During my recent nine-week stay in Mexico City I lived in a lovely room in a beautiful guest house in the hip Condesa neighborhood. The only thing I lacked was access to a kitchen, but ultimately that was not so much an inconvenience as it was an opportunity to sample the full range of the capital's culinary offerings, from the ubiquitous street stalls to the innumerable upscale restaurants. It's difficult to pick favorites in a metropolis with as much to offer foodies as Mexico City, but I've identified the breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and dessert I dream about now that I'm back in the States. Not only are the meals delicious and diverse, but following this trail of tasty vittles takes tourists to four of the must-visit neighborhoods in the heart of the city.
Breakfast: Cafebrería El Péndulo | Avenida Nuevo León No. 115 | Condesa
A combination café and librería (bookstore), El Péndulo offers a small but interesting mix of books and CDs along with regular performances from musicians and writers. But my pesos were reserved exclusively for the fantastic pan francés (french toast). The thick baguette-style slices of bread are buttery and topped with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. And while I typically drown everything from pancakes to bacon in syrup, this dish didn't need any extra sweetness. Enjoyed with one of El Péndulo's perfectly executed cappuccinos, this is the ideal way to carb-load at the beginning of a busy day exploring the capital's diverse culinary options.
Bonus: Frutos Prohibidos y Otros Placeres | Avenida Amsterdam No. 244-B | Condesa
One of my favorite Mexico City surprises was finding so many stands serving fresh fruit juice for a fraction of the price I pay in the States. For about $1 I could grab a liter of just-squeezed orange juice at a stand on one nearby street corner. The prices are a bit higher at Frutos Prohibidos, but the young clientele, fun music and outdoor benches equipped with drink holders were worth the extra pesos (less than $1.50 for a medium-sized fruit juice and less than $2.50 for a smoothie). Located next to Condesa's beautiful Parque México, Frutos Prohibidos is the perfect place to people-watch before walking off breakfast in the park's looping trails.
Lunch: Rosticería Gili Pollos | Calle 5 de Mayo No. 46-A | Centro Histórico
Don't ask me why, but rotisserie chicken just tastes better in Mexico. Among the best I tried was at the always-busy Gili Pollos (a play on a mild swear word popular in Spain), where the seemingly heat-immune workers watch over dozens of chickens roasting in open ovens that are as long as the diner-style counter. After a calm morning in relaxing Condesa, take the cheap and efficient Metro to the historic center of the city, where you'll find this gem. A succulent quarter-chicken served with warm corn tortillas and potato chips costs about $3 and provides just enough to keep you going as you explore the bustling neighborhood's myriad museums and colonial treasures.
Snack: El Huequito | Calle Ayuntamiento No. 21 | Centro Histórico
Tacos cooked and served al pastor are a Mexico City tradition and while many purport to have invented the dish, this sidewalk stand located in the shadow of the city's Latin American Tower serve up the best I had during my two months in the capital. The corn tortillas are filled with pork that has been marinated in a chili sauce and slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie. When ready, thin strips of meat are sliced off the spit with a huge (slightly scary) knife and served with onions, cilantro, a bit of lime and, if you're up for it, pineapple. Each taco is about $.85; two or three make a perfect mid-afternoon snack.
Dinner: Paxia | Avenida de la Paz No. 47 | San Ángel
From its location in the colonial neighborhood of San Ángel (an easy Metrobus ride away from the center) to the sophisticated design of the interior to the fabulous fusion of traditional and modern Mexican flavors, Paxia provided hands down my favorite dining experience in the country. Fancy but with a touch of the avant garde, the meal began with an amazing strawberry agua fresca served in a ceramic glass shaped like a crumpled plastic cup with sweet coconut on the side. The complimentary mini-empanadas stuffed with cheese were delicious, as was the mildly spicy tortilla soup. My main course, a perfectly cooked steak, came with a spot-on pepper sauce and roasted vegetables. I decided to skip the tempting dessert options, but like in any Mexican home the hosts wouldn't let me go without offering a little something; in this case, tasty mini-churros served alongside small shots of mousse.
Dessert: Alto Tango | Calle Alfredo de Musset No. 3 | Polanco
Even if you can't resist Paxia's dessert menu, make your way to ritzy Polanco to sample Alto Tango's Argentine-style gelato. You can try something quintessentially Argentine, such as dulce de leche, but my favorite is the chocolate with carmelized almonds. The airy heladería, which attracts the neighborhood's large population of upwardly-mobile singles and upper-class families, serves a wide range of food and coffee drinks, but leaving without sampling the dessert would be a terrible mistake. Give in and finish your day of dining in el D.F. with at least one scoop and a healthy helping of people-watching.