join.
Tortas are the Mexican version of the sub sandwich. They're served on fresh rolls, filled with almost anything you can imagine, and topped with an equally wide-ranging array of toppings. If you're looking to satisfy a massive craving, try to finish off the 4 pound Cubano at Muertortas, filled with ham, pork, cheese, hot dogs, and onions. But if you're in the mood for a more normally-portioned torta, just follow your nose, find a line, and dig in.
I'll forgive you if you associate quesadillas with bland, overly cheesy, American productions. In Mexico City, you'll find the real deal: hand-made quesadillas (even blue corn ones), filled with almost filling you can imagine. Just follow the same advice for quesadillas as you would with tacos and tortas, and you'll be in heaven.
This list is just the tip of a culinary iceburg. If you aren't fluent in Spanish, you may need a little guide to ingredients to look out for when you're hunting for good eats. Write down your favorite (or forbidden) ingredients and take them with you. If you want a more in-depth introduction, you might want to consider picking up Nicholas Gilman's book on Mexican street food. Anthony Bourdain's episode on Mexico includes a visit to Mexico City; it was convincing enough to make me want to hop on a plane simply to eat. They've also created a map of the places they visited, if you want to follow in his footsteps.